When you’ve never experienced it, falling in love seems like quite an intimidating thing. When I was younger I just couldn’t imagine this big complicated feeling, a passion that inspires poets, changes history, starts wars and ends films could ever personally involve me. That said; I’d never really wanted to go out with anyone. The thought of truly getting to know someone had all the attraction of inviting a stranger around for a social root about in my bathroom dustbin. Hey there stranger; person I find sexually attractive, how about popping around and getting to know me in all my wobbly, secondhand, cry when I’m drunk tediousness? And while you’re at it, would you like to see me first thing in the morning too? I don’t even like spending time in my own company, not sober at least, why would I expect anyone else to? No thanks. I’d been born with a port wine stain on my personality, a fermenting, boil of neediness and inadequacy that if brushed with any sort of affection would pop and repulse anyone unlucky enough to be around it.
I was however blessed with low standards and high expectations; I thought the solution was to just go out with someone I didn’t really like for as long as it took for them to accidently stumble over the real me. Then when my game was up, we could shake hands, shrug shoulders and maybe go out for breakfast. The trick was to not to really like anybody then you could never ever be hurt. My only other option was to fall in love with someone who then, immediately, tragically died, never to learn how truly messy my bedroom could get. Then I would have all the glamour of a tragic love affair, a tale I could talk about for ages and a perfect excuse never to have to go out with anyone ever again. But that was the ideal and who could bank on that?
What is unexpected about falling in love is that when it happens, how easy it is. Such a pivotal thing that you secretly yearn for, that people spend their lives aching for and when it happens it’s as easy as falling asleep. Love, this ancient celebrity that cameod in Shakespeare, did the dirt on Vincent Van Gogh, wooed Elizabeth Taylor, is now nuzzling up to you and laughing at your jokes. In the wise words on Cheryl Cole- It’s bonkers, pet!
Two months in and the novelty of working in an Irish bar was wearing off. Already some of the girls from the bar were migrating to teaching. Kelly, an orange faced prematurely middle aged girl in her mid twenties had been the first to jump ship. She had an unnerving habit of sighing before, during and after everything she said, as if too emphasis just how weary of this mortal coil she truly was. Every piece of news, flummery, whisp of gossip was met with furrow browed resignation, as though at the age of 26, literally nothing surprised her anymore. Maybe she was misunderstood, maybe she really had had an exciting life, maybe she was just being slowly poisoned by St. Tropez. Her personality met at that special place on the attitude chart where frumpiness and competitiveness towards all other females met.
Yes, teaching had easy hours and weekends off, but I was no Kelly. I wanted to stay at the Bar with Laura and Ife. Laura was a fumbling girl from Nottingham that had ended up in Madrid en route from her year in Australia. Laura seemed to do most things accidentally and it was her shambliness and honesty that made her so adored by everybody. She had a rueful way of apologising for being rubbish that made you want to buy her a fur coat and a tiara. Whatever you were doing, she assured you, was brilliant, any plans she’d go along with, every fact you told was remarkable, every story fascinating. She was home made flesh, a calm Queen of Hearts to my slightly deranged Princess Margaret. You didn’t just want her as you best friend, you hoped that she considered you hers.
Ife was one of the most confident people I’d ever met. An assistant manager at the bar, back in London she worked as a high powered TV producer and gave off the swagger of impregnable competency. A rock. An island. That was until you got to know her and realised that she displayed her independence with the same pride and vulnerability of a twelve year old showing off their new tree hut. There were also endearing gaps in her general knowledge, like when watching an interview with Shaking Stevens she asked confused, hadn’t he converted to Islam. Or when she matter of factly explained that the reason she’d chosen a trip to Caesars Palace over the Grand Canyon on her last holiday was because, she’d already seen the Grand Canyon on television. Or the period in her life when her close friends were genuinely worried she thought she was going out with Pharrell Williams. Then she stopped being my intimidating new boss and became the friend who I could trust with my life.
Week nights were spent at the bar getting drunk on appropriated wine, Saturday nights at R&B clubs where we were sexually molested on the dance floor to a baseline and every Monday whoever wasn’t working would join Gerard for the weekly pub quiz. There, not only did I improve my general knowledge, I learnt about myself. Like the time a new member of our team had the gall, the rudeness to answer more questions than me and in frustration I hid his chair when he was in the toilet forcing him to join another table. Looking at the glares from my teammates I discovered that I did have a competitive side outside All You Can Eat Buffets after all.
Sometimes we were joined for drinks by the other barmen. Shane was a slightly gawky, graduate who had come to Madrid to study guitar. He was sweet and funny but with an earnestness that became quickly irritating. While I tried to forget I was living in Spain, he stopped just short of wearing a sombrero to work. When I had to ring my landlady to let her know that I was moving out, and regally announced that I needed to borrow someone’s Spanish, he smugly refused. I think he thought he was making a tough to be kind comment on my inability to assimilate into the local culture. Instead it just convinced me he was a smug twat who probably fancied me and was getting a sadomasochistic thrill from making my life difficult for sexual kicks. Who knows, the truth was probably somewhere in the middle. I could only take him in small doses, or diluted with lots of alcohol.
Paul was an architecture student. Unlike us, happy to stay and get quietly pissed, as soon as his shift was over he was off; to meet friends, discover some underground bar he’d read about, or head off to another city for the weekend. He never said much but when he did it was always either sarcastic or taking the piss. We instantly bonded when it became apparent we held Shane, with all his sunny optimism, in equal contempt. He went one better, he didn’t really like anyone who worked in the bar. Apart from me, me he liked. Awkward ribs blossomed into private jokes and soon we could riff for hours on the same subject, as easily and gracefully as ice skaters, whipping past everyone else, giddy with our own speed, spinning with the glee of private laughter. Soon it just became normal for us to sit next to each other, natural to be considered a pair, second nature to seek each other out. He had this killer habit of remembering everything I said, of assuming only I knew what he was talking about, of directing his wisecracks in my direction. He seemed to notice, remember and comment on everything I did and said, in way that made me feel like the most interesting person alive. Things were changing, the thought of seeing him made feel exhilarated and like I wanted to vomit and suddenly I was brushing my hair before work. Days without seeing him felt wasted and were spend chatting to him in my head, collecting stuff to tell him about when I did.
During my first day at my new job at the school Laura texted me to say Paul had been talking about me all morning, and I calmly realised, why one day in ,I already missed him so much.