A form of literary autobiography, the personal essay allows us to ruminate on truths from our own life experiences. Every Wednesday this month, the Irish Essayist series will see writers test the continually-expanding essay format to explore subjects as diverse as mental illness, gender, music, growing up, and more.
by Anna Jacob
My first love was a fantastic liar.
We were both 15 and in love in the kind of way you are only ever in love at the age of 15. We would spend hours kissing. Hours and hours. Whole days just sucking each others faces. Kissing seemed like the most interesting thing you could possibly spend your time doing. We’d kiss upside down; Spiderman style. We’d try and do the softest, gentlest kiss in the world, and then the hardest most furious. We played a game where we’d kiss like we were angry, kiss like we were sad, kiss like we had a mysterious secret. We’d recreate the kisses from the films and TV shows we watched. It was disgusting and wonderful.
He lived in the next town, and went to an all boys school. I’d only see him once or twice a week, as the notoriously shit rural English public transport only provided one bus there and back every day, and at times so inconvenient I could either go and see him for one hour or 25 hours. Nowt in between.
The days in between were torturous. I used to make little charts in all my schoolbooks where I could tick off the hours until I’d see him again. My exam results were disappointing, needless to say.
We would write each other letters and poems. We drew pictures of each other. It was the most blissful first love experience I could have hoped for, aside from the fact that, as I said, he was full of shit.
At 15, I had some gaps in my cultural knowledge. We all did. This was early noughties, pre-internet (in our village at least), we only had five TV channels, and my parents only ever had Radio 4 on in the house. My parents were a little older than the parents of my friends, and had schooled me well on my Fleetwood Mac, Carole King, Van Morrison, The Carpenters; but I’d managed to get to the ripe old age of 15 knowing nothing of the music of Sting and The Police. Nothing at all. Somehow my first boyfriend cottoned on to this and decided to play an elaborate joke on me.
My first boyfriend played in a band. This was obviously a MEGA turn-on. They were a classic teen band. Desperate to be the Red Hot Chili Peppers though they’d never admit it. Californication had just come out and the Red Hot Chili Peppers had lost their cool in a BIG way.
It was social suicide to admit liking any band that had gone ‘mainstream’. You might just about get away with saying “Yeah, I liked their old stuff, you know, Mother’s Milk was a cool album, but they’ve totally sold out.” Safer to say you never liked them in the first place.
My boyfriend was the frontman and main lyricist in his band. He’d wear white-rimmed, Kurt Cobain style sunglasses and those enormous early-noughties jeans that would trail on the ground, getting more and more tattered and filthy until they formed denim dreadlocks that you’d have to trim off.
One night I was staying over after he’d had a band practice. He told me they’d had an incredibly productive afternoon and had written a whole bunch of new songs. “Cool! Show me!” I said.
“Well we’ve got this one song I wrote that goes: ‘ROOOXANNE! You don’t have to put on the red light!'”
“Wow! That’s so catchy! Who’s Roxanne?”
“It’s actually about you… I didn’t want to sing your real name so I called you Roxanne instead.”
“Oh my god, that’s so cool! What does the red light bit mean?”
“Oh, that’s like, you know, you don’t have to make any effort for me, I love you just as you are.”
“Wow!! That’s so sweet… and so deep… You’re really talented!”
“There’s another song I wrote about you actually… It goes like this: ‘Every little thing she does is magic, everything she do just turns me on, even though my life before was tragic, now I know my love for her goes on…’ That’s the chorus, anyway, you know, it goes on like that.”
“Oh my god, that’s beautiful? And it’s about me? Oh, I don’t know what to say! You’re such an amazing lyricist!”
And there were more… He wrote a song about how he’d like to go “Walking on the Moon” with me. “Message in a Bottle” was about our early text conversations. He actually had his own mobile phone at the time, whereas I was only allowed to borrow my Dad’s enormous Motorola in the evenings. The inbox would only hold five messages and I didn’t want my Dad to stumble across anything too fruity so I’d have to empty the inbox every night, which was pretty heartbreaking. “The Bed’s too Big Without You” spoke of the pain of the half hour drive (or two hour rambling bus journey) between our houses and the fact that his parents wouldn’t allow us to sleep in the same room. Funnily enough they didn’t mind us sharing a tent in the garden, which is where we both lost our virginity.
Gigs were few and far between for under-age bands in small Cotswold towns, so I never got to actually hear any of these songs played live, but from what he sang to me in my bedroom, I was pretty sure that I was the muse to the most promising 15 year old songwriter in Gloucestershire.
Like many first relationships, the whirlwind of our romance dissipated and we broke up after about a year, went off to different colleges, and I haven’t seen him much since then. In fact, I went on to study popular music at university, and of course it wasn’t long before I became all too familiar with the musical works of Sting and The Police. When I first heard those songs, sung not by my first boyfriend, but by an ex-school teacher old enough to be my father, I was plunged into an an emotional cocktail of confusion, embarrassment and anger.
But as time passed, shame dissolved into a tremendous respect for my first love, for pulling off such a cruel, multifaceted joke on a gullible 15-year-old girl who thought she knew everything.