It was my eighteenth birthday.
I had finally become a man, at least I thought I had. At long last, I would now be able to see through all those shadows that kept jumping around behind the eyes of grown-up people.
I hoped so anyway.
I already had some idea of deceit but at eighteen probably not much; certainly not as much as my father who was always going on about ‘those bastards out there’ whilst trying to hide away in the ivory keys of a piano.
At eighteen, I could even vote on who was best suited to shape my own little destiny.
What a novelty! There was more to this instant manhood than met the eyes after all.
Lizzie was sitting opposite me smiling, and looking forward to the day when she too would be able to determine the political fate of our country – and herself, because that’s how I saw all this voting lark. That’s what I believed she was thinking anyway. Maybe I wanted to believe too much, that’s untested love for you.
I held the small pot that contained a young Yucca plant.
It seemed to look at me and nod with juvenile wisdom, rather like an over indulged child who has been given too much power. It had been born in the days when garden centre emporiums were a figment of science fiction and horticultural fantasy. I looked at the exotic gift again and returned the smile.
The present was different, like Lizzie.
My eyes lingered and loved just as they always did. God did I love. In an eighteen year old sort of way anyway, perhaps the best way. The only way.
“Do you like it?” she asked, as I inserted a tape into my father’s tape deck. My eyes turned and continued to focus and adore. I was still at an age when a gift of love could make my heart bounce. I braced myself for the right words but my spanking new English ‘A’ Level let me down. Milton and Chaucer were all very well, but neither really did the job when it came to romancing a face all tied up with love.
A pathetic ‘nice’ was the only word that came to mind, “Yes Lizzie, it’s very nice.” I replied, wondering how on earth I was going to cart the thing around on trains and buses. “Certainly different and ….um…unexpected.”
“Good, it’s my going away present. You must take it to University with you. Look after it like you do me, and be kind to it. I want you to look at it every morning and think of me. You can even give it a kiss!”
She giggled and as usual I had to hug her. Her happiness demanded immediate snogs and gropes. I held her in my arms and said, “Thank you Lizzie, God I’m going to miss you. I really am.” I held her tight. What was I going to do without her kiss, her touch? Soon it would only be me, a Yucca plant and another world called London.
While Roger Whittaker sang The Last Farewell, we kissed again as our tongues dug holes into a love that neither of us really understood.
I would remember that kiss, the song and it’s lyrics for the rest of my life.
London arrived in underground trains and people that looked but had no intention of seeing. There was a completeness in their isolation and a ferociousness to arrive that disturbed my small town experience.
I hauled shiny new volumes of various Sweet & Maxwell law books down worn out wooden escalators. My muscles and bones clicked and clacked along with the distressed wood that was taking me on a journey fraught with excitement and the craving for an impossibility that I had yet to fully appreciate.
I kept the Yucca tree safe in a rucksack. I had promised.
Eventually, my study bedroom faced me. For some moments I stood and looked at the desk. A knife, fork, tea spoon, soup spoon, plate and cereal bowl sat where my books should have been. My father’s words echoed around the small piece of past and present. “You’re on your own now, my boy. Get on with it. It’s a wonderful adventure for you, I only wish I could come with you!”
My youth was being massacred and I didn’t quite know what to do. So much for having the vote. For a moment I thought I heard the words ‘Another one for the chop’ echo from the single wardrobe scuffed by memory and thrashed out ambition.
I put the Yucca on a windowsill.
The window itself gaped at a small empty car park. In those days students relied on hopeful thumbs that made us tough and half price train tickets that made us thrifty. I said to the Yucca, “Well Lizzie, I’m here.” I was missing my first love. The Yucca was all I had to remind me of her, well——- the Yucca and Roger Whittaker.
My first night as a student was spent trying to find the right wavelength for Capital Radio and fighting off tears of loneliness. Everything was so new and unfamiliar, so…..well, bloody different.
I lay in bed, kicking and thumping the standard issue sheets and blankets. Deciding to give self-pity a kick in the arse, I finally got up and stuck two fingers up at sleep. Lizzie was out there and needed me.
I sat at my desk and started writing.
My first letter home or at least to Lizzie took time. Putting eighteen year old love into words was nigh on impossible but I tried. Once again, my English ‘A’ Level let me down. It was all very well being able to quote left right and centre from the Greats of English literature but none of them cut the mustard when it came to throwing one’s heart at a girl who was all and everything.
Eventually sleep hushed my mind, so I finished my declarations, licked the envelope and went back to bed. At last my eyelids stayed shut and my dreams reached out for a love that was two hundred miles away.
The Fresher week passed in memberships of Shooting Clubs, Squash Rackets Clubs, drunken foolery, and unrequited yearnings for my girl. Lizzie went everywhere with me. None of the aspiring female lawyers could get close. They were too ugly. Too bold.
Every other night I queued at a telephone box. Crowded anger and impatience could sometimes end lines of communication but for the most part a few gentle words were worth the wait and tension.
I would talk for a few minutes, wary of other ears as I tried to say, “I love you,” without hearing a chorus of giggles from those who were experiencing freedom for the first time and beginning to realise that it was more than just a word.
Absence did not make my heart grow fonder. It broke it.
After four weeks of student adulthood, I said a guilty “Goodbye” to the Yucca and jumped on a train to see Lizzie. Three hours later was she was there, brown hair everywhere and without equal. We closed in on each other and allowed our lips to say, “Hello.” The relief, the safety, the love climbed all over us.
We were one again.
“Bloody hell, I’ve missed you Lizzie!” I managed to say through sloppy lips.
“Same for me!” Lizzie grinned. I wanted her to put her hand around something glorious there and then. At eighteen, four weeks is a lifetime!
An hour later we lay naked in each other’s arms. The urgency had passed. Lizzie’s small breasts squeezed against my chest not wanting to let go. Our lovemaking was inexperienced but our minds were uncluttered by the hysterical, hard-boiled sexual liberty of later years.
We loved and learned. Every kiss was an adventure, every touch something new. We lay in each other’s arms and breathed for one another, that was enough. Our lives then were simple and irresponsible. All I had to worry about was a degree and all Lizzie had to worry about were her very own ‘A’ Level exams that summer.
We knew nothing about Life, its sordid complications. Our perfect ignorance kept us safe and able to love without restraint.
“I must go now, otherwise daddy will start fretting. Supper time is supper time, you know what he’s like. And I haven’t really spoken with him for a few days. He’s been away on business, I’m still his little girl, so I had better show willing.”
“Must you?” I replied, feeling a panic that hitherto I had never experienced.
“Yes, I must. Sorry.” She got up, her taught nakedness making me want to pull her back. To lick her all over.
“Look, we have all day tomorrow,” she continued. “It’s Sunday, so no distractions. You’re parents are away, so we can spend all day in bed! I’ll come round 9 ‘o’ clock sharp….don’t bother getting dressed!”
And with that she left.
9.45am and no Lizzie. As instructed I hadn’t bothered getting dressed. It was unlike Lizzie to be late. I started to worry.
10.15 the phone rang.
Lizzie had to go on a family outing and there was no way she could get out of it. That evening I caught a train back to London. There was no Last Farewell from Lizzie.
Spring was starting to show its colourful hand. The Yucca binged on the new sunlight and grew a little more. It had kept me company for six months and had always been there when needed. Every morning my romantic side came out of hiding and I kissed one of its leaves as instructed. I felt stupid but since when was love sensible and intelligent? I had learnt that much.
My first two terms at University had travelled slowly. I had needed time to adjust to this partly grown up world but now the Easter break beckoned and Lizzie waited. Before leaving London I had made a trip to Portobello Road. After hours of searching, I finally found what I wanted.
Lizzie’s arms were soon around me and all the letters and hopeless telephone calls seemed worthwhile again. I gave her the antique silver bracelet which I knew would be cherished and loved.
Nothing had changed.
We spent the holiday discussing a contraceptive conspiracy and a future with no-one but ourselves. Sex took on more comfortable dimensions, a double bed was preferable and far more inventive than the back seats of cars and performing head to toe in a single bed. The next few months were to be a difficult time for us both. First year exams for me, ‘A’ Levels for Lizzie. We were resigned to frustration and sacrifice, the future was making inconvenient demands but we accepted them with a graceful resignation.
At last our exams were completed and passed. The Yucca had been left with a friend for the Summer to wilt in protest at the deprivation of affection but I had decided that a bit of absence would do it good.
It hadn’t done me any good but what the hell, it had become too possessive anyway.
Lizzie was talking to my mother in the kitchen when I arrived home, so there was none of the usual lust and frenetic body snatching. Having disposed of my mother’s maternal harmony we escaped to my bedroom. We had been together for three years now so it was allowed, daylight hours only though, if you can work that one out.
We sat on my bed and looked at each other. I did what came naturally and bent my head to kiss Lizzie. I stopped before our lips touched when I saw that tears were massaging her eyes.
She took my hand.
Some brief words were spoken. A few more tears fell and three years vanished in a sad smile.
I walked her down the drive and opened the blue gates. I let her go without one word of protest because I loved her. We said ‘Goodbye’ and I watched as she walked down the road toward a racing green MG Midget.
I was never to see Lizzie again.
I knew then what my study bedroom had meant. I had been ‘chopped’ by the inevitability of young love.
Forty years have passed since my first lesson in love.
All the many lessons since have taught me that love cannot be explained, neither can it be understood. I stand now in a mature study room of my own and reflect upon memories that become more acute by the day.
The Yucca has grown with me and followed me many times into manhood.
It reaches to the ceiling in its own place of wisdom, surrounded by books and the nitty-gritty of life. It continues to rely on my love and daily touch.
Every time my fingers stroke its leaves, The Last Farewell races back to me.
I have not forgotten.