Our extract this week is from Comrades. Comrades is an essay collection in which award-winning journalist Rosita Boland explores the many friendships that have shaped her life…
By the end of the evening, I was still sober and everyone else was either stoned or drunk. Kit was like a happy, affectionate puppy when drunk. He came up to me now and hugged me hard. I hugged him back. I offered to help tidy up and, when I looked around, suddenly everyone had gone, except me.
‘Do you want to stay the night?’ Kit said, out of drunken nowhere.
My heart started pounding. ‘What?’
‘You can crash here if you like. It’s late. And it’s pouring and you’ll get soaked on the bike.’[restrict]
We tumbled in together under the covers in the platform bed he had built. Kit immediately turned over and fell asleep. I lay awake beside him all night, longing for a caress, a kiss, a reaching for me – anything that would acknowledge my tensile waiting presence, all of me afire to finally be so physically close to him in the darkness of night. I even dared to kiss his neck and stroke his back, hoping he would wake up. He did not.
The man who had had so many girlfriends and affairs and had often told me he wondered if he was addicted to sex did not touch me. As the dreadful grey light of morning began to appear, I knew I was finally going to have to accept the inevitable and painful truth: that nothing more than friendship was ever going to happen between myself and Kit, no matter how much I wanted it to.
When Kit woke up, all I wanted to do was get away immediately.
‘Do you want coffee?’ he asked, yawning, out of bed in one swift movement. I was already out, frantically trying to compose myself. I could feel an unignorable grief rising within me.
I did not know how long I would last before I started crying, but I knew I did not want it to start happening in front of Kit.
‘No, I’m grand, thanks. I’m going to head off now.’
He heard something in my voice and fixed me with that piercing, questioning gaze. ‘You OK?’
‘Yeah, I’m fine. Thanks for the party; it was great,’ I said, trying to keep a wobble out of my voice. I was definitely going to start crying very soon. ‘I’ve got to get my show on the road now.’ I was out the door before he could hug me goodbye, our
usual ritual leave-taking of each other.
Things changed after that. I was desperate to claw back some time, some experiences, some friends, some dignity, some anything of college life that was not wholly defined by my futile infatuation with Kit. I avoided Henrietta Street, skipped lectures, tried to write poetry, went exploring the run-down back streets of Dublin and spent a lot of time in O’Neill’s, drinking Guinness with the Trinity friends I at last discovered when I awoke from my enthralment.
In my fourth and final year, Kit took a year out. He did not say goodbye and I was not sure where he had gone. One person told me he was in Paris. Another told me he was in Bogotá. I told myself I did not care where he was.
In my last year, I was indeed sometimes maudlin on those afternoons and evenings in the pub, when I thought of Kit and wondered with an ache what he was doing and where he was, but as we were now in our last months of college, most people were even more maudlin when drunk than I. These new friends were mostly melancholy about finishing college and entering a world of work and responsibilities, where we would not go indiscriminately drinking during the day. In the pub, they talked about the best years of our lives coming to an end.
‘I know I’m going to really miss college. Will you, Rosita?’ I was asked many times.
‘Yeah. ’Course I am,’ I said vaguely. It was easier to lie. The thought that these four years were the best I was ever going to have filled me with a dread so deep I could not articulate it.
After my final English exam, I ran across Front Square, through Front Arch, out into the noise of College Green, with its green buses trailing exhaust fumes and its sluggish traffic and distracted pedestrians. I was screaming with incoherent joy and uncaring of who was looking at me. I was desperate to leave; to leave Kit behind, to leave university behind, to leave Ireland behind; to slough everything off like a snakeskin and begin again.
A week later, I applied for a year-long working-holiday visa to Australia. I had spent the previous summer working in London to save enough money to buy a ticket to go somewhere after college. Australia was now the furthest place away from Ireland that I could think of. And so that is where I went.
It is many years since I have seen Kit. He lives in France now, in a house in the mountains he designed and built himself, with a woman I have never met and probably never will.
In 2018, a tenement museum opened in a house on Henrietta Street, a few doors down from the house Kit once occupied. ‘When you enter 14 Henrietta Street, you’ll experience over 300 years of city life in the walls of one address,’ reads the home page of its website. ‘Our intimate guided tours bring you on a journey from the house’s grand Georgian beginnings to the tenement dwellings of its later years. By connecting to the personal stories of those who called 14 Henrietta Street home, the building’s hidden histories are revealed.’
It’s a very popular visitor attraction, both domestically and internationally. I have never gone. There is no need.
It was a long time before I realized the true value of my friendship with Kit. I had wanted a romantic relationship with him and, in failing to attain it, long considered that our entire friendship had been a catastrophic waste of time. But a brief relationship with Kit would have irrevocably burned the tinder of our friendship right up. We were always so much better as close friends than we would ever have been as lovers and partners. It was he who recognized this, not me, and he who took the care to make sure the deep connection between us was not extinguished by a short fling.
My friendship with Kit was by far the most seminal one of my young adulthood. He made me realize I could tell stories. He instilled in me a longing to travel and see the world. He showed me the richness of what it was to have many friends from many backgrounds and of different ages. But most of all, he gave me the gift of curiosity. In wanting to be like Kit, to have his boundless creativity and curiosity, somewhere along the way, I became a curious person.
‘Comrades’ by Rosita Boland is published by Doubleday and is available now.[/restrict]