The knowledge that Dean lived just ten minutes walk away from my school consumed my thoughts in every class I sat through on Monday. It was hard to keep him out of my mind, and a couple of times a teacher spotted that I was day-dreaming and called me out by throwing a question to me. Listening to Geography, Algebra or Chemistry was futile. At lunchtime, I had skipped across Claremont Park via the gazebo in the hopes of catching sight of Dean. I didn’t seem him, which perhaps made it even harder to concentrate. My last class on a Monday was Art. The quiet of the classroom allowed me to recall every detail of him. Unintentionally, he had ignited a spark within me that was now burning merrily and for the first time I found a need to express that emotion on the paper in front of me. Mrs Andrews commended me for the first time that semester.
Every single day that week followed a similar pattern. The fierce November chill did not put me off spending my lunchtimes sitting on a bench where I could see his home on Morris Avenue. I struggled to take in anything during my classes. My homework took me twice as long each evening as I had to read the textbook more carefully to be able to fulfill assignments.
The temptation to call him was unbearable. I sent three text messages during the week, none of which he replied to until Friday when he finally sent a brief message to me: SEE YOU TOMORROW AT 12 NOON – CROTONA AMPITHEATRE. I stayed up late to finish my homework so that Mom would not stop me from going out the next day.
That message sent the feathered wings of some ecstatic creature flapping around inside me rapidly and intensely. My heart was tickled and jubilant. My reaction was one of pure youthful infatuation encouraged by the tiniest of gestures. Back then Dean could have no idea of the effect he was having on me. When I arrived at the amphitheater, there was no indication that he noticed that I had plastered my lips with a thick layer of glossy cherry balm and straightened my hair.
For almost an hour we walked, which we needed to do on that cold cold day. If Dean’s intention was to encourage me to talk, he had an odd way of showing it. But I was delighted that he was sharing so much of himself with me. His Mom had died when he was eleven years old – he didn’t say how she died. His Uncle had played with many other musicians and bands – just nobody I had heard of. Dean’s fondness and respect for his Uncle Gary was evident in everything he said about him. Dean told me that he worked a couple of jobs, one delivering freshly baked goods to coffee houses and the other stacking shelves at Food Bizarre. As far as he was concerned they were just temporary jobs that allowed him to save some money and the anti-social hours kept him out of trouble. He told me that it meant he often slept during the daytime and had time to himself to write lyrics and work out chord changes.
Dean told me that as soon as the band he was in could find a decent vocalist, they were going to start plugging for more notice through social media and signing up for any live gigs they could. He sounded confidant that he would not be stacking shelves and delivering croissants forever.
With a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, he gave me advice, none of which I wanted to hear. Yet coming from him it was much more palatable than if anyone else had told me. He told me to work hard at school to give myself choices in life. He also told me to appreciate my parents, and that is their job to whinge at me about my homework. I had not told Dean anything about my parents so I slightly resented his words. The sting was softened when he moved on to how I should handle interest and pressure from guys at school. There was something very protective and caring in everything he said, but his indelicate and blunt choice of words incited deep layers of blushing.
As I walked beside him, I felt so proud. Perhaps he had no clue just how effortlessly cool he looked. To be seen walking around the park with a guy who was several years older than I was and who had nailed every inch of the rock icon look with an edge of fresh zeal and sureness. I caught sight of other kids from my school who saw me with him and it felt great. At the end of the hour, Dean parted to go to his friend’s house to practice, just as he had forewarned me.
All I was going to be allowed was one hour every Saturday, walking around a park that grew bleaker and colder every week. That was nowhere near enough for me, but when I look back now it is amazing that Dean was making that time for me at all. The fact he did that tells me there is something sincere and unselfish in Dean that was stirred by sympathy. There could have been no other reason back then except for simple concern that I was lonely and miserable. I was plain and lanky, and I had hardly anything to say in response to all the fascinating things he shared with me. I could not even think up interesting questions to ask him. It was as if he had just deigned to take me under his tutelage on how to avoid the state of feeling sorry for myself descending into complete despair and becoming a total screw-up. He often graphicly described worst case scenarios, and it did not escape my notice that many of these included time in jail – which did all seem rather far-fetched.
Then, one Saturday, almost two months after I had met Dean, something was different. He texted me as usual on Friday evening and asked if I had plans for the afternoon. I never had plans. I always made sure I had finished my homework before I trekked up to Crotona Park. After my hour with Dean I would return home and lay on my bed recovering from the blissful experience of being in his presence, before googling all the bands and musicians he had mentioned so that I could find out who on earth he was talking about. His text message that Friday evening the weekend just before Christmas piqued my curiosity and excitement.
He gave me no hint of his plan until the next day. All he said was that some of Liam’s family were over and because of the twins being there it was alright for him to take me along. I had no idea what that would mean. But on arrival at a one story property, we entered through a side door into a large double garage. There was Liam, sitting at a large drum kit, with two girls who could have been no more than ten, each grasping a drumstick and striking each part of the kit, most often the cymbals. Liam looked relieved to see Dean. The girls ran over to Dean and myself and started to fire questions at us: were we in Liam’s band? did we play an instrument? did we sing? did we like gingerbread? did we bring them any gifts?
Liam had temporarily disappeared, but soon returned with a woman who looked as if she was in her mid-thirties, “Come on girls, Grandma has made us some lunch.” When they began to object, their Mom bargained with them that if they ate all of their lunch they would be allowed to come back later to see Liam and his friends.
Once the door was closed, Liam turned his attention to me. He was friendly and put me at ease. He fetched me a soda and pointed out the sofa against the wall. I had just sat down when the same side-door that Dean and I had used opened again and a guy with a mop of curly black hair strode in. He was grumbling about being held up in traffic. This turned out to be Greg. While the three young men held a quiet discussion about what they wanted to run through, I buried myself into the corner of the sofa and pulled the fleece throw over my legs. Feeling deeply privileged to be allowed in with Dean, I was trying not to be any nuisance, but my eyes wandered avidly drinking in this sacred location, the place Dean practiced with the band every Saturday afternoon.
When they started to play, the drums were much louder than I imagined. Dean was playing an electric guitar and the sound filled the garage and made my bones vibrate. Greg began to sing, and although at first it was hard to make out all of his words, he seemed more enthusiastic and the memorable chorus lines were delivered in a way that clearly pleased Dean and Liam. They quickly oved on to another song which seemed to go just as well. But from following the initial smooth start, there seemed to be an issue with every other song. Dean kept on stopping and correcting Greg. After over half an hour of this, the frustration of both men was intensifying. There was a torrid of colourful language which made me nervous. Eventually they seemed to agree that part of the problem was the absence of their bass player Rick, who it turned out was way for the holidays.
Although I was fascinated by everything I witnessed, the tension made me uncomfortable. When Greg finally decided he reached his limit, it felt as if peace was restored. Liam and Dean spoke quietly together. It was as if they had forgotten I was present at all. Then something wonderful happened. The two of them began to play, I guess it was a sort of jamming session. They were in perfect synchronisation, with one feeding the other with cues to famous rock songs I did sort of recognize. I did not know on the day, but they were having fun playing some of their favourite iconic tracks – Nirvana, Aerosmith, The Fratelli’s, Lenny Kravitz, The Who, The Clash, Bon Jovi, Guns ‘n’ Roses and more. Both of them beamed broad smiles and the electric joy them emitted left me awestruck.
After that terrific spectacle of how great these two musicians were, I did not want to return home. I didn’t have to yet. Liam asked me a question Dean had still not asked me – where did I live? When I replied “Kelly Street”, he nodded indicating he knew the road, and then said, “That works.” Dean looked uncertain. But Liam was calling the shots at this point. The three of us were soon on our way to a Mexican restaurant called Parilla Azteca Cibaena.
I had another two hours of sitting next to Dean and listening to Liam telling me how he had won a radio contest when he was at High School and the prize money had paid for the garage conversion and equipment he had. He also made fun of Dean for not wanting Rick to know about me. I asked who Rick was but didn’t receive much of a reply except Liam’s claim that Dean worshipped the dust Rick walked upon.
It may sound silly, but back then that day meant the world to me. I was on Cloud Nine – and my happiness provoked some confidence. I found Liam very easy to talk and laugh with. He was older than Dean but he seemed to be able to tailor the conversation so that I could be involved. I was coming out of a shell I did not know I had been in and it felt good. My inner joy was easily distinguished by my smiles and laughter. But it was not Liam that was the reason I felt so good, it was the young man sitting beside me. It felt really good to be close to him for so long. Dean was much quieter than usual, and if I was not mistaken, he seemed to be watching me.
It was Liam who insisted that they would walk me home as by the time we left the restaurant it was dark. When we reached Bill Rainey Park and I said I would be fine to walk the rest of the way home, Liam objected with a “No friggin’ way are you walking through that park on your own in the dark”.
They almost delivered me to my front door, and I wonder if they may have done exactly that if I had not indicated that my parents would go crazy if they saw I had been with two guys who were several years older than me. Now, Dean knew where I lived. That night I could not sleep. My head was buzzing with the thrilling memories I had acquired that day. I felt alive. It was a glorious feeling. I was in love. I was an awkward, troubled fourteen year old and I was in love with an eighteen year old who was the epitome of cool and determined to remind me of our age difference every time I saw him. I had no idea how damn hard the next few years were going to be with this ache of attraction smoldering within. Neither did I realize that as I finally began to blossom and become more feminine just how hard I was going to make it for the young man who was trying to keep himself out of trouble and focus on his dream of a music career.