I first laid eyes on her on my first day at University. The place was buzzing with new Freshers arriving, unpacking and meeting new roommates. It took me a matter of seconds to work out that my roommate and I were not going to have a great deal in common. Judging by his appearance, his life was very much centred around 80’s heavy metal bands. And within seconds he had his “music” blaring away on those subwoofer whatsit speakers of his.
It was definitely time to escape my own room in search of more suitable acquaintances. I had noticed a familiar name on the list of Freshers provided and I knew an old school friend was starting at the same Uni, so I headed over to his room to see if he’d already arrived. I wasn’t even sure if this was the same person as I was sure my friend was going to a different college. I knocked but got no reply, so I left a message on his door and left.
That was when I saw Nicky for the first time. She was chatting intensely with another girl as we passed on the steps. Both smiled and said hi as we passed but then continued with their conversation.
“Woah, she is beautiful,” I remember thinking to myself. Not the stereotypical catwalk type of beauty. Indeed, in a room full of people I’m sure most guys wouldn’t give her a second glance. But to me, she was the most beautiful person I’d ever seen. When she smiled at me, it was so genuine. Not a learned social behaviour like most people would offer to a complete stranger. This smile said so much about her. It readily revealed a genuine warmth and kindness with a desire to like people and be liked by them.
I carried on walking away, my mind spinning. Who was she? How do I find out? When will I see her again?
The answer to that question came the next day at my very first Anthropology lecture. It was a big lecture hall, and it seemed like well over a hundred people were coming in to find places to sit. Despite the large crowd of people, her face shone up at me from the other side of the room. She’s doing the same subject as me! Bloody marvellous! She was coming in with the same girl she’d been chatting to the previous day.
Well, that was it for me for that lecture. I had no idea what the lecturer went on about for all I could do was stare at this mysterious girl from the other side of the room. This time I had much longer to study her face. You’d think, with much greater scrutiny, that my initial brief glimpse of her would have been put to the test and that I’d find maybe she wasn’t quite the angel I’d imagined first time around. Far from it. I studied every line and every curve, took in each expression that was delivered to me unknowingly. Then that smile came again. “Oh My God,” I thought, “She’s even more beautiful than I’d thought.”
I had to go over after the lecture and say hi. As they were obviously both from my college, they should be heading back up the hill, and I’ll be able to walk with them. And that’s exactly how it turned out. I introduced myself, and I found out more about the girls. My angel was called Nicky and her friend, Helen, was also her roommate.
I can’t remember what we chatted about. All I knew was that my heart was racing and I felt like I was going to burst with happiness. She was just so warm, friendly, cute and adorable. I just wanted to wrap my arms around her and never let go.
As the weeks passed all three of us would go to lectures together. These moments were the highlight of the week though I’m not sure I ever managed to concentrate on work for any length of time. The walk to and from lectures were the only times I ever had an opportunity to talk to Nicky as we had a different circle of friends back in college. She was also so popular that it was impossible to spend any time alone with her.
I knew early on that Nicky already had a boyfriend back home in Cheshire, but that seemed unimportant to me. As James Blunt sang so eloquently,
“She was with another man
But I won’t lose no sleep on that
‘cause I've got a plan”.
In reality, I never imagined for one moment that Nicky would ever go out with me. Why would she? What would she possibly see in me? I was overweight with glasses and, like many testosterone fuelled love-struck teenagers, felt completely out of my depth talking to a girl I found so irresistibly beautiful. I could not find a reason to like myself so why would an angel, a picture of beauty, find something appealing that I could not?
This did not stop my pursuit in any way. I was driven on a single track heading in only one direction. I continued chatting away before and after each lecture hoping somehow that my humour and kindness would somehow capture her heart as these were the only weapons in my arsenal. It wasn’t much to go on, but it was all I had to offer.
And from Nicky’s part, she continued to be the adorable, friendly goddess that existed in my dreams. She was happy to chat to me and at no point did she ever make me feel like my company was unwanted, a pest hanging around, like a wasp on an otherwise gloriously sunny day.
As the first term drew to a close, I felt I had to make a move somehow. Inside I had to know where I stood before heading home for the Christmas break. The opportunity arose one day when Helen was feeling unwell and skipped our lecture. This was my chance to ask her out.
My insides were churning. I had never felt so nervous about anything in my life perhaps because the outcome of my question would mean more to me than anything before. I tried to keep it casual, hoping that would somehow make it easier for her to say yes.
Of course, she immediately said that she had a boyfriend, but I was prepared for that. To not be ready for the boyfriend would have been very naïve and foolish on my part. I replied that was fine; this would just be a meal out between two friends. A decent meal at a restaurant as a nice break from the very average meals served up in the college canteen. Of course, it would be so much more to me, but a yes would still be a yes.
And to my amazement, she did say yes. Well, actually she hesitated, was clearly feeling very uncomfortable and eventually relented with an “ok if it’s just a meal as friends.” It would have been obvious even to a blind person that her ok was merely the best she could think of at the time. She clearly did not want to say yes but, being the kind and caring person that she was, she gave an ok only because she’d feel bad turning me down. By saying it was just as friends I’d pushed her into a corner and a no would have in effect been turning me down as a friend and she was not callous enough to do that.
I’m sure I was aware of this at the time even if only in my subconscious. To push her into a corner like that was unfair on my part but I was desperate for a yes. That she allowed me the honour of taking her out spoke volumes to me of the pure heart that lay within her.
It got out around college of course. Even though we both said to mates that we were just going out as friends, a meal out between a boy and a girl would always be viewed differently with a knowing grin or a cheeky wink. I felt on top of the world but nervous too. My goal was simple. To make her fall madly in love with me as I had done since the moment I first laid eyes on her.
In the end, we had a lovely meal, chatted freely as we’d normally do before and after lectures and then I escorted her back to college where we split up into our own circle of friends. That was that.
It was only a matter of days before the end of term, and we’d already chatted about how we were getting home. As my parents lived not too far away, we both ended up on the same train together.
My overriding memory of the journey was when an old drunk man sat down next to us. I gave him the disgusted glare that most would, especially when he was invading my precious personal time with my angel. But Nicky once more shone like a goddess. Yes, he was old, unclean, unkempt and drunk. But Nicky saw the good in all people, and she smiled and chatted to him as though he were a familiar uncle who’d simply had one too many at the Christmas dinner.
At that moment I fell even more madly in love than before, more so than I ever thought was possible. I was hers completely for the taking if only she would have me.
We arrived at Manchester and Nicky left with a customary smile and warm hug before stepping off the train and out of my life for what would feel like an eternity. Christmas and New Year were spent entirely in my thoughts about Nicky. In the bath, I would spell out her name in the condensation on the wall tiles. Hearts and Xs surrounded her name.
I’d planned to meet up with my brother after New Year. He had a new house not far from Manchester, and he invited me to stay for a weekend. His house was tantalizingly close to where Nicky lived so it was the perfect excuse to ask if we could meet up. The only problem was I didn’t have her address or telephone number. So out came the phone book. As luck would have it, there were only a couple of entries that could have been her house, and so I gave the most likely one a call.
My throat was dry. I could barely speak. I dialed the number and asked for Nicky and, as luck would have it, I’d called the right number first time. Nicky came on the phone, and I was in heaven just being able to hear her voice once more.
But this call turned out to be a huge mistake. I explained that I was meeting up with my brother and asked if she wanted to come along. Calling her out of the blue clearly freaked her out. She must have thought I’d turned into a horrific stalker and she quickly replied that she was busy that weekend. My heart sank. Not because she said no but because I’d not mentioned which weekend I was going to my brother’s. It was suddenly clear to me how doomed my feelings were. I said I hadn’t told her the day yet and she stumbled awkwardly, mumbling that she was busy for the next few weeks. In truth, she could not get off the phone quickly enough.
I felt as low as I’d ever been, but worse was to follow.
It was a few weeks later when the new term began. I’d left Nicky alone and naïvely thought that the break was all that was needed. I knew nothing was ever going to happen between us, but I was still looking forward to seeing her smiling face and chatting to her after lectures. We’d just carry on as we were before.
I unpacked my bags quickly and went round to her room to say hi just as I’d done many times in the past. Nicky opened the door. Her usual smile was there, but as soon as she laid eyes on me, it disappeared. I had caused that. I had dissolved her permanent smile. Clearly knocked by her change in body language I mumbled a few lines and asked if she and Helen wanted to head over to the canteen for lunch. She declined in a very monotone voice saying she was busy and she closed the door.
I rushed back to my room, threw myself onto my bed and cried like I’d never cried before. What had I done to turn her so? The angel who saw the good in a drunken stranger now looked at me with daggers in her eyes. All I had done was fall in love with her so deeply and so madly that she consumed my every thought and desire.
I had come to terms with the fact that we’d never be a couple. I realised that very early on and never seriously entertained the idea that we would ever so much as hold hands while walking under the watchful eye of the majestic Durham Cathedral.
But I’d never envisaged that I could have turned her against me so. My self-esteem was pretty low to start with, but now I had to cope with the prospect that I actually repelled women and I would never be able to find love.
I was lying on my bed in complete turmoil not able to find anything positive about myself. And there I would stay for seven weeks until 14th February 1992 when my life changed forever.
It was on that morning that I opened up a valentine’s day card from my friend Susan. We’d met on our first day at University four months earlier. We both did History, and we became good friends who could chat about anything, though I don’t recall talking to her about Nicky.
Until that day I’d only ever seen Susan as a friend for I only have room in my heart for one person at a time.
But now, when feeling the lowest I’ve ever felt, here was a good friend showing me that perhaps I did have something of value. That maybe someone in the world would notice if I wasn’t around and would care if I were to disappear.
Susan began a very slow process of helping me to feel good about myself, to feel like a worthy individual who could be loved and appreciated for who I am.
From the moment I opened that Valentine’s card, Susan became my world. On 14th February 2017 she will have been my rock, my best friend and my true love for twenty-five years.
For that, I am thankful each and every day.