Letters to Tom

The Trick Is To Keep Blogging
8 min readFeb 26, 2024

First

This evening, the first dusk of spring hung over the pavements and the rooftops. My coat — your coat, left behind — was too long, too heavy, so I slung it over my shoulder. I followed the tide up Park Street to find the dead trees in Brandon Park lit up like flames by the setting sun. There were still Christmas decorations in the front windows of the Clifton terraces. There were tents pitched behind them in the sodden park. Hotwells tumbled down the hill until I was breathing in fumes again.

The streets here make little sense. Houses stack up on hillsides, alleyways dance about them. Tom, is it strange if I tell you I love the alleyways? Most are narrow and crooked, winding beneath roads and up hills, staircases dented in the middle from generations of footsteps. Imagine nineteenth-century students using these same alleys to run to lectures, with half the world entirely unknown. They’re all dead now, and there’s something calming in that.

You always laughed at my morbid comments. That line — how edgy of you — again and again. You never believed me, but I’m not trying to be morbid. More than ever I feel overwhelmed by it all.

When I watched the sun dip behind the bridge and felt the cold air close in, I realised that I felt a little better. I felt for the first time not a diminishment of sadness but some idea of the scope of it, the shape of it emerging from some darkness. And I felt that now I know the shape, I might be able to climb to the summit and conquer it. Not vanquish it, not overcome it, but at least I might plant my flag and acknowledge its great weighty presence and hope that one day, perhaps not soon, I can see you again.

Second

The chairs in our seminar rooms have the useless foldup desks, just like at Moordale. Same smartboards, same plasterboard squares in the ceiling. I’m still the one with the empty seats next to me. Only now I don’t feel like the posh boy — the opposite, if anything. The ninety thousand pounds of private education in front of me spoke like it was worth every penny.

I told you once about rich people skin, do you remember? It was in Italy. Sorrento, no, on Capri, we got up early because it was so cold in the mountains in October. Drove downhill to the sunrise, olive tree branches brushing the roof of the car. The tourists were long gone, and we had the remains they had left behind. Baked fields and focaccia. The beach at the bottom was little more than pockmarked rock, but we spread out two towels and used the longboard for a headrest, then we watched the dark waves grow light as the morning broke. And you unpacked a flask of coffee you had made, and you had saved two croissants from the night before, because you always knew when things would make us the most happy, and I spilt coffee down my forearm and watched how the trickle of coffee pressed my goosebumps into smooth skin. In front of us the sea grew heavy with light, and we waited as long as we could excuse before diving in.

By the afternoon the heat was scorching the sand. The only café on the beach was open that day because it was a Saturday. We ate club sandwiches beneath an umbrella, shifting every ten minutes to stay in the shade. Our conversation was dumb and stilted because we were both too distracted by the girl who worked there, listening to our conversation. You got this way around girls, and I hated it. Maybe because I saw myself. I said I thought she was rich because she had rich person skin, and finally it broke the tension between us. You laughed your ridiculous laugh.

Did you know, Tom? Back then? And if you knew, why didn’t you say?

Third

You’ve blocked me on Instagram. Remember the summer of Year 10 when Carla blocked me on everything, and we agreed that it was kind of pathetic? Well, to tell you the truth, Tom, I think you’re being kind of pathetic too.

I don’t want to keep writing you letters like it’s the fucking eighteenth century. I don’t want to stop speaking to you because of one argument.

It doesn’t make any

I am not a bad person, Tom, and you fucking know that. If you weren’t such a fucking pussy, you would have made some kind of contact by now. I get that you need some space, but

How am I supposed to

You are my best friend.

You are my best friend.

Fourth

You might have received a letter from me last week. I remember writing it late on Saturday, after I got back, and now I can’t find it and I can’t remember whether I sent it or not.

If you did get it, I apologize. If you never received it, well, full disclosure — I told you to go fuck yourself. It had been a bad day followed by a bad evening, and other excuses. Needless to say, I didn’t mean any of it.

I went on a date, Tom. On Saturday night. Not just any date — a blind date. From Tinder. I have told you many times how I feel about Tinder and bad sex with total strangers, but I told myself that I was a changed man and walked down Park Street with my jaw hurting because I was so stressed. She was Northern Irish and taller than I expected. A painter who works in an art shop by Christmas steps, awkward but warm, the kind of person who helps you find the words when you stumble on your sentence. Freckles, nice skin, only she wasn’t rich, so there goes my theory. Since you probably won’t even read this letter, I feel like I can say that she was so beautiful that I actually ached to look at her. But the table I’d booked was towards the back of the restaurant, which was cold, and the menu didn’t have many vegan options, and I said something about musicals not really being for guys, and I saw the shape of her eyes change just slightly and knew that she was thinking, Oh, that’s a shame, he didn’t seem so bad.

After that I had this feeling like at Glastonbury when the crowd pressed inside the tent and I started to freak out and you basically had to carry me out. Tendrils of ice snaking through my stomach. She could tell something was wrong and asked if I was okay and then asked for the bill. We were probably only there for an hour. I said goodbye and went home and drained the Captain Morgan from Christmas. Then I remembered it was you who brought the Captain Morgan, and then I wrote you that letter. Sorry.

Then the next day, something miraculous. She texted me asking if I was alright. And when I texted her back, she called me. We talked for a while and we’re going out again this evening. And her name’s Aisling.

The worst part of this is that it doesn’t even feel real unless I can tell it all to you. I miss you so fucking bad, man.

Fifth

I have this strange urge to apologize that it’s been a while since I last wrote. But I think that would only be relevant if I was getting letters in response.

I think this is the longest that I haven’t seen you since your dad took you to Nottingham after the divorce. That must have been less than a year after we became friends. I thought you had gone forever. Finally a best friend, and then you had gone. For months. Until, one glorious Thursday afternoon, you walked into the PE hall in full kit, halfway through bench ball, as if nothing had ever happened. We were all obsessed with your hair, now in dreadlocks. And you didn’t say anything about your dad or about the police. I don’t think I found out about that until we were in college. Ironic, that you ended up so much more stable than I ever was.

To be honest, I’d given up. Writing to you, I mean. But I finally told Aisling about it, and she said I should write again and talk about what happened. Actually, she couldn’t believe that I hadn’t written about what happened. I asked if she thought that’s why you hadn’t replied. “Classic man,” is what she said to that.

I don’t know how to write about it. But writing to you has made me realize what it means to grow up as someone’s best friend, and I think that gets to the root of everything.

Do you know how many hours we’ve spent together? Tens of thousands. Weeks went by where I saw you every day at school, almost every lesson, then we walked home together, then we went to the woods or played Xbox or wrote songs together, then I went home for tea and came back to yours to watch a movie. On Saturday we would go into town and meet outside Primark at 1pm, on Sunday we had football in the mornings. So much time, for years and years, and somehow it took you until the age of 18 to say that if I was thinking of going to Bridget’s party on Friday you would probably come too, and that I might as well stay at yours and could I bring Gran Turismo 4 because it has the best multiplayer, and then to play Gran Turismo 4 until three o’clock in the morning because we weren’t tired, and then to go upstairs and crash in your bed and turn the light off, and then to see the ultraviolet stars and planets your parents painted on your bedroom ceiling when you were young light up in the dark, and then to be talking because we still weren’t tired, and then to say that you wanted to take my clothes off and have sex with me, and that you weren’t gay, but that there was something about me, and that it had always been there and you didn’t know what to do about it but you didn’t feel that you could just not say it for the rest of our lives.

Tom, I know the way I reacted was wrong. What you need to understand is that I have always found this so hard. Social stuff. Friends, relationships. You won’t understand, because you are so loved. Because you can walk into a room and charm everyone in it, and all I can do is watch in awe. But being close to people has always been so difficult for me. And when you said what you said, it felt like almost everything good about my teenage years was just a lie. Because you didn’t want to be my friend, you wanted to be my boyfriend. Because the million gay jokes that I made were suddenly cruel. Because what if the fact that you loved me meant that you didn’t actually like me?

I think that the last word I said to you might have been a slur. I won’t forgive myself for that. But I am straight up asking to be forgiven here. That’s what I want from you.

Anyway, it’s mother’s day the weekend after next, so I’m coming home for a few days. On Saturday, I’ll go shopping in town and I’ll buy Mum the same Molton Brown gift set that I always do. And at 1pm there’ll be a bunch of wannabe yobs lingering outside Primark, just like we used to do so many years ago. Tom, I’ll be waiting for you there.

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