Before I left, before Will Young, this is what happened.
We'd just moved to Archway. The summer of 2003 was the hottest in years, the weather hanging over the city like a heavy blanket. The previous summer had been sunny and perfect, every stall near our flat in Ridley Road lit up for the World Cup. Most of them had two flags – one for England, the new homeland, and one for the old country, whether that be Senegal, Cameroon, Nigeria, Croatia, Tunisia. And this being Dalston, there were thousands for Turkey. When they got to the semi-final, the noise was unbelievable, cacaphanous, euphoric – an orchestra of car horns, cheers and klaxons turning our part of town into an Anatolian concert hall.
By 2003, everything had changed. Heat was rotting the meat, flies were circling like vultures. One early morning, a consignment of huge snails fell off the back of a truck on the market, winding up the tarmac, slowly trying to escape. Around this time, we decided we should move on.
We were only in Archway together for six months. I loved that flat tenderly – three floors of tiny rooms, all stacked up like a Jenga tower. Highgate Woods within ten minutes, Highgate Village over the hill, the Parkland Walk round the corner, Archway Video next door, our local, The Worthington, doing curry half and half, Luigi Pizza up the road doing free limoncello, and a rent that was stupidly, brilliantly cheap. We would sit in the kitchen, beaming at our good luck, but still something wasn't right, something wasn't there, the last piece of the jigsaw wasn't slotting into place. It wasn't him – he was lovely – but it wasn't me either. I didn't know what it was.
But then, the new year arrived. Looking back, I'm still so sorry about what happened, and the way that I had become. And if you're reading this, I'm still sorry too. Thank you for still being my friend, and for being one of the greatest people I have ever met.
Before I left, we'd bought the Rough Trade Country compilation. We played it on the same dusty CD player that we'd had in Dalston, the same player which would blast out The Streets. But by now, it was winter, that winter where that gorgeous Will Young song was playing over the radio every day, every hour, reminding me, painfully, just what I should do.
He would put this compilation on in the kitchen, and I would wait for the song by Jim White, an early demo of a track that would be released the following year. He would play it as he made spaghetti bolognese, as he boiled the kettle, as he smiled as beautifully as he always had. When the CD finished, and he would head upstairs, I would go back and play this track again, looking for it to speak to me, as people always do in times of deep sadness. It said, "My history of dreams is a scandal/Of back-assward schemes and romantic disasters", "Lord, you dealt me more cards than I could handle", "I know only one cure for a permanent tear in your eye". Listening to it now, it seems like a song lost in time, a song from another world entirely. It is a song from a time when I took leave of my senses, when I took leave of everything, when leaving was the only thing I knew.