(33) Where Is Alex Mair?
Updated: Apr 10
I don't imagine for one moment that you do know where Alex Mair is. (Or care, let's be honest.) I don't know how well you've kept in touch with your own lifetime-ago-friends, but I imagine that you have not discarded them. I base this on point 8 of your 9 life lessons. You talk of respecting those with less power and judging those who don't. I am assuming that anyone who cares how they treat the waitress, also holds onto their friends. Anyway. Alex Mair?
I am asking because I think about him often. He was the first person I fell for. He fell for everyone else around me, my sister, my friend, my friend's sister - even when I was, briefly, going out with him. My diaries in 6th year are almost all about him. I have letters and letters from him to me, and handwritten copies of mine to him, while he was away at St Andrews for his first year of university, and I was still at Hermitage Academy. Those were the days of microfiche, and actual photocopying was rare. Every letter I wrote that I thought was a good one, I rewrote (by hand) to keep as part of my diary.
Alex, in the year above us, was in our group of friends when I was in 6th year. A fairly large group - not the arty group, although some of us were creative; not the sporty group, though some of us were athletic; not the nerdy group, although nerds got in too. We were not the musical group, not the really cool group, not goths. I would like to think we were an incredibly inclusive group. We did pretty well academically and have all turned out to be pretty sound. I will always feel indebted to the croupier who threw the 'friend' cards where they landed.
The girls, especially, have kept in touch, if not directly with each of the others, with others who are in touch with others. We meet up now every year or so, and care about what is going on in each other's lives. Marriages, divorces, deaths. Children, joys, heartaches. Some live nearer, some are far flung. I painted walls in return for gin and a giggle at Kath's a couple of weekends ago. Gayle came up in the summer for a few days. Claire kindly asks about my piano music. Anita, I love you too. And Elaine, well always Elaine. We nearly all made it to Sally's wedding last Christmas. Sarah, Alaska, is more difficult to include but equally difficult to exclude. We talk of then and we talk of now. Some of us, quite recently, have been sharing Tim Minchin songs....
There are slight strains, little jealousies. I think it is true to say that the patterns of behaviour we fell into then, we tend to fall back into now. Who is going to take charge... Who is going to resent being taken charge of.... Who is practical..... Who resents the thought that it might be thought they are not practical.... Who went out with who.... Relationships are not necessarily plain sailing - they often irk and they often hurt. Two of us came to physical scraps on one occasion (aged 19) and we nearly did again quite recently (aged 47). In my earlier friendships, my best friends tended to have other best friends. When not talking about Alex, my adolescent diaries are full of it.
I have come to the conclusion that I should get rid of these diaries. I am thinking of reading them all one last time - I haven't looked at them for years - and maybe letting Katrina read them, if she wants, when she is older. And then maybe a ceremonial burning. That girl will always be here, always wanting, quietly, to be centre stage, always wondering if people do like her really, always asking - do they think she is good at this (dancing, music, letter writing)? Now she is grown up and she likes 'likes' too much on social media. It bothers her that her pictures of Minette (her cat) get far more comments than the song she spent some time composing. She worries that people do not like her, when they do not reply to messages. (By the way, this is called mugging, or pie-ing. I is cool.) She secretly thinks she's cool, but thinks too much about what others think to be truly cool. She is, as she was then, pleased to have all of these friends in her life.
But where is Alex? Unlike the others, he is not present on social media and googling him does not give results. (I have done this periodically for the last 15 years or so.) When I started going out with Ian, we bumped into Alex a few times in Helensburgh and we went out for a drink with him once to catch up. And whether he had liked my sister or not, I really cared about him.
When I was in 6th year, whenever he was back in Helensburgh for holidays we went for drives, sometimes to the Inverbeg Inn, sometimes to the cinema, sometimes through Glen Fruin. We would listen to Genesis, The Rolling Stones and Steve Harley. There was often the slight awkwardness between us, the nervousness of maybe-he-likes-me-like-that feeling. I looked for signs. And there were signs. He noted when I wore ripped jeans and a tight autumn coloured suit jacket, rather than the usual floral skirts with docs. 'You've changed your style. It's nice.' He asked me for piano lessons. His sister had a really cool piano, yellow, I think. I painted bright flowers and cut them to put on my own averagely-coloured black one. And every time I started going out with someone, he gave me MUCH CLEARER SIGNS that he did actually like me like that....
I am not sure to this day whether he did really like me like that, or just did not want anybody else to. I maintain that I could feel in some of those long goodbye hugs after drives, before he would head back up to St Andrews, that there could be more. I had really hoped for more, for more than a year, and those drives with him were enough not to need to breathe for the next two or three weeks. The yoyo pattern seemed to continue. Whenever it seemed we were going to surely be more than just friends, he found a way to let me know how much he was into someone else. And so my diary went. I would hear how A... was the best looking, B....... was the wittiest..... C was the cleverest..... and I would wonder 'Am I the 'est' at anything?' So finally, when I had met someone at a party, who I had agreed to go and meet again in Glasgow for a drink, Alex made it clear (!) that the timing was pretty bad and that he was interested after all..... We had spent the afternoon having a picnic film lunch, watching Dangerous Liasons, and I was going to meet up with Gary later. I did go to Glasgow but my heart was in Helensburgh. And having turned down Gary, I could say yes to Alex. It lasted a few weeks before it was apparent to him that I just wasn't for him. When I say he was my first, he was my first. Anyway, it didn't last. A few months after it had ended, we were walking round Helensburgh late in the evening, and he wanted to show me how someone else kissed and how that was better. That stung, of course, but it meant another kiss.... By the time university started, I was going out with Andrew. And then a couple of years later I wasn't going out with Andrew. And then I met Ian, who told me I should go to Israel and have an adventurous summer, as he had done. On the night before I left for Israel, Alex Mair, knowing I was going, turned up and spent the night on my bedroom floor. There were signs, again, but it was too late. I had already slightly fallen for Ian. I have always held an absolute soft spot in my heart for Alex. I probably always will. But I would love to know how he is and what he is doing. Maths teacher? Mountain rescuer? Swimming instructor? Mental Health nurse? Two kids? No kids? I would, of course, like to think that he also occasionally thinks of me in a fond way. But it is more likely that he is thinking of A.... and B..... and C..... And my sister.
I hope wherever he is that he is happy.