I never thought I’d find myself kissing a British boy in the rain, unable to distinguish between tears and raindrops. Shortly after, we would part ways, resume our lives, and never see one another again. But I think it may be best if I press rewind and start from the very beginning.
I was just passing through Manchester, teaching for 3 days at a performing arts center in the city. I had been moving around at this pace for almost a year, so I had developed a routine that I can’t say I’m very proud of. It looked a little something like this:
Sit on a bus for 8 hours dramatically staring out the window. Stop 12 times to pee. Keep headphones in and speak to no one. Arrive in new town. Meet new host family. Ask for WiFi password. Remind my real family that I’m alive. SLEEP. Teach for 10 hours. Dinner. SLEEP! Repeat for 2 more days and on to the next…
Again, not proud, this is just how I came to cope with my ever-changing environment. When you’re on the go, it’s so easy to let everything you experience simply wash over you, rather than stopping to soak it in. This is how opportunities are lost, memories are missed, and most importantly… money is wasted!
So, upon arriving in Manchester, I found myself feeling incredibly alone and isolated. I craved connection and a new face and a whole new world to explore. So where else is a gay to turn? Before I knew it, Grindr was re-downloaded on my phone for what was likely the 19th time. Hello darkness, my old friend.
But let’s not get it twisted. I was not looking to get down and dirty this weekend (or have “fun,” as they call it). I wanted to meet someone new in the most innocent sense and did not have the patience nor the time to do so the old-fashioned way. I updated my profile description to say “Tea?” with the American flag emoji and put my phone in my pocket. (Don’t make fun of me.)
Before I was even checked into my hostel, I got a notification from a face that seemed simultaneously familiar and foreign, wearing a bashful smirk. (How refreshing to see a face and not a torso?) He said that he’d like to take me out to tea, and for me to name the time and place.
Hmm, this is going well.
We decided on a meeting location as I strategically loitered between different spots in the city with free WiFi (travelin’ without cell service is a struggle). The top floor of the Urban Outfitters it is…in public, because mama didn’t raise no fool. I told him I just needed to figure out a way to ditch my friends for the evening, then we could meet up. Luckily, it was a pretty clean break. After we ate dinner, I told them I was going to “go off exploring,” which was met with some suspicious eyes, but I was out of there before they even had the chance to ask questions.
The best kind of friends are the ones who know exactly when you’re up to no good, but let you live anyway.
After pretending to contemplate buying every piece of clothing in the store, I started getting nervous that this was a trick. Stupid tourist thinking he can get some action on his only night off this week. That’ll show me. I should’ve stuck to the safety of my friends. Should’ve… oh, man. There he was. Standing in front of me with his hands in the pockets of his denim jacket and a shy expression. What do I do? Do I hug him? Okay, we’re hugging now. Wow. “Let’s go get some food,” He said, gesturing toward the door with his head.
If you’ve been following along, yes, I most certainly already had dinner about 30 minutes prior. This silly little American forgot that some words have different meanings to different cultures. When I say “tea,” I mean a hot drink (or hot gossip). But to this charmer, “tea” means dinner. So you know what homeboy did? Took me out to dinner! And if you have a keen sense, you can infer that I most certainly did not pass up on another (free) meal.
Sitting across the table from this total stranger filled me with a rush of adrenaline. We exchanged stories of life, love, loss, and everything in between. Oh, and we also exchanged names. His is Oliver. I suddenly became more talkative than I had ever been in my life, and oh so curious. What is it like to live in Manchester? What do you do for fun? I’m not paying for this, right?
He also had tons of questions for me about life in the U.S.A. The most pressing of which seemed to be if I knew what a meme was, to which I responded yes, we have those in the States, too.
Before I knew it, we were back outside in the frigid February night air with a light drizzle overhead. Oliver decided it would only be right for him to give me a walking tour of his city, weaving both personal and historical anecdotes into our conversations. And I actually learned so much. It was like school, except the teacher had a nose ring and held my umbrella for me.
The worker bee is the symbol of Manchester, meant to represent the energy of the city during the Industrial Revolution (which they started -*sips tea). He has two middle names, which is quite common in England. Manchester is home to the first free public library, and also the first Marks & Spencer (a British convenience store sent from the gods). He also showed me the sites of his first concert, his first kiss, and his first breakup.
My dignity was compromised when I stopped to pee on the curb next to a parking garage. He was mortified. But it’s not my fault that England doesn’t believe in free public restrooms, especially after 10 p.m.
A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.
After merely hours, we had come to know each other so intimately, and though it took all my strength to not check the time, there was no denying that it was well past 2 in the morning. He had work the next day, and I had a room full of little faces to teach. The end was approaching, the end of something that had only just begun.
We put off saying goodbye like we were procrastinating writing a paper, taking one more lap over the bridge and around the canal. I would have paid any amount of money for more time with both of our hands in his coat pocket before going back to what we each knew.
“Can I kiss you?”
He let out a giggle and quickly nodded his head. (If you thought I was going to let this night come to an end without asking so snag one from this sucker, you would be sorely mistaken.) Everything slowed down in that moment, and we were suddenly the only two people on the block, in the whole city, in the entire world.
Like any true gentleman, he walked me back to my hostel to make sure I was safe. After the aforementioned tearful goodbye kisses, we went our separate ways, attempting to steal one final over-the-shoulder glance.
I tiptoed back into my hostel bunk, but do you really think much sleeping got done that night? Nope, none at all. I was still buzzing from my night that felt like it was straight out of a romance novel. The best part, the part that kept me grinning for several months after, was that my friends had no idea what I ran off to do that night. And I decided never to tell them.
Can we all agree that there are some memories that we just need to keep for ourselves?