You turn 15,16, 17, and boom, you're travelling at warped speed
Dr Nassbaum asks how my birthday was. I run the gamut. Early morning, sleepy kisses. A buck's fizz breakfast of scrambled egg and smoked salmon. Andrew laden with presents, packages, best wishes. Cards galore. A commotion of calls from family and friends. A long bath. A light lunch. Off to see Evita. Dinner at Vong. Home, hitting midnight, nuzzling, sweet talk, drifting away. Each hour accounted for until 38 had been and gone. There. I've left nothing out.

Dr Nassbaum searches through her pockets, offers a stick of Wrigley's: "That's what happened. But how does 38 years feel?" I chew, consider, spit it out: "No one really thinks in years. Do you?" Dr Nassbaum keeps mum. Fine: "No one's head is built to hold years. And won't. Imagine having to recognise that the bulk of existence is waste, donkey work - riding the Tube, office politics, ritual prattle, waiting for a better offer, whatever. There's no room for that: there could never be enough room for that. Years have..."

Ah. What is it years have? C'mon: "Years have momentum, but no actual meaning, no genuine weight." Dr Nassbaum stares. I tap-dance: "Life isn't years. It's moments. Age isn't time. It's memory."

Dr Nassbaum is unimpressed: "How does 38 feel?" "How's it supposed to feel?" She won't bite: "No doubt, angst, lack of direction..." "Mid-life crisis? I had that a decade ago."

Dr Nassbaum's smile is broad. "Explain." I try: "Because the life I've had - the life so many boys in the backroom have had - is accelerated." "Go on." "You discover sex, and too much of it too early, and, consequently, you find out about people and what lies behind their faces way too fast, well before you should, and you're not prepared. Who could be? You turn 15, 16, 17, and boom, you're travelling at warped speed, sorting out emotions you're not even supposed to have, every day negotiating relationships without obvious rules or regulations, in pursuit of a completeness the world claims is impossible. It doesn't take long to become ancient in here" - I tap the side of my head - "and still you want that 'rightness' right now, just to show them, and yourself, and you try, try, try ..." Dr Nassbaum nods. "If you don't achieve it, and no one can, not on demand, then you're burnt out and blase at 25, not 40. You look in the mirror and staring back is the Picture of Dorian Gray, only in reverse, possibly unshaven." Dr Nassbaum bursts out laughing a second before I do. "But you follow my drift - acceleration. Often mistaken for an incurably romantic temperament, when you've simply run out of surprises. Already."

Dr Nassbaum pushes in another direction: "You don't mind your youth slipping away..." "He won't. I've locked him in his room." I know where she wants to go: faggots and their craving for smooth, unmarked flesh - their own and everyone else's. Which is true and not true, given that youth is now merely a designated part of a pick 'n' mix portfolio as the scene splinters into market segments, and one is permitted - encouraged - to segue from, say, Pretty Boy to Muscle Mary to Leather Man to Daddy Stud. Age as a come-on, a convenient fetish, the body an infinitely plastic plaything, with clothes - costumes, really - camouflaging any slipping away, sure ... into a harness or army fatigues, receding hairlines and bald spots banished with a number one cut. Delaying tactics. Until the inevitable refuses to be put off a beat more, and suddenly you just ... disappear. Because if you're young, and you're not sexual, then obviously you're nothing. Obviously. Unless you always had other wishes to warm you through winter.

Dr Nassbaum probes for wounds: "You don't fear death? Age brings it closer. Death is less abstract ..." I nearly sigh: "It's less abstract to me because it's made so many recent guest appearances. I've said goodbye to friends I shouldn't have had to say goodbye to until I was in my fifties, or later." "Acceleration," Dr Nassbaum mutters. I hadn't quite thought of it like that, but, huh huh, perhaps. Anyhow, death is fine. OK, cool. Death is like birth: it makes you thankful, not fearful, of time. You find there are worse losses than youth. Like losing the chance to grow old, if not up. Watch that being drained away second by second, and what are wrinkles save the future, and to be welcomed?

You've finally got to realise that life's been happening to you even as you believed it was running ahead, that what you fondly thought you were improvising was actually the real thing. Or as real as it gets. That you're not excluded; that the same state of mess applies generally and particularly; that there is no destination to reach; no dramatic climax when you cry out, "There".

"If you don't grasp that - and a lot of us funny folk unfortunately never do - then..." Dr Nassbaum prompts: "Then what?" "No idea. Where was I going with this?" Dr Nassbaum is dry: "I hoped you'd tell me." Tell her what, pray? I'm 38. What the hell do I know?n

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