Nicholas was The One. The One I wanted to live with, grow old with, die with

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Today I found letters I didn't know I had and photographs I'd forgotten. Ink and images faded and peeling, tucked away at the back of cupboards, in plastic bags, at the bottom of old suitcases which, once unzipped, smell teasingly of travel, spilt aftershave and damp - reminders of times terminated and memories cast away.

Which is to be expected. When you move house, you think it's all logistical; chuck this, retain that, box the rest, wait for the van. Then you get started and it'san archaeological dig; layers of your lifeexcavated.

I'm standing in my back room, watching the removal men lift the last of the furniture, holding a picture of Nicholas and me that was taken in Dubai, when we'd been together for about, oh, two, maybe three, years. Nicholas has his arm over my shoulder (I'm sure whoever took the snap suggested this) and I'm squinting up at the sun, looking impossibly youngand impossibly happy.

It's 15 years on and I finally think I know it's over - that's the reason I'm moving - just as I know I shouldn't be doing this: haunting myself. I can't help it. Like I can't help reading some of the letters, letters from the very beginning that can't find new ways of saying I Love You and I Miss You, but struggle to none the less, because the feelings behind them then seemed too overwhelming to be decanted into rote phrases. The emotions would surely explode the very words.

I race through the sentences in a sort of panic, and what's really painful - what makes my throat tighten and chest ache - is the fact that I still feel much the same.That's why the letters, no matter how gauche, don't embarrass me the way the photos do. Despite the evidence of my own eyes, I don't see that boy: I never was that young. But if my exterior has changed, the interior has not. I scan the words and recognise that from first glimpse, Nicholas was The One. The One I wanted to live with, grow old with, die with.

I'm putting the photo down and rooting through another bag, though I should be busy supervising packing, pointing out which of the debris I've decided to take with me. The bag contains recent letters, letters in which the emotions do explode the words. Rage and recrimination, accusation and counter-accusation, demands for space, pleas for explanations. And I read and I listen to the hired hands next door joking and wrapping glassware in crumpled newspaper and I wonder how nearly 18 years could dribble away so, or how friends can tell me that, well, 18 years, that wasn't a bad innings, or how others could even hint that there was something profoundly unnatural about me, a gay man, wanting monogamy anyway - as if I was letting the side down.What's my problem?

My problem: I find separating love from sex almost impossible. That doesn't make me a better person, but it does make me a very poor gay man. Nicholas is a better gay man than me: nowadays he thinks he can divide flesh from feeling. And I realise we no longer live in a world where it's permissible to put the other person first, and I realise, too, that I'm an anachronism, but actually, no, I don't believe that someone else'spleasure can be bought with my pain - mypainmypainmypain - especially when that someone else is meant to love you or, at least, have enough good sense not to say that they'd read in a book that this sort of thing happened in gay relationships around the decade-and-a-half mark, as if what we were to one another could be reduced to a chapter heading, a footnote ... a full stop.

I haven't unplugged the phone yet, but I'm startled when it rings.Nicholas. Impeccable timing. How's it going? Nearly finished? Removal men good? Polite inquiries from a casual acquaintance.

He talks because I can't. If I try I'll break, and I don't want to cry in front of strangers.

Only Nicholas asks: "Are you going to give me your address and telephone number?" And I say, though it takes a while and comes out shaky: "No." I want to, but I can't: I'd always be hoping, hoping that you'll really, truly see me, and I can't wait any longer, not with the past crumbling behind me and the future, for all sorts of reasons, falling away fast. The present belongs to me - let me have it.

Nicholas mutters "All right" and I think the line's gone dead until he says, too brightly, "Big step. New home." And I choke back my answer, which is, "My home is where you are - that's where I live," because it's too late and I'm exhausted from rubbing salt into my own wounds.

Instead I say, "See you around." But I won't. Nicholas is still talking when I put down the phone.

A head pops round the door. It's Pete, the boss man. He's coming to take me away, aha. "Everything's packed. Nothing left. Time to move on," he says. And I nearly say, give me a minute, but on second thoughts, I don't need a minute. I pick up the photo again, look at it closely, can't place that boy's face. I tear it in two. There.

"OK," I tell Pete, "that's it. Let's get this road on the show."