Age plays tricks. Looking in the mirror I see the worn and wrinkling face of a older man, but inside I still believe myself not to be that be different from the person I was when I first truly became self-aware enough to create and store memory.
Of course, I am not the same. Time acts as a salve and washes away much that I would chose to forget, so much so that it is hard to recollect some things. Foremost amongst this is the fear and anxiety that can bedevil the young – and certainly did me – in those first tentative steps towards adulthood.
Thus, it's hard for me today to put myself truly into the mind of what I once was. A good thing overall, yes, for I am much changed and for the better – or so I judge!
Nonetheless, the pull of the past is strong and can manifest itself in unusual ways. Something is happening right now, and it is being driven by my subconscious. I have no insight yet into what currently lies there. In time, I will.
The first woman I ever fell in love with was named Hilary – Billie, she preferred – and I met her on vacation in Spain in the early 1970s. She was traveling with the daughter of a friend of my parents, and one day our two families joined up for a day in a mountainside villa on the Costa Blanca.
It was a blue sky summer's day. There was a moderate breeze blowing up from the sea below, and the flowers and leaves seemed more alive than usual. Before I even arrived at the villa, I was aware of something changing within me. Simply the effect of exotic places and the relaxation of a vacation schedule?
Perhaps. But add plenty of wine to the mix, amd I was primed for something. What I got and did not expect was an emotional free-fall into love.
I was gone from the first time I saw her in her bikini. Blue. She had a sixteen year old's body, smooth, round and downy. Astonishingly I was swept away with strong sexual desire – where had this come from? I hadn't planned or considered any of this, yet here I was, heart pounding and breath tightening in her presence.
We barely talked and spent no time alone together. Just as well, perhaps, for I felt self-conscious and shy in my emotional confusion, and was glad when the day ended and we went our separate ways.
Glad for a few minutes. Then the ache began, and I just wanted to see her again. How could this be? It made no sense at all.
I nursed this ache for the rest of the vacation. Plans made to get together again fell through, and then the holiday itself was over.
I saw her once more, a month or so later in England, and it was not the same. I was disappointed but not really surprised. Nothing further developed.
What I did not appreciate though, until decades later, is that whatever I felt towards Billie – and whatever she felt towards me – had a striking impact on those around us. On the infrequent times that I meet the old friend of my parents who hosted that strange day, she almost always brings up Billie at some point or another in the conversation. She tells me of Billie's divorce, and does so in such a way to imply that had things taken a different course from that day long ago in Spain, Billie and I might be happily together.
She knew Billie far better than I ever did. Perhaps Billie confided things to her that made it clear that her feelings for me were far stronger than I ever appreciated.
Who knows? It was a long time ago, and other women and life have carried me far away. But tonight, after an evening listening to one of the soundtracks of my life at that time – Led Zeppelin's third album – those bittersweet memories have returned.