No. 24 First Love at First Sight

“I’m Ray, It’s my party.” He was holding a can of Holsten, leaning on the fridge by the door of the small kitchen.
“You should live in Rayleigh then you’d be Ray from Rayleigh.” I slurred, pissed from drinking earlier in the Crown. “We’ve bought booze with us.” I was embarrassed and hoped Ray didn’t think I was a taker. I’d just helped myself to a large glass of vodka. Hadleigh was out of my comfort zone, our Rayleigh crew had arrived late, the party was in full swing.
“Come here,” I flew to his side. He pulled me close and we snogged.
Ray was slim, died jet black spiky hair, he wore a cap sleeve white t-shirt and black and white punky drain pipes, identical to the red and white ones I was wearing. Everyone alternative or punk bought their clothes from Nasty’s in Clifftown Road, Southend, it was where I bought all my trousers, t-shirts and my PVC mini skirt with the zips up the sides (that had to be unzipped to my waist so I could sit down). Nasty’s was a great place to shop, they had bargain buckets of 2nds like ‘Sid Snot’s famous trash rack’ and ‘half price dayglow Captain Kirk flying suits’.
Ray and I talked and snogged all night until John (No. 21) told me if I wanted a lift home to Rayleigh the last car was going now. I left the party with my ex making sure Ray had my home and work telephone number written on his cigarette packet.
“Someone called Ray rang you,” my work colleague said in between deep inhaling of her fag. She’d run out or her Rothmans and was smoking the fat mod’s No. 6’s. It was Monday lunchtime and I’d just nipped out to the bank. It was payday.
“Did he leave a number?”
“No, it was a call box.”
When I got home I sat by the phone in the living room until it rang at 8.33pm. I waited for it to ring 3 times before I picked up.
We arranged to meet the following Friday night for drinks in Ray’s local. Mum dropped me off, the pub was buzzing. There were two small bars, the public and the saloon – very similar to Rayleigh’s Spread Eagle where the under 16’s went. The public bar had the darts board and the saloon the fruit machine. Ray was playing on the fruit machine when I walked in. He smiled and bought us pints of Holsten from the very friendly landlord.
Everyone who came in the pub said hi to Ray, he knew everyone. He was 21, I was still 17 but this pub was even friendlier than the Rayleigh pubs. I met Foggie, the second-hand record dealer, Crudgie the postman (who was worried about getting up at 4.30 the next morning) and Stewart, whose father owned the sex shops in Southend. We got pissed. Ray bought some take away Holsten Pils bottles and we went back to his place.
We had the bungalow to ourselves, Ray’s father and sister were out. The bungalow was one bedroomed, with a dining room with sliding patio doors, a lounge and a bathroom. Ray’s Dad slept in the bedroom and the other rooms had recently been turned into bedsits for Ray and his sister.
“You got the best room” I said as he showed me into his room with the patio doors that led out to a small back garden.
“Yeah but my sister comes round the back and opens the door when she’s lost her keys and wakes me up. She’s a little shit.”
Ray flipped open the bottles of Holsten with his lighter and we sat on his double lilo, had sex, got off for a bit, he blew the lilo up better, then we got back on and had sex, again and again and again.
I stayed in Ray’s room all weekend, and the next and the next. I told Mum and Dad I had a proper boyfriend in Hadleigh and when I wasn’t at work I was at Ray’s.
We excluded ourselves from friends and spent our time drinking, smoking, taking drugs and exploring all sorts of things we could do that was sex. We were besotted with each other.
“I love you”
“I love you too”
“I love you more”
“I love you even more”
I learned with Ray how to return love and I was rewarded with more love.  He bought us 2 finches that lived in a wooden cage in his room. The cage sat on a table by the patio doors. We named the finches Hiroshima and Nagasaki and wolf whistled at them till they wolf whistled back. They were like our little babies, flying about the room, landing on our heads. We adored them as we adored each other.
Apart from the finches flapping about we were rarely disturbed. Sometimes Ray’s sister would knock on the door asking for money (she’d learned not to barge in round the back) and sometimes Stewart would come round with stuff from the sex shops and pirate horror videos like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
Ray bought a Morris Marina for us to get about and go to festivals in. I was learning to drive and had my test booked in a few weeks. My dad had paid for lessons from a local driving instructor called Captain Dave.
“Captain Dave, that wanker” Julie had said when she learned we shared the same instructor. “I was doing my best three-point turn, looking over my shoulder to check all the things I should and the bastard reached over and squeezed my boobs, like really hard so they hurt. Wanker.” I always wore trousers for lessons, Captain Dave never did it to me and I passed my test after twelve lessons.
Ray’s Marina had an oil leak, we put a bucket underneath the car and poured the collected oil back into the tank in the mornings. I drove it to and from work, juggling oil buckets. It was easier than hitching or getting the bus down the A13 to Southend.
Then the Marina began conking out and I began to spend less time at Ray’s. I was going back in the Rayleigh Crown hanging out with Marni again, she’d recently split up from her merchant seaman boyfriend. I’d pull sickies at work and borrow Mum’s Mini and pick her up from her 6th form college, we’d drive to Old Leigh-on-Sea, have a pint, sit outside the Crooked Billet pub and watch the passing trade from the cockle sheds and talk about boys. I was happy – I had work, transport, friend, money and a relationship. For a short time I thought I could have it all.
The next Friday night I went through the unlocked patio doors of Ray’s bungalow and unloaded my weekend gear onto the lilo. I let the finches out for a fly about, closed the door and walked to the pub, knowing Ray would be there. He was on his third Holsten, a bit pissed and stayed on the fruit machine while I got chatting to Foggie and some others.  All seemed fine but things started to get weird as the night went on.  When Ray and I got back to his room we were both tripping. Someone had put acid into our drinks, we thought.
“It’s quiet. Where are the birds?” Ray asked mid-afternoon, post tripping and post our druggy sexathon.  I sat up and looked around the room “Fuck, they must have flown out when we came in” he said.
“It could have been anyone, you should get a lock. Anyone could have come in. I would have noticed when we came in.”
“You were off your head”
I was upset and now feeling guilty. “I’ll get some food.”
I returned from the corner shop with a bag of sausage rolls, crisps and chocolate bars.
“They’re dead.” Ray said. “We killed them. I found them under the lilo.” He was holding little Hiroshima and Nagasaki wrapped in tissue paper.  We buried them in the garden but weren’t sad for long, after a few joints we laughed about the trajedy, the poor birds had flown under the lilo grooves, we’d had sex and slept on them.

Tragic and funny as it was, the dead finches were symbolic of a change in our relationship.
“Will you marry me?” Ray asked without a ring
“I don’t know” I said

A few weeks went by and I turned 18, I wasn’t going to marry Ray, I didn’t know why but I knew I wanted to get out of Essex, somehow. Foggie had been talking of moving to London and Marni would be going to Uni in the Autumn. They were escaping, maybe I could too.

The ending with Ray was painful.  He was my first proper love, you only get one of them.

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