I’ve known Stu for 18 years. We’ve had that kind of friendship that can see twelve months pass without so much as an hello. Not a phone call, not a text, not an email, but we always eventually get back together and pick up where we left off, as though no time has passed at all. These gaps in our seeing one another are filled with so many fond memories… none of which, sadly, are the stuff of witty and riveting anecdote. Nevertheless, I will endeavour to pick apart a few of them.
For as long as I’ve known Stu, he has been organised and set in his ways. We lived together for six or seven years, and there were many things over that time which testified to this need of his for order and routine. There are the crisps he would neatly empty from his packet onto the side of his dinner plate. Almost every dinner plate, and almost regardless of what food was there next to it. This memory I’m particularly fond of, because even my daughter managed to outgrow a penchant for crisps at the side of her dinner plate by the age of four. Stu used to pour Vimto into a tall glass to accompany every meal. He bloody loved Vimto. I never once saw Stu drink anything other than Vimto, water or milk. And his regulation two pints of beer which saw him under the table each Saturday night. These are little pieces that remind me of someone who always seemed so young at heart and who enjoyed his comforts around him. I always found them entirely endearing.
I remember Monday evenings, returning home from work with new music releases which we listened to whilst playing Actua Soccer or Touring Car Racing Championship on the Playstation. We played the new CDs on his stack of separates, the separates that he’d saved up for month after dedicated month to buy. I loved listening to music with Stu and it was almost always the same music.
He would retire to his basement bedroom before 11pm every night. The dink of toothbrush and toilet lid through the wall was as dependably clockwork as night turning to day. I would roll into bed in the AM hours when Stu was almost always two or three hours of sleep to the good. And he would always greet me with the most annoyingly refreshed ‘MORNING MATTHEW!’ when we next passed again at around 8am. Stu liked his routine. And Stu likes things as they should be.
I remember Stu once reeling in horror at seeing a cigarette in my non-smoker’s hand at the nightclub in Bath we used to go to most weekends. Stu took my hand to the floor to demand it to be stubbed out for me, bashing knuckles and nails before he got anywhere near glowing embers. I have worn a prosthetic thumb to this day. Stu didn’t want me to smoke. He wanted his harmony and order and the world he loved to be just right around him. You see, Stu was all about order and routine and things in the right place, done at the right time, in the right way.
I recall the curveball I threw him when I fell seriously ill with glandular fever for a couple of pretty horrible weeks. I commandeered the lounge and the sofa for most of that time and Stu was bereft. He would pop his head around the door with a quiet, anxious ‘…alright Matthew?’ I would nod and smile, expending an hour’s worth of stored energy in the process and then his little head would be gone. I think he missed the sofa, but I know he missed his friend too, his order: his world had been thrown slightly out of kilter.
So, Aelia, there can be no higher confirmation of this man’s love for you other than the fact that he is deciding to share that world and be exposed to his sofa being occupied without pre-booking.
This is something of a lopsided speech, because whereas I’ve known Stu for 18 years, I’ve known Aelia for a little over 18 hours. Except I have really known Aelia for longer, for perhaps 12 or 18 months, albeit once removed. I’ve come to know Aelia, because I’ve gradually come to hear of the love that Stu has for her. And more than that, over that time, I’ve begun to share stories with Stu about the love I have for my own wife and my two daughters. I remember a meal with him where he probed with simple questions about ‘the way you feel being married’, ‘the way you feel looking after someone’, ‘living with that person’, ‘having two young lives to take care of too’. And I realised that I was not so much telling Stu about my life, but learning about the life that Stu was looking to form with the woman he had fallen in love with.
For me, it was the dullest conversation of our friendship to date and I allowed a gap of 12 months to pass by before seeing him again. But that evening, Stu was noticeably educated, moved and enchanted by the complete crock of shit I had just sold him.
So again, Aelia, you can be sure of Stu’s love for you, because he’s been finding his way towards this moment for almost as long as I’ve known him: setting things in place, being certain, getting excited about it and then finally going out and getting the thing that he wanted more than anything else. Just like he waited and waited and finally got that Champagne-coloured stack of music-system separates.
Aelia, I really hope we come to know you so well over time, and love you like we do Stu. He is my beautiful friend and it’s a very genuine, genuine joy to see that he now has a beautiful wife to share his life with.