Oh, GCSE results day. I remember it not like it was yesterday, but as if it were about two years ago rather than (eek) sixteen.
I had been on holiday with my dad and stepmum in the south of France – I flew back early, by myself, the first time I had ever flown alone. My mum took a couple of hours off work and picked up me and my friend Rachael to take us to the school. It was a sunny day, as they always were in teenage summers. In those days, she had a bright red convertible; it was 1997 and we would listen to a lot of Lemonheads, Lush and Kenickie in the car.
This fateful Thursday came amid one of those rare golden summers. I had highlights and a suntan; I dressed like an extra from the Smashing Pumpkins 1979 video. The boy I had loved since I was 12 had finally, officially asked me to be his girlfriend. I had spent the summer hanging around in the park with him, sitting in grotty band practice rooms, taking the train to spend days round at his house.
My mind had not been on GCSEs for a while now. Suddenly it hit me that maybe it should have been. I had spent my ‘study leave’ days in the pub, having a boyfriend, feeling awesome for once. I thought the exams went OK, but maybe I was deluding myself. I had instead wasted all of my attention on a boy who was leaving to go to music college in a month’s time. The fear hit, but I had to admit that if I could go back I probably wouldn’t change it – a catch-22 that rears its head throughout my life.
I felt sick all morning, and I don’t think I have ever been so relieved as when I opened the envelope and saw that it was… OK. Not amazing, probably not as well as I could have done – but, all things considered, really OK. (In case you were wondering, I got 6 As, 2 Bs and 2 Cs.)
Rachael was still too scared to open hers. She got back in the car with her unopened envelope still clutched in her hand. (When she finally summoned the nerve, days later, she did just fine as well.)
My mum went back to work; the boy walked round to my house, having collected his own results from the boys’ school. He hadn’t done as OK as I had, but he had a plan and was just glad that school had finished – for him, forever. I would be going back for sixth form in September. I don’t think we ever discussed what would happen next – we stayed in touch, but it was never again as perfect as it had been that summer. (In fact, I would spend the next five or six years, on and off, trying to recapture the summer of 1997, to varying but limited success.)
We lay around in the garden for the afternoon; he smoked cigarettes and I gazed at him adoringly. We took an early prototype version of The Selfie to commemorate the occasion, on a disposable film camera from Boots. I can picture it perfectly in my mind – I wish I still had it, but I don’t think I do.
Then he went home and I walked to my friend Nadia’s house, where I met up with all my girlfriends. We went out for the night and we met a girl called Lou, who was starting sixth form at our school in September, and would become our best friend. We all slept over at Emma’s, all of us on the floor in the dining room, and it ended up being a great, great day.
When I think about it now, it was so obvious that it was the end of something – but I didn’t realise it at the time. I suppose you never do.