In 2006, I had been living in Poland for three years. I was vaguely considering staying there forever. I felt there wasn’t much left for me in Ireland. I had a law degree, with a second class honour, grade two. A 2H2 degree is fine, but it’s not going to get you a big fancy law job. And I hadn’t done any entrance exams for either barrister or solicitor training. There was no obvious job to go home to.
I still had friends in Ireland of course. But they were forgetting me. Every time I visited home, people knew less and less about my life. And I knew less and less about their lives. I had had a huge social circle when I was in college, but every time I visited Ireland, there were fewer and fewer people to visit.
And life in Poland was easy. I had some friends, not loads, but plenty. And as a foreigner, no one expected anything of me. People would do my taxes for me, or arrange my telephone connection for me. I liked my teaching job, and I was getting better at it.
I had begun thinking about getting a mortgage, buying a flat in Sopot (the beachside resort town outside Gdansk where I lived) and staying in Poland for life.
Then one Saturday evening, I was sitting in the pub that lots of the English teachers in Sopot used to drink in. It was a Scottish-themed pub, called the Language Bar. I kind of fancied the barman there. He used to tolerate me sitting at the bar and talking to him from time to time, unless there was a pretty girl in the bar, in which case I would get almost no attention.
I was sitting at the bar, chatting to the barman, when a nice-looking young blond man came to the bar. He ordered drinks in halting Polish. I asked him where he was from. He was English, and he invited me to the table where he and his friends were sitting.
As well as the blond English man, there was an English girl and an Irish man. They were all around my age (twenty-five) and seemed very friendly. They were visiting the area for the weekend. All three were working as English teachers in a nowhere small industrial town in Southern Poland. They hadn’t known each other before the previous September, but were now best friends. The Irish guy and the English girl were a couple.
We chatted and had pints. I took a bit of a shine to the English guy. Like a lot of English teachers abroad he was quite camp. He was good-looking too and I was feeling optimistic. I focused my attention on him.
The Irish guy and his girlfriend weren’t getting on that well, and she was clearly in a bad mood. She went home early. When the pub closed, I invited the two boys back to my flat. I had vodka and we could carry on drinking. We went to a late-night shop, bought some orange juice to mix with the vodka and went to my flat.
Myself and the Irish guy sat on the sofa. The English guy (my goal for the night) sat on the armchair opposite us. At this stage, I had dropped numerous references to my “bisexuality” into the conversation. At the time, I would still sometimes refer to myself as bisexual. It seemed less of an admission than saying I was gay.
The English guy fell fast asleep on the armchair. The Irish guy, whose girlfriend was in their hotel room in a huff with him, leaned over and kissed me. I nearly died of shock.
I kissed him back. For a while, we sat on the couch, kissing and smoking. I later lost my deposit on the flat because of this night. We both dropped our cigarettes in the course of our drunken fumbling and made cigarette burns in the hideously fabulous 1970s lime green corduroy sofa. The Englishman two feet away slept soundly as we slurped at each other’s faces.
At one stage, my new man grabbed my head, laughed and instructed me on how to kiss him better. I suppose I should be embarrassed that at the age of twenty-five, someone saw it as necessary to teach me how to kiss properly, but I loved this. Previous to this, all encounters I’d had with men had been vaguely danger-laden, serious and furtive. This guy laughed, he enjoyed himself and he was willing to improve me. It meant the world to me.
As we kissed more, I began to get handsy. My hands travelled up and down his body and I made a number of approaches on his [insert euphemism for penis]. He kept pushing my hand away. Eventually, he explained that he was too drunk to get hard.
I told him it didn’t matter. I asked if he wanted to go to bed and fool around. After a bit of coaxing, he agreed.
If you are insecure about yourself, about your body and about your lack of sexual experience, then there is nothing I can recommend as highly as going to bed with a man who can’t get hard. There was absolutely no pressure. No winners, no losers, just fun.
He laughed at me for leaving my socks on. I took them off. We laughed when our glasses banged off each other and we took them off too. I told him that he looked like Justin Timberlake without his glasses, which he kind of did. He found this hilarious and started singing “Cry me a river” right in my face.
This was the first time in my life that sex hadn’t been sweaty and fumbling. It was the first time that I felt almost no shame.
The English friend slept soundly the whole night in the living room.
We licked the entirety of each other. And we laughed. And we talked. And I told him truths while our naked legs intertwined. And I never, ever wanted it to end. We snoozed for a while, but we were awake for most of the night, chatting, kissing, singing, touching, discovering another body. My heart races thinking about it seven years later. For those few hours, I felt a connection that I’ve never felt before or since.
In the morning, we got dressed. He gave me his phone number and we had a last kiss before he woke his friend on the armchair.
They left and I didn’t come down from the high for at least a week.
He had forgotten his glasses. Late that afternoon, his English friend returned to collect them. Was he regretting staying the night? Collecting his glasses would have been the perfect excuse to come back and see me again, but I never did see him again.
That evening, I rang a friend of mine. I had kind of known this friend since we were about 14, and we’d been in the same class in college. By chance, we had both moved to Poland at the same time. We lived at opposite ends of the country and we visited each other about once a year. I wouldn’t have considered him a good friend until that evening. But that evening, I rang him. I had free calls to Polish numbers. I rang him and I poured my guts out to him. I talked for ages. I told him about the night I’d had, about the intimacies and the intertwined legs. And for a straight man, he was able to see the romance in the situation straight away. He said it was like the film “Before Sunrise”. Since that phone call, I consider that guy to be one of my best friends, and I’ve inflicted many more stories on him.
On the Monday morning, I told my colleagues at work. One of them persuaded me to text the guy. He never texted back. I spent a week waiting. In fact, during that week, I wrote a short story about waiting for a guy to text and I submitted it to the New Yorker. It was the first time I ever tried to get published. I was swept away on a wave of love and optimism.
And in a way, it didn’t matter that he never texted back. I had never made a connection with a Polish man like I’d made with my Irish Justin Timberlake. And by the end of that week, I’d googled English language schools in Dublin and I’d rung my mother to tell her I was coming back to Ireland.