(Programming note: This blogpost doesn’t fit chronologically – part 2 of my holiday diary is coming soon. An Act of God intervened and needed to be written about.)
I didn’t sleep well on Wednesday night and arrived home absolutely exhausted, falling into bed at 8:00 and asleep before 9:00 pm. I woke, feeling refreshed, and checked my phone. It had gone crazy while I was asleep. It was like my birthday – so many emails, Facebook posts, messages. What on Earth had happened? Had I somehow inadvertently made the big time?
Zayn has left One Direction. And, as everyone knows, Zayn is my favourite member of my favourite band.
One friend literally posted an actual “condolences on your loss” card to my timeline.
We all knew it was going to happen. Any serious One Direction fan knew Zayn would be the first to go. He’s always been the delicate, moody, retiring one. It’s one of the reasons I love him. The first anyone knew of him was in the Bootcamp stages of X Factor when he refused to dance, until Simon Cowell made him. And any time only four of them showed up for interviews, Zayn was always the one who was missing. He didn’t like the fame. And he was troubled. He closed his twitter account once (something management was no doubt furious about) to protect his sister from insane people on the internet. And if the internet is to be believed, he rang his mother and sisters every day when he was on tour. He was a lonely soul. And I loved that soul. Or I loved what I knew of it.
I plugged in my headphones, put “Little Things” on repeat on my phone, and walked to school, entirely unsure what to feel. I mean, he had “taken a break” from their tour last week, so we’d all had an inkling this could happen. This had, luckily, softened the blow.
I was in a daze at work, and tried to settle into the flow of the day. As I was typing on my computer, one of my students, a young Englishman, was sitting next to me. When I’m typing I often take off my watch and my One Direction bracelet. He spotted the bracelet and leaned over to have a look. He then said “I was in a One Direction video”. WHAT? I got him to repeat himself. He had been in a One Direction video. I asked what he’d been doing. He said that he’d just been standing in a kebab shop. I said “Wow. You were in Midnight Memories!” “How did you know it was Midnight Memories?” he asked, sounding a little scared, realising that it wasn’t a joke, I really was a fan. I knew which video had a kebab shop in it.
I got the video up on YouTube and we looked at it together, finding shots of him. I told him that I was depressed because Zayn had left. He literally didn’t know how to process this. He realised I was serious and cautiously said that they seemed to be very nice lads when he met them, which was nice of him.
I spent a lot of the rest of the working day in a funk. There was no one who would understand this. I was surrounded by bloody heterosexuals. I love heterosexuals. I do. But today wasn’t the day for them. And they were everywhere. I told my colleagues (two straight Englishmen) about what happened. Of course, I tried to sound lighthearted because I’m 34, and their manager, and a grown man abroad and I shouldn’t be upset about someone leaving a boyband. In spite of my attempt at lightheartedness, I still freaked them out a bit, though they were funny about it.
The whole day (and in fact the whole of my Vietnam experience) reminds me of being back in my boys’ secondary school and my geography teacher making “backs to the wall” jokes about me, when I was being ridiculous, which I loved, and hated.
I was at my desk at lunchtime, being mainly OK, marking homework, when I made the mistake of quickly checking Twitter. Someone posted a photo of Harry Styles crying on stage at the concert after the announcement about Zayn. I managed to stop myself bawling before anyone found me, and got back to work.
A friend of mine messaged me, saying she imagined I was like Sandy in Grease, singing “Hopelessly Devoted To You” and in a way i was. I was mooning about the place.
Of course, I got home and started watching video after video and entirely broke down. I was a total ZaynWreck. I was crying over spilt Malik. And all the other jokes that were floating about twitter all day. I was those jokes. I watched the old homemade videos that the band posted after X Factor, before they became superfamous. I watched the whole of the One Direction movie. I watched their slower songs on YouTube again and again.
And I cried. I was surprised at myself. It’s the first proper cry I’ve had in all my time in Vietnam, and it took me aback.
What am I like? I really am a grown-up, and it’s not as if I ever met Zayn. I have always struggled to understand what it was about One Direction that “got” me. I mean, I brought my One Direction duvet cover and pillowcases to Vietnam with me so I wake up with Zayn every morning.I once had a colleague who used to make lots of sexual jokes about me and Zayn and that wasn’t it. It’s not that they’re good-looking. They are good-looking, and that helps a lot, but that’s not it.
I think it’s that I got to know them so well. There are thousands of hours of footage of them online. Not an exaggeration – thousands of hours. Being a fan is a lot different now than it was when I was a teenager. When I was a teenager, I used to wait until one of the four, yes FOUR, TV stations we had, showed a Robbie Williams song and I would jump up and down excitedly. Being a fan was hard. But now you can watch your favourites all day online. And they would mess around on camera and chase after each other and ask each other silly questions and make fart jokes. Their videos in the last year or two aren’t as joyful, but if you watch the early interviews or any of the videos they made themselves when they were trying to break into the big time, you get to be their friend. And you’re welcomed into their lives. And they are safe. And because of my own hang-ups, I have always felt that straight men just tolerate me. I never had to fear rejection from One Direction.
And I loved Zayn most of all. He grew up in a terraced house in Bradford – his dad is from a Pakistani family and his mother is from a Limerick family. He got abuse in the American media for mentioning Ramadan on Twitter, and I often call him the most influential muslim in the world. He is broody and moody and that makes his smiles more precious. Unlike his bandmates, he hasn’t bought a house in LA, and he doesn’t party on yachts. He did buy a house in Bradford for his family, and the scene in the One Direction movie where she thanks him for buying the house would make anyone cry. He also bought a house for himself and fulfilled his dream of having a graffiti room, which he spraypainted himself, because the best thing about being rich is having no one to tell you you can’t have your own graffiti room. I haven’t been on Tumblr yet today. That’s where the real Directioners hang out, and I can only imagine how sad all the fan art is today and I’m not ready.
So I cried. Because it will never be the same again.
And of course, when you start crying, you can’t stop. I associate One Direction a lot with my years in Hall. And I thought a lot about Hall today. I know that if I was still in Hall today, lots of people would have called over to me, to check I was OK. In Hall, I was Mr One Direction and everyone knew Zayn was my favourite and I wouldn’t have spent the evening alone crying. And so I started thinking about where my life has gone since Hall, and how unsure I am about the future and all I know is don’t really want to be in either TEFL or in academia and how everything after the 18th April in my life is a total mystery and what’s the meaning of everything, and I don’t want to have children, so what am I even for?? If someone had interrupted me an hour ago and asked why I was crying while watching One Direction sing Kelly Clarkson’s My Life Would Suck Without You, I would have said “It’s not because Zayn has left One Direction. It’s because I don’t know what the meaning of life is.”
It’s OK. I’ve stopped crying now and I’ve written a blogpost. But I still have no idea what the meaning of life is.