"We don’t climb the mountain this time. The three of us have grown close to new people and walked down different paths"CECI BROWNING

For a long time, I believed that to stop the people I care about from leaving, I had to hold on to them as tight as I could. This, I thought, is how to make them stay. This is how to make them love me back. I knew they did anyway; I knew they were fond of me and that they supported and valued me, but I wanted to find a way to make this last as long as possible, convinced that this was the path to happiness.

Last summer, my two best friends and I went to climb Snowdon. Just the three of us. From Swansea, we drove north, up to the Brecon Beacons. The car we took, Harry’s battered Volkswagen Golf, didn’t have air conditioning, so we just sat, hot and sticky and damp, windows down, singing at the top of our voices. For a few days, without ever straying too far from the task at hand — scaling a mountain — we laughed and we talked and we remembered all the days together that had come before. One day, I remember thinking to myself, lying in my sleeping bag, one day this trip will be a story we look back on. One day this will be an anecdote Jake mentions over dinner, and I’ll gasp, and Harry will raise one eyebrow, and then I’ll say, “I remember that!” and we’ll clink our glasses together and carry on with our grown-up lives.

“One day this trip will be a story we look back on”

All three of us lived on the same corridor in first year, but in second year we got even closer as Jake and I lived right next door to each other. I’d be up first in the mornings, because of rowing or because I’d left my curtains open and the light had woken me up. I’d make a coffee and toast two hot cross buns, then prop my door open and sit working or reading at my desk. An hour later, when Jake opened his door, he’d see me and he’d slide in, a lopsided smile on his face, hair triangular, as it always was in the mornings before he’d had a chance to get in the shower. I’d stick one arm out towards him and he’d give me a hug or pat me on the head.

My favourite smell in the morning, between the hours of nine and eleven, aside from bacon, or perhaps cinnamon pastries, is Jake’s white pyjama T-shirt, the one with the green and yellow logo on the front. It reminds me that on good days and on bad days, Jake will be there to check that I’m okay and to eat Shreddies in the adjacent room. I feel the same about Harry. Most days, for two years, we’d stand side by side pushing bread into the toaster. Harry is comforting, like putting on a warm coat for the first time since the previous winter, or walking through the front door after a long time away.

“Sometimes to love someone is to let them be separate from you”

However, this year, when we are in Wales again, on a group holiday, things are different. We don’t climb the mountain this time. The three of us have grown close to new people and walked down different paths. We have all moved on. Upstairs one afternoon, getting changed after a day at the beach, I hear them downstairs, laughing with our other friends. At first I swell with a feeling of fondness. The sound of their happiness makes me happy and, while I am not part of it, their laughter makes me feel full. But then I am struck with an acute panic. I am overwhelmed by the realisation that I will never get this moment again. All three of us are getting older, further apart from each other, and this scares me more than anything else.

Even now, only weeks later, trying to relive this time again, this moment of togetherness, is like picking at a scab. Scabs are for healing, they cover wounds and help us recover. To dig beneath it to the raw red fleshy part is to be in pain on purpose. It’s a sort of dull aching feeling, like there is something missing. I read once that amputees often have an experience of a ghost limb, feeling what is no longer there. Perhaps this is what this feeling is. The sensation of the people that were once a part of me. The feeling of their growing absence.


Mountain View

My first date addiction

However, I am learning that it is possible to hold on too tightly. If I try too hard to stop the people I care about from changing shape, I will push them further away from me, to somewhere they have room to grow and be themselves in ways that are shiny and new. Sometimes to love someone is to let them be separate from you. It involves releasing them from your grip, knowing that they will come back anyway.

I know now that to preserve my relationships with these boys I don’t have to be around them all the time. This was my mistake. I don’t have to live next to them, or down the hallway, or even in the same city, when the time comes for us to move away from Cambridge. As long as they are happy, and they know that I am ready to drop everything if that changes, we’ll be okay. That’s what is important.