Our first son Jake is named after an old friend of mine from back home. My Jake asks about that Jake all the time, but I never really know what to say.
Mum didn’t like me playing with that Jake. I don’t know if it was because his clothes were always dirty, or because his mum worked in the biscuit factory in town, or if she just took a dislike to his snot-nosed grubby face. She said he was a bad influence, but I always remember him as an architect (he made our treehouse from bits of scrap from the street) and as the boy who could get his hands on anything. He once brought half a bottle of whisky into class and was the most talked about kid in school for two whole days.
That Jake and his mum never had holidays or nice things, but that’s not the sort of thing you notice when you’re seven. I never saw his blackened fingernails or the holes in his jumpers; that Jake could pee higher than anyone in our year and knew how to get hold of dirty pictures for the right price - even the older boys in year 10 came to Jake for those. His sources were a mystery, but I knew he lifted them from the corner shop after he distracted Old Man Mario with some story about a rat, or a suspicious looking customer. Never failed.
We shared everything though, from wrestling figures to new swear words. I gave him half my sandwiches at lunch. He gave me unfaltering loyalty and an unending supply of half-inched penny sweets from Mario’s.
We spent hours in our treehouse, poring over the centrefolds in Jake’s magazines, Vicky from Vienna, Carol from California and the others. At first we were filled with awe and disgust, confused as to why anyone would give Jake £3 for these. Then, later, we were filled with something else that neither of us quite understood.
Jake never told me how he got his bruises and black eyes and I never asked. He never made fun of the stupid clothes my mum made me wear either. Once I told him he should talk to our form teacher about but he shrugged it off, said the other kid would think twice before talking shit about me again. I didn’t know what to say, so I never said anything.
My Jake has the best of everything, new clothes, swimming lessons, the works.
I wish I could pin down the last day that I spoke to that Jake, but I can’t. I’m ashamed to admit that, but I sort of let him go. One moment we were together every spare moment and the next my life was crammed with tennis lessons and exams and new people. One day there just wasn’t time for Jake anymore, then one day you’re forty seven years old and wondering what happened to your life and friendships that don’t have to be managed and scheduled and lubricated with booze to work.
I do think about him. I think about what he’s doing now; if he’s still in that town. I think about looking him up and asking to see him.
But I never do. I’m scared I still won’t know what to say.