Eamonn got fat; Lewis got thin. Chris manages a Poundstretcher and dreams of becoming a policeman. Jane is married and is giving birth to her first baby next month. She was the first girl I kissed. Facebook is a funny thing.
The popular perception of my relationship with Wales is that I burned all bridges with it. When I was 16, I left my childhood town of Pontypridd for Cumbria while everyone else stayed behind. Our lives diverged at this point: I lived in a bedsit, stayed up all night sitting by rivers and writing bad poetry. My friends did A-Levels, started driving and learned to drink properly. It's a loss I never properly digested. The sorry mess reached its apogee when I visited for my friend Sarah's 18th birthday party, where I drank half a bottle of rum and vomited on my left knee. I fled her house and ran through the wet streets, fighting tears and trying not to die of embarrassment. I've never been back.
It's silly to think of yourself as being in exile, but that's how it's always felt. This is why Facebook for me is such a strange, addictive, deeply sad place. I keep finding myself guiltily checking the profiles of my old friends, who are all still in Pontypridd or thereabouts. They never left! They pop up in each other's profiles and in each other's lives. They all still hang out together, visiting the same bars and seeing the same people. I check their photo albums: that's them enjoying Christmas, that's them at a pub quiz, that's them at an engagement party. I see these things and feel about as many emotions as it's possible to feel while being on the internet. I live in London and my life is filled with friends and adventures and possibilities that can only come from being away from Pontypridd. Do I want to spend every evening with the people I grew up with? The answer is no. It's also yes, just a little bit, but I try not to think about that.
Surreptitious stalking aside, my old friends are all at a different stage in their lives, something I suppose that comes from living in the town where you already know everyone you'll need to know. They're all getting married and having children and buying houses (at 24). Property and a future are cheap things to obtain in Wales. They're in a different country in every sense. I suppose if I'd never left this life would be mine as well: I'd be engaged to some nice girl from my old comprehensive, with a steady job and my eye on a house in Graigwen. Maybe in my spare time I'd do some reviews for the local paper, or work on a book that I'd never finish. I'd learn to enjoy rugby and would have a reliable secondhand car. I would lie awake some nights, wondering what would have happened if I'd left, romanticising it out of all proportion. Children would come, in time, and they would be well-loved and well-raised. Life would be so, so comfortable.
Anyway. Eamonn got married last year, to a girl called Kathryn. When we were twelve we both had massive crushes on her. We would spend entire sleepovers talking about her, imagining what it would be like to be her boyfriend, giddy on the potential of it all. They became an item shortly after I left. I wasn't invited to the wedding.