F taught me to walk and, later, to check twice that no cars were coming. R taught me girls can do everything boys can and more. B taught me to find heart shapes in clouds. M taught me how to play an F# minor. J taught me to watch the ball from the bowler’s hand. F taught me how to fight back against bullies. M taught me what to wear for a first date. B taught me how to whistle using blades of grass. M taught me to laugh from the feet up but also how to scream into a towel. J taught me how a peregrine stoops into its prey with the sun behind it. A taught me about the pathology of first love. R taught me the importance of dancing in unlikely places, alone in a field for example. F taught me about rocks and their classification, which is how I remember him. J taught me to balance a spoon on my nose. A taught me to grieve for things not yet lost. B taught me how every single pigeon is descended from someone’s pet. Professor D taught us when a heart artery is blocked, others grow to save the tissue it was serving. B taught me the importance of bees, for everything. F taught me to strip an engine. A taught me the heart will break at least once and never entirely repair. M taught me why books matter. R taught me that kindness is never wasted. F taught me to put the knives pointing down in the dishwasher. B taught me that sea otters hold hands when they sleep to keep from drifting apart. A taught me what cruelty looks like. R taught me to watch leaves quickening in the breeze. T taught me to roll a joint. F taught me how to clean a paintbrush. J taught me how to hold my breath for two minutes. M taught me how to pretend to my children everything was OK. B taught me that elephants, on losing their mate, can die of a broken heart. R taught me to distrust those in charge. T taught me how to make myself come. M taught me to miss her. J taught me how to use a semi-colon and I still don’t really know. B taught me the Latin names of wildflowers. C taught me how to kill a houseplant (clue: neglect). M taught me how to feed my children when the cupboard was empty. T taught me to pretend I was enjoying it when I wasn’t. F, his heart failing, taught me to laugh at death’s embrace. R taught me to give even when I have nothing left. And S taught me that last love is more important than first.
Tom Vowler is an award-winning novelist and short story writer living in south-west England. An Arvon tutor with a PhD in creative writing, his latest novel, Every Seventh Wave, is set on the north Cornish coast. More at www.tomvowler.co.uk