It creeps up on me periodically, that memory of my first love.
No, it wasn’t/isn’t my ex.
First love happens much younger, much easier. When you’re young, and naive and thinking that the answer to any problem or challenge is just love. It’s secret notes, stolen glances, butterflies in your stomach and nervous laughter. It’s simple, and yet feels so complicated at the time.
Life will prove us wrong eventually.
He pops into my brain every once in awhile, for reasons I can’t even explain. It used to happen more often, sometimes daily during the more challenging times in my marriage, wondering where he was and how he was doing, wondering if he ever thinks of me too, or if he can feel my thoughts. Asking the “what ifs”. But as time goes by, and life’s rough edges smooth out, the memory of our connection gathers dust in the back of my mind.
I met him when I was 13 years old and he was 12. Crazy to think, but true.
I knew almost immediately that I would love him, meeting him the first time as the new neighbor of my best friend, and wanted so deeply for him to love me. And he did, in his own preteen boy way, that lasted for the next decade or more.
I could watch him all day, just watch him move, and it was enough. He played basketball, and would practice jumping with ankle weights, shooting hoops in his backyard to jump higher. He was so driven and determined, so focused, it was captivating.
I can still see him in the highlight reel of my mind.
We would talk on the phone for hours, back in the day when phones were hung on the wall and used “units”. A time well before cell phones and texting. You had to plan a time to call, to make sure that person would answer and not their irritated parent who could not believe someone would call after 9pm!
But that was the best time to talk. Didn’t they know anything?
Over the years, we went beyond the basic teenage talk of “what’s up?” and “did you watch that show last night?” and other conversations about who likes who and what was going on this weekend, just to stay connected. We dug deeper into our hopes and dreams, our plans for the future.
Talking late into the night, sitting in a dark kitchen or hiding in a back room out of earshot, cast just enough of a shadow to make us feel protected enough to share our deepest thoughts. His love of antiques and rebuilding things, my dreams of being an artist and going to college, what type of life we wanted, always with the idea that it would be together.
Once we talked for hours, while I was babysitting overnight, and agreed that we both wanted a big family. Eventually entertaining the idea that it would be so big that we could name a child after each letter of the alphabet! We spent the next few hours coming up with names, for each letter, for a boy and a girl. Twenty-six names, from A to Z, times two.
I wish I still had that list.
I dated some of his friends during high school, usually after a break-up with him or another ruined attempt at reconciling our relationship, anything to stay within his orbit I suppose. Deep down wanting to make him jealous, wanting him to interfere somehow, but instead he would hang back and wait me out.
Maybe he knew too that it was only a matter of time before we would make our way back to each other?
Our love attraction lasted for years, on and off between new relationships, and sometimes during. The saying “like a moth to a flame” describes it perfectly, the more unavailable we were to each other the more we were drawn to one another. I could not stay away from him, or get over him, no matter how hard I tried, or how distracted I became with someone else. It was just a gravitational pull that I couldn’t escape.
I always came back.
Beach days, carnival nights. Sneaking out of the basement bedroom window in my cut-offs to walk the streets with him and his buddies. Sneaking beers or a bottle of blackberry brandy to walk through the woods. Nervous and exciting, innocent and naive. Flashes of those teenage summers still run across my mind, the holiday breaks too.
And all of the times in-between.
For some reason, I always assumed that we would end up together, happily ever after, just like they show in the movies. I think some of our friends, and maybe even family, assumed the same. Sure, we would date other people and have other experiences, but we were meant to be together.
We shared a history of “firsts” and goofy teenage stupidity, we took chances together taking on the world and new ideas, we made some of our best memories together. We shared a thread, from the beginning, that was woven deeply into our fabric and connected us.
In my dreams for my future, we would eventually get married, and have beautiful brown-eyed babies with his perfect teeth, broad shoulders and hearty laugh.
We would build a perfect life together with flea market Sundays, and lazy, lingering weekend mornings in bed wrapped around each other, or exploring the world together and taking on new challenges. Making each other better versions of ourselves everyday.
Laughing at the same jokes and telling the same stories to our children about how we met and the crazy things we egged each other into doing, sharing common memories that date back to that awkward stage of our lives. Stacks of photo albums filled with pictures of us, our families, and the friends we shared from so many years back.
Back to the beginning. When I was 13 and he was 12.
We would be comfortable with each other, in a familiar way, by the time we joined together. Years of growing together, parallel sometimes, would be a gift that would secure a beautiful future. Being with someone who has known you since you were thirteen, watched you grow up and become the adult you will be and love you is a rare gift.
So very rare.
But love isn’t always enough, or maybe first love isn’t strong enough to endure what life has in store. It’s all much more complicated at twenty three than it ever was at thirteen. Other people cross our paths, unexpected events happen, diverting our expected direction and changing our plans to create a new future we never dreamed of or imagined.
But you don’t know that, at the time, with your first love.
We were so very young. I was willing to believe in fairy tales back then.