I was seventeen years old when I met the boy who would forever own the title of “My First Love.”
He was a high school senior with light brown hair and a slightly stocky build. Under-tall for an almost-man, what he lacked in height he made up for in personality. He was an absolute charmer with his adorably boyish, lopsided smirk. Ballsy and extroverted, he made a habit of licking the foreheads of random people just to elicit a reaction from them.
Yes, it was as gross as it sounds. With heart-shaped, rose-colored glasses on my face, I dried my forehead with my shirtsleeve and saw him as nothing short of perfect. I was seventeen, and what the fuck did I know about anything?
I ignored the warnings of others when they told me he cheated on every girl he’d ever dated. I shrugged off the comments of disbelief from classmates and mutual friends who couldn’t believe that we, of all couples, were dating. I was too nice, they said. Too sweet. What the hell was I doing with him? He’s an asshole. I heard it all. My closest male friends seemed to share an anger that simmered just beneath the surface of their concern, ripples of disappointment that I mistook for jealousy.
But oh, how I loved the charming boy. A swarm of butterflies had taken up permanent residence inside my stomach and they freaked the hell out every single time I thought of him.
My first love and I stayed together for a total of about six years. We split up for a year or so, somewhere around the middle. The first time I broke it off, I was 20. He was always out, doing who knows what with who knows who. Unfortunately, this was back in the olden days before cell phones were commonplace, otherwise I could have sent him angry text messages that said things like:
havn’t herd from u in dayz! wheres ur dick @ now? ಠ_ಠ
One day, I just gave up on waiting to see him.
About a year later, he must have given up on waiting to see me, too, because he called out of the blue. I still remember the way my breath stalled inside my lungs when I heard his familiar voice on the line. While they hadn’t paid rent to their landlord in ages, it was evident that my butterflies had never actually moved out. Soon after that phone call, my first love and I rekindled our relationship because I didn’t yet know how to learn from my mistakes, and it wasn’t long before we moved across the country together.
Things were good – for a while. He waited tables in the afternoons and evenings, and I worked the day shift at a manufacturing plant, making parts for medical research equipment. There were plenty of mornings when he still wasn’t home when I left for work at 6:30am. I didn’t know where he was, what he did during the night, or who he was with, and I had convinced myself that I didn’t much care. I kept busy with things I can’t remember now.
Eventually, I began to question what the hell I was doing and what I wanted out of my life. I had just turned 23 and I knew it wasn’t this. I knew it wasn’t him. I felt horrible, but I cut him loose, again, for good. I honestly believed I was doing us both a favor, one he would hopefully thank me for. Some day.
Do I feel regret over my first love? No, not for myself. I suppose I regret that he wasted five years of his own life on me when he could have been doing any number of other things. Or people. Who knows, maybe he already was. I had plenty of suspicion, but I’ll never know for sure if the stories I heard were true.
It certainly doesn’t matter now.
My first love taught me to value myself and my own desires. From him, I learned that I didn’t have to stay in a situation that made me unhappy because I only get one shot at this life. I’m responsible for what I do with it, and who I spend it with. Finding the courage to move on, to be willing to trade the comforting familiar for the intimidating unknown… well, that was his greatest gift to me and I will be forever thankful.
More than 15 years after the end of that beginning, I can still recall everything about my first love. Unless dementia bitchslaps our brains one day, we never do forget them, do we? They will always be found lurking somewhere in the darkest corners of our minds and hearts. Those first loves are but a few of the broken pieces of our shattered pasts that remain behind, shaping the people that we will eventually grow to become. And once in a while, years or even decades later, we might see the faintest glimmer of them being reflected through the eyes of a stranger we encounter, and their memory comes flooding back when we least expect it.
Recently, I chaperoned the marching band at a high school football game. There was a young man sitting in the bandstand just a few feet away from me. He was tall and blonde, and he was as attractive as this nearly-40-year-old woman can find an immature high school senior boy. As I eavesdropped on his many and spirited attempts to lawyer his way out of getting in trouble for using his cell phone during the game, I smiled quietly to myself because I was witnessing a new incarnation of my first love. Same cockiness, same self-assuredness, same devilish charm. It was all there, wrapped in a pretty good looking, trouble-making package.
I guess they still do make them like they used to.
Eventually, the charming boy lost his battle. He conceded and leaned backwards, settling himself between the legs of the girl who sat behind him.
His girlfriend seemed like a sweet kid. In that moment, seeing those two high school sweethearts cozied up together on the metal bleachers, I wanted to pull her aside and warn her. To tell her to be careful. To let her know that she could expect her heart to be broken by him one day, that she should get ready for it, and that her life would continue to go on even after he was no longer in it.
But, like the young me who tread that same path twenty years before her, would she have heeded my advice if I had given it? Standing in her shoes, at her age, would any of us?
No, of course not. Our first love hangs the moon, at least until we claim it for ourselves and rehang it to our own liking.