The past several weeks have brought many reconnections (of sorts) from the past. Songs cropping up, memories with them. Today, a cousin I haven't seen in years pinged me on LinkedIn; this may be reverberations from my brother making new connections a few days ago. A few days ago, a practically-family old friend cropped up, definitely in the wake of the brotherly LinkIng. But there was also that photo of my ex husband I found online; he and I have not been *out* of touch for many years now, but I haven't actually seen him face-to-face in almost exactly thirteen years, so it was nice to see he's aging beautifully (if a little cheesily - hah - the photo was for his work, so it's a bit the corporate Olan Mills style portrait; and the angle is weird, he's looking upward at a camera too highly placed). And then, the sighting of my first love.
I've spent a lot of years losing touch with a lot of people, and the internet makes it possible to erase barriers with the click of an anonymous button. I've been fortunate, in that those I need not be in touch with have not seemed to need to be in touch with me either.
Ahh, but. "But" - the stuff of which blog posts are made.
A lot of times, the idea of first love has a bit of a nostalgic swoon about it. Remembering mine has been bringing a time in my life into a focus I've never really put on it with age. All that time spent forgetting, and an easily distracted wee and paltry little brain.
First love. When I use the term, it is not the very first boy I ever kissed, nor even the very first one I felt turbulently emotional about. I mean the boy I encountered for the first time on the terms I have met a man ever since - a certain confidence and assertiveness, a certain romantic awe, and a certain set of expectations.
Expectations, back then, were nascent things; but First was the first relationship I ever had that HAD them. We thought we'd get married, we had at least one of our kids named (First seems to have been the only guy I ever seriously imagined children with - or, perhaps, it was the very embryonic nature of this first adult romance that overlooked my lack of maternal drive).
We also went through some really adult stuff. Hard stuff. First was in rehab when we decided to be officially Going Together, and our first official date was my senior prom.
Gave my mom the vapors, all this, and reasonably so. But let it be said that the adult stuff we were dealing with, if I consider it with both pragmatism and the sentiment of my mother's perspectives, was NOT the stuff that would have worried her most. First's rehab TOOK, and well enough that I became, for the last year or two I spent time with a certain beloved crowd of my youth, rather the Go To counselor for an awful lot of people concerned with their own issues with one substance or another. I'd always been, almost conspicuously, very much a good girl in a crowd not thick with them - or, at least, not thick with girls who wanted it known they were good.
It's hard for me to believe how short the time really was, from just being two people who shared a group of hanging-out friends and acquaintances, to being seriously in love ... to being over. Back then, the space of a year seemed great. Twenty-nine years later? Almost endearingly fleeting.
Yet, dusting off the memories and giving them a real look, after so long, I find they are not silly things to smile at as if from a superior vantage. (I met the man I *did* marry only a little more than a year after all of this, and that relationship isn't a product for patronizing.)
It's sort of gratifying to exercise memory muscles long left to relax, if not really to atrophy. I recall the music vividly; the smell of smoke in a city built on tobacco, and a crowd almost adamantly addicted to it. I recall the blue plastic booths in that before-malls-even-had-food-courts burger place we'd meet, and the fake white marble-like stuff of the benches we'd hang out on; built in the 70s and stripped of cushions in the 80s; hard, angular, not much good for comfort, and meant perhaps to discourage precisely the sort of mall-rattery I loved so much and remember now seldom but with a certain mellow sweetness. I recall exactly where he was standing, and where I was standing, when I walked up to my then-flirty-friend and all but dared him to be anything more than that, without ever speaking an actual word.
I recall how giddily terrifying it was to put my interest in a guy out on the table like that. And I remember how gratifying, when the interest was returned.
I do smile indulgently now: thinking about the fact that at least four of the, well, four major relationships of my adult life have all begun the same way.
People who know me much at all, or even just have read enough on this blog, know that I am not forgiving of the person I was roughly through my twenties. I have no patience with that person's need for attention, for drama. Her vanity. Her pettiness and meanness.
But the girl of eighteen? She was something more than just a good girl hanging with the mall gang. She hadn't "discovered" she was attractive, and so was free of the need to focus everyone's undying attention upon that. She was half kid in jeans and sneaks ... and half housewife, in her mind, possessed of the guy she wanted to marry, surrounded by friends and acquaintances who came to her for advice as if she had any sort of wisdom. She was good to those she cared for. She was ... maybe something kind of pure. Not necessarily nice - in those teenage years perhaps even more than in her regrettable twenties, she took all too much pride in NOT being "nice" nor "sweet" (and yet somehow drawing people to her who trusted and turned to her).
She'd never been deeply sad nor hurt, either. She'd never *lost* - not profoundly, unnaturally ... bitterly.
She was an interesting welter of potential - some of it deathlessly squandered. Yet from the ashes of her (burned in those regrettable twenties) rose the woman I am now. Someone I am not ashamed to have become.
It has been remarkable to me how easily conjured the memories of that time really are. Fleeting images of flirting with First when we were friends, before we'd ever touched the idea that could be anything more. Evenings at the sub shop we took over as the mall drew our attention less; hanging out in the parking lot there, or inside - that smell of a sub shop, peppered salami and vinegar and bread. Riding in a car.
All these memories are literally warm ones: most of our actual relationship took place during one tiny summer, so long ago it seems fragile and impossible. T-shirts and sleeveless sweaters. Jeans and sneaks. "Labyrinth" and "Legend" and his parents' Vista Cruiser wagon, or my folks' Plymouth Fury - the Tank, the Zucchini. Our friends could pack in nine to the huge bench seats, and I bought gas two dollars at a time for a car that would barely get thirty miles on its allowance. We'd sit on the hood of it, or lie back, the engine still warm, the steel so strong, while the stars wheeled above and life seemed endless, and the air perhaps even cooled just a little.
He never did stop smoking, at least back then. With everything else he gave up, he still had that. Odd how many of our friends smoked - really, all of them, in this group, in this part of my life. So YOUNG. I think of it now and it shocks me; not least, that the adults in our lives didn't even seem to notice (my mom, though, would have skinned me alive).
I can recall the way he held his cigarette, the posture of his neck, his arm, his shoulders.
I spent months studying his face; knew it so well that seeing him thirty years later ... yes. I see him in there. That impossibly young boy, the floppy shiny hair we all had before the 80s got heavily hairsprayed. The gloss and eyes of youth, like no other age, no matter what we do to preserve it. Real youth. He seemed beautiful to me. The nervousness I see now, an old lady, only the more touching and appealing for recognizing it. For having lost it.
I can remember the coda, after our relationship was over. I remember his mother calling me. And going to him. A meeting so terribly hard I would not share it here like mere emotionally-engaging entertainment.
we went through some hard stuff, some adult stuff, First and I. I never hated him. Never lost my respect for him.
That, at least, is a legacy echoed since. I've never hated any man I ever loved. I have, perhaps, that boy and that girl a debt of thanks. It's what made me the person who can talk about "Beloved Ex" and mean it without being trite.
It's galvanized in me the heart that has been so purely devoted to Mr. X.
Dear G-d. What that girl would have thought, if she could ever have even imagined what her heart would become.
For all that has passed now; I still am sort of the girl with a cocoon of privilege. The mantle of invoilate safety about me - no man, no love, no fear has ever taken from me the core security my parents built. I worry, because I know others have not been so blessed. Beloved Ex. Maybe First. Mr. X himself, certainly. Even my mom has not, in a way, been as lucky as I; I was forged in experience she never had.
It is time, perhaps, to listen to something old. To let Penelope on the couch, and just quietly pet her. To remember that car, the wind through its windows. And "teenagering" ... the way it was. And the way, for me at least, it was meant to be.
I was so very lucky. I'm grateful for every second.