At 17, he was a tall, gangly blond thing with a big smile and equally big glasses. His parents put him in the privately owned driver’s ed school because his summers were overtaken with extracurriculars and advanced placement classes.
He made the first move: he asked me about my copy of Lord of the Flies.
It was the first time a boy – well, anyone, really – had asked me about a book for reasons purely social. Most people, male or female, asked what I was reading, and then “Why are you reading that?” in general horror and bewilderment, as though reading anything required a why. I was thrilled. Looks were secondary to me. But any kind of intellectual engagement? The thrill!
Talking about the book led to passing notes in class – the notes were not of the I <3 you variety but more were a comparison and contrast of our school systems, talks about the strange movie choices of his German teacher, color commentary on the gore in the driver’s ed films we watched. He didn’t care that I was advanced placement in history and English but struggled to maintain a C average in advanced algebra and chemistry. He hated gym too. Because we went to different schools, there was no conflict because I was intellectually curious without being good at everything. The note passing led to thumb wrestling, him teaching me (and failing) on how to do the pen flip that all debaters do, and him saying rude things in sign language.
Eventually he gave me two paper cranes and a frog.
The driver’s ed instructor expressed shock later that I didn’t even know his last name … so he left his attendance book open and walked away so I could see it.
I called 12 numbers, long distance, fully knowing I would get busted, before I found him. He called back that night. We talked about books. He liked Isaac Aasimov. I don’t remember what, if anything I told him about myself. He was the first person to call me Di. I vaguely remember getting a letter from him that summer. It posed some theory about people living in a state of constant cellular death. I pointed that that since we were both under 25, we were still developing cells – no death for the two of us, not yet.
Getting grounded for placing all those calls was totally worth it.
We were together for all of my junior year – a full year, basically hitting the 50th anniversary in high school time. I vaguely remember my home life being unpleasant, with my sister being especially invasive that year because I finally found a boy beyond her reach who was turned off by instead of charmed by her. The daily harassment at home and at school was obscured by the happiness of my first love. Just thinking of him became another place – one where the most malevolent person could not reach me.
Things ended with us twice. The first time, it was his freshman year of college, two states away. He was feeling the pressure and so was I. I had hoped he’d save it for a traditional Thanksgiving breakup, but he just couldn’t do it so he dumped me in October. The second time he was an outright cad. He admitted to telling his friends I was crazy (despite one of them working with me closely enough to know that wasn’t true) and towards the end he made me feel like I was nothing more than white trash, someone to have sex with and then throw away. I tried to tell him that’s how I felt about our relationship, right before he abandoned me entirely. I was physically unable to do so. I sat across from him at a convenience store booth as he snacked on a doughnut and I could not get the words out of my mouth. Alas, the ability to express displeasure, pain, hurt – that didn’t come to me until I turned 31. What some took for strength in me was really paralysis.
He told me, once, “I never want to love anyone as much as I loved you.”
I didn’t understand. Now, years later, I do see he was blaming me for his own pain. There was probably more to the story on his end, too. More hassle. More put-downs. More comments about his white-trash high school girlfriend who didn’t even go to a good school. He came from a world where mothers wore high heels with their tight jeans around the house. I lived in a world where reading a book without a movie attached was perceived as uppity.
He really hurt me at the end, and he had ignored and pushed most of my boundaries up to that point.
When I found out he married – despite my own marriage a year earlier – I walked around in a rage for two days. It was irrational , but I was still furious. Since it happened in my 20s I was also relatively unable to speak about my feelings although I had just started to find ways to write them.
After my divorce, I did Google search him once or twice. Looks didn’t matter to me as a teenager but as an adult… they’re a factor. I said something rude about dodging a bullet when I saw his picture and I moved on. A handsome younger man was paying me a great deal of attention – the glow of that cast my memories of him into deep shadow.
For most people, after my relationship with them ends all I remember is the bad. But not with him. Even now, when I think of him, I feel like the 17 year old girl who was given an oasis from the daily fear and hell of her family through the simple gift of someone else to think of, outside the storm.
His presence in my life got me to stand up to my parents the first time – and his brief reappearance got me to stand up to them right when they would have taken my entire adult life away from me. He may have been a jerk about it the second time, and with the usual slimy motivations of boys that age … but he also helped me, even as he hurt me by telling me how much his friends though I was awful and proceeded to relegate me to a dirty secret.
It’s odd. I have such a hard time forgiving. But I forgive him. There was much too much good at a time when I needed it more than he could possibly know. Too much good for me to throw out all the love because he turned bad at the end.
He wasn’t my first boyfriend but he was my first love. I guess that’s why I still give him a pass.