Not long ago... about a week ago, actually, the guy I dated through high school sat across from me at a kitchen table. Had I walked past him in a supermarket I would not have recognized him. Not in a million years. He was my first real crush, my first real boyfriend, and my first ordeal with heartbreak. I still consider him a friend.
He was fresh out of rehab. A guy who had been lanky but strong at just a whisker over six feet tall looked like a caricature of an aging rock star. He was paper thin. He had burn scars on his fingers. His teeth showed the evidence of his addiction. But I felt this incredible rush of both protectiveness and pride because he was clean, sober, and out in the world again, taking a chance. On the way home I couldn't resist popping Bob Seger into the CD player.
And the years rolled slowly past
And I found myself alone
Surrounded by strangers I thought were my friends
I found myself further and further from my home
And I guess I lost my way...
My favorite line from that song, Against the Wind, is "wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then." This week we've been reminiscing about our youth, and what we know now that might have, perhaps, guided us. I have come to embrace my ignorance from the pulpit of wisdom. I love my mistakes. I'm glad to have had my heart broken long ago by a young man who really did believe he would love me forever.
It was my first great passion. The funny thing is, with only a few exceptions, I still have pretty healthy friendships with many of those I loved and lost. I figure I loved them for a reason at one point and I'm pretty smart-- it couldn't have been that much of an error. (NOTE: I did say there were exceptions.)
That first love-- Tim-- taught me I was worth loving at I time when I didn't believe I was. He's still a good person, one who made terrible choices and hurt himself rather a lot. It broke my heart all over again to see the ravages of those choices in his face and body, but lifted my heart to see the boy still glowing in his eyes. He still has a cute laugh. He has immense talent, and is ready to start painting and sketching again soon. I can't wait to see his work. A part of me is eager to find the pain of his recent years reflected in those canvases. From agony springs genius and all that.
Though I didn't suffer as Tim has recently, I do know suffering, and I do know what it means to wander far from my roots... to find myself in a strange place amidst smiling faces with no warmth, no kinship. I'm so glad, now, that I never severed those ties. That I could call or write, or (later) email some of the same old friends from my meandering youth. The friends who knew me before I knew too much... the shaggy haired poets and singers from the tide-pools of Green Harbor: Pete, Steve, Roxy, Ren, and even Tim... though we had long since ceased to be a couple.
We did love eachother forever. I love him still. He will always be my friend. My heart belongs to another, but my friendship is not a trivial thing. So while we did not, in fact, grow up to live on the same street lined with mansions, where we all drove purple Mustang convertibles, and our band occasionally toured even after we made a bajillion dollars (each), it is no small miracle that the kitchen table at which I sat last week also featured a few of those same faces... and it was Pete's table.
Wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then... no, Bob got that one wrong, with all due respect. I want the memory of that agonizing heartbreak. I want to recall the ridiculous idealism of a forever that wouldn't come... not as we had painted it, anyway. I want the battle-scars of my youth. I earned them. And I want to cherish those people who helped create the foundation upon which I now stand. Even now. Even as I type these words, a warm and beautiful man who holds my heart with such care beside me, snoring gently.
All the heartbreaks that came before made this love, the final one, more precious. And they made me a stronger, wiser, better person. A week ago I stood in the kitchen of one of my closest friends and choked back tears to see my first love so battered by life. But I'm glad we all kept one another close so that I could be there.
Last night (glancing at the clock... yes, it's Saturday, just) I celebrated the anniversary of when all my broken hearts ended. I met my Ahmed on June 27th, and before the leaves had finished turning that fall we had each fallen in love for the last time. It wasn't because any of the other good people who had come and gone in my life were inferior. It was that they were meant to be in my life for other reasons.
That first love... the kisses on the sea wall, the long hours lying on the sand looking at the stars and dreaming out loud, the fights that made absolutely no sense... I'm glad I know enough now to realize it was important, and powerful, and good for me. First loves are milestones. I was lucky to stumble on mine with a great kid who proposed marriage to me in a moment of dork bravado that still makes me smile. I'm glad he and I can still tease one another all these years later.
That first love led me to the last one. The first trembling kiss as the sun went down was just the beginning. It was the beginning of a journey, of many loves along the way to getting it right. It helped prepare me for that moment when I was no longer young and strong enough to run against the wind. For when I found myself seeking shelter against the wind.
So if you happen to be young, perhaps in love, perhaps longing to be... I will be the rare old-fogie who will highly recommend it. Fall. You're going to get scuffed up. That poppity feeling in your chest is to be celebrated and cherished. It's going to hurt like hell when it ends, but you'll be ok. You'll be wiser and stronger and one step closer to the big reward...
Funny how it begins and ends with sunsets and kisses, isn't it? Nice, too. I'm terribly glad to know now what I didn't know then.