Summer is upon us – the official first day is approaching fast, but the heat is already here, and my very painful sunburn from the beach last week is a vivid reminder that we have definitely started the summer festivities.
As I was driving the other day, I heard two songs. They were:
They both reminded me, very vividly, of my first love, who also happened to be my first summer romance. Unlike Tim, though, I was still with him (sort of) five years later, and unlike Kid, we were much younger than 17 – but we did hang out around campfires the weekend we met (at the age of 13).
To protect his privacy, we’ll call him J.J. I met J.J. at a weekend camping event that I’d gone to with my parents. His parents, and mine, were bikers, and it was Labor Day weekend (technically the last official weekend of summer, but we lived in Florida, so you know … summer never ends here.). We met in the pool. He was with friends, as he’d been to this particular event several years before, and I was with one … acquaintance. I can’t really say she was a friend, as I’d only just met her that weekend, and eventually, she proved to be the kind of girl that never has female friends because she’ll lie, cheat and steal. Anyway…
J.J. was really cute, which over the years, I came to realize was probably about the only thing he really had going for him. He wasn’t stupid, exactly, but he didn’t make the most of what he had, other than his looks. But for five years (on and off), he was amazing in my world. He made me laugh, he made me feel special, and he was responsible for a lot of firsts -including my first serious consideration of the idea of marriage (not at age 13, but later, when I was 18 and our relationship was evolving into a real relationship, rather than what we mistakenly thought was a relationship when we were too young to know better).
His family rocked, too. His mom and dad we both really cool, his mother even inviting me to stay with them when I came to visit him (did I mention it was a long distance relationship?) one weekend after I turned 18. He had two sisters, one older and one younger, and both were sweet and funny. I enjoyed spending time with them almost as much as I enjoyed spending time with him.
We wrote letters back and forth to each other – real letters, as we didn’t have computers at that time. Handwritten letters that took time to write, filled with little details about our days, our friends, our families, and of course, declarations of undying love.
We broke up off and on through high school. Let’s face it, long distance relationships are hard enough for adults to handle, much less a couple of kids who have no real idea what they’re doing. There were times that one or both of us would develop a crush on someone else, someone closer, and the thought that this new person would be an easier relationship because of their proximity would prompt us to break up and give the new person a shot. Of course, when we’d realize that this new person wasn’t so great after all, we always ended up getting pulled back to each other.
The love we felt (or thought we felt, anyway) was strong enough to get through those little crushes, and get us through five years of long distance romance. Weekends here and there when both our parents happened to want to go to the same event, letters, phone calls – we made those things enough because we wanted so badly to believe that we were going to be together forever.
On my 19th birthday, a very dear friend was killed in a tragic car accident. I’d learned of the accident when I woke up that morning, and I spent the day at work trying to get in touch with her family and stay updated on her status, and by that evening, I’d learned she was gone. I called J.J., devastated and needing someone outside my local circle of family and friends that I could talk to about how I was feeling.
When he answered, I began to talk through my tears, and he interrupted me to say, “I think we should break up.”
Yeah, he wasn’t the king of good timing, that’s for sure.
I was devastated by those words, although that was definitely overshadowed by my grief over my friend’s passing. It wasn’t until much later that I began to feel anger toward J.J. for his insensitive choice to tell me that at that moment.
And it was much, much later that I matured enough to realize that he wasn’t a bad guy, he was just young and not all that mature – not mature enough to realize that when your girlfriend calls you and is so tearful she can barely speak as she tells you her friend just died, this is not the time to tell her you want to break up, despite how long you may have been thinking it.
Whenever I hear the two songs above, I think of J.J. I don’t think of the final break up, nor do I think about how I later found out that he didn’t always break up with me when he wanted to date another girl. I think about the fact that he would write me long, beautiful letters, and send me photos, and we’d talk on the phone for hours (much to my parents’ dismay when they got the phone bill), or how we met in the pool and teenage hormones were far more responsible for us getting together than anything we might have had in common – let’s face it, a shirtless teenage boy and a teenage girl in a bikini are always going to react hormonally first.
Of course, I no longer love him. But I do love my memories of him. I love the memories of our first meeting, of the way he would look at me, the way he would hold me, the way he took my hand so shyly (despite the fact that the first words out of his mouth to me were “You can sit on my lap.”) the first time he held it. I remember the first time we kissed, the way he made me laugh, the way he shot pool and sang along to a song on the jukebox at the same time and never missed a beat.
I remember those things because, despite what happened later with him, I still see them with that unclouded, crystal clear memory of first love. A romantic love that pure, that untainted, only happens once in your life. Every relationship after that is always tainted by that first experience, that first heartbreak. You becoming a little less trusting, a little less giving, a little less willing, with each subsequent heartbreak. No matter how much you love someone, if they’re not your very first love, there’s always that little tiny whisper in the back of your mind. It may be a whisper so quiet that you can’t even hear it, but it’s there. It’s only that very first love that has that pure innocence that allows you to love so deeply, so uninhibitedly, so willingly and fully. It’s why so many songs are written about first love, why so many romance novels have a second chance theme that is almost always about two people who were each other’s first love getting back together. Look at movies like Dirty Dancing (Johnny is Baby’s first love), Grease (Danny and Sandy have a summer romance, and he’s her first love), Pretty in Pink (Blane is Andie’s first love, and she’s Duckie’s), and of course the classic Shakespeare play-turned-movie, Romeo and Juliet (let’s all take a moment to be grateful that all first romances don’t end like that, shall we?).
First love is something special, and something to be treasured. Unfortunately, it also happens when we are much too young to appreciate it fully. It’s not until years later, for most of us, that we’re able to realize just how fragile and wonderful it was.
That’s why whenever I hear those songs, and whenever summer gets here, I always think of J.J. I remember that precious, sweet new love and I’m grateful that I had that experience.