I met my first love in California, when I was 14; he was 19. He lived with his family, two doors down from my house, and he dated my best friend. I sometimes thought he was a jerk because of the way he occasionally bullied his sisters, but most of the time I thought he was interesting and funny. He was also quite handsome.
I lived in a two-story Spanish style house in a Southeast Los Angeles suburb. My bedroom was on the second floor at the front of the house, with big windows facing east, overlooking the street, and smaller windows on the north side of the bedroom, looking out onto a flat roof. When my best friend was dating the boy with whom I would later fall in love, she would spend the night at my house, and after everyone else in the house was sleeping, he would climb up on the roof and they would talk and kiss at the window.
Eventually my best friend lost interest in my neighbor, and though he seemed sad at first, he got over it quickly. He and I remained friends and he would still climb up on the roof when my family was asleep, and we would talk at my window and listen to records. Mature beyond my years, with a tendency to be a bit too serious, I didn’t have a lot in common with most boys my age, though I had my fair share of boyfriends. I enjoyed having a male friend that shared some of my interests, took me seriously, and was happy to engage with me in deep conversations.
I remember clearly when my feelings for him began to grow. It was summer; he was part of a group doing Shakespeare in the park, and he invited me to a performance. On that summer night, watching him on the stage, I felt my heart open, and create a place for him. Our relationship remained platonic for a while longer, but I was falling in love, and by the time he kissed me for the first time, I was head over heels. I had kissed many boys, but I had never experienced anything like that kiss. It was not just the physical chemistry, though we certainly had plenty of that going for us. When he kissed me, I felt my soul quiver. I knew in that moment that something huge had just happened and I would never be the same, and I was right.
For nearly six years, he was the center of my life. And then he wasn’t. We wanted the same things, and then we didn’t. From this distance, it makes perfect sense that we parted, but at the time, I was devastated. We had some wonderful, magical, transforming and soul stirring times together; and also some chaotic, messy and heartbreaking times. As is often the case with young love, the relationship ran its course.
Although I was crushed when our romance ended, we remained friends. Our lives took very different turns, and eventually we lost contact. A few months ago, through an unexpected chain of events, I received a phone call from my first love. I knew he had been given my number, but I did not expect to hear from him. I was a little rattled when I answered the phone, and he said “Ric?” Very few people shorten my name from Ricci, to Ric, and the only person to do that in many years had been my last love, my former husband. I let him know that it unnerved me a bit to be called Ric, and he defended himself with the fact that he had called me by that name long before my husband. Touché. Stubborn Taurus that he is, he managed to use my nickname at least a dozen times during the conversation, and being the flexible Virgo, I chose to capitulate.
We talked on the phone for quite awhile; he did most of the talking. I found myself distracted by the thought that 30 years had passed since we had last spoken, and yet there we were talking as if it was our appointed annual call to check in and catch up. It was surreal to hear his voice. He quickly filled me in on the past 30 years of his life. As fate would have it, he lives about an hour north of Seattle: my home for the past 20 years. He told me he was in a good place in life, happy and in love. We talked about getting together for coffee, and I said I would text him some old photos I thought he would enjoy.
The next few days brought more surprises. I sent him the photos as promised, and received an unanticipated, somewhat emotional response. The photos had triggered something, not only for him, but for his girlfriend as well. I am not a jealous person by nature, and it did not occur to me that photos taken four decades ago would be a cause of concern for his girlfriend. I felt bad. Plans to get together were cancelled. After a bit more discussion, and his assurances that my intentions were not in question and everything was okay, we again made plans to get together. My instincts told me things were not really okay, and he would cancel, and my instincts were right; he canceled two hours before we were to meet. I knew it was for the best.
I thought about his girlfriend getting upset about photos from another lifetime, and I got the photos out to look at them again. I saw the images as if I was seeing them for the first time, not only with my eyes, but also with my heart. In one of our text exchanges after I had sent him the photos, he wrote, “God we were beautiful!” Yes, we were beautiful, young, sexy, vibrant and in love. I felt a huge wave of emotion: love, joy, gratitude, and peace. Just as I felt it the first time he kissed me; once again I felt my soul quiver.
It took me by surprise to have such intense feelings well up inside me after all these years. I had looked at those photos dozens of times and never experienced such intense emotion. So many memories came rushing back, events I had not thought of in decades, and it made me smile to think of the incredible time we shared. I had to take a few days to just sit with the memories, and examine the emotions attached to each one. It is fascinating to me that these memories and feelings have been inside me all of this time.
One lovely memory that came to me was our first backpacking adventure together: we hiked to Rae Lakes in the Sierras. I had been on camping trips with girlfriends and always enjoyed it, but when it came to backpacking, I was a complete novice. I had no idea he was taking me on a trip that more experienced hikers found challenging, but I trusted him, and off we went. It was a glorious experience. We hiked, fished, skinny dipped and made love on the lakeshore. Time passed slowly in the mountains, and I loved every moment. That trip instilled in me a reverence for nature that remains with me to this day, and I treasure the memory.
A month after I heard from my love, I was in California celebrating my birthday with some of my oldest friends, many who were in my life when I was with him. I told the story of our phone conversation and the subsequent outcome, including the memories and emotions I experienced, and was still experiencing a month later. One of my friends said, “I always thought he was your soul mate,” and I agreed. My best friend made a face and exclaimed, “He was a terrible boyfriend!” not because he broke her heart, mind you, but because he shattered mine. I can say without hesitation that my heart has fully healed, and though I have not been in love with him for many years, he still fills a place in my heart and always will. (Mi alma se acordará de usted a través de la eternidad.) And though her statement is to some extent true, I believe that our brief reconnection was a gift to remind me not of his flawed character, or my own, but of the incredible love I have experienced in my life, and not just with him.
Remember, he was just my first love.
Added note: I started writing this piece in August, just a few days after the scheduled get-together with my first love was cancelled. I had not experienced such a strong urge to write in a very long time. Each time I sat down to write, another memory would surface, along with a host of emotions neglected for decades, and in need of examination. And I want to write about all of it!
As if on cue, my third love came to me in a vivid dream within a week of my conversation with my first love, and on my trip to California in September I had an unexpected but lovely encounter with my second love. By that point I was in the midst of quite an emotional melee and aware that it was not a coincidence that these three men had brushed up against my life again. I realized something profound is unfolding, and I must pay attention. I have learned that, like it or not, when my soul quivers, big things are about to happen.
I considered writing about my first three loves together, but that didn’t seem the way my heart intended to go. In a literary sense, my first love is a series of novels, my second and third loves are short stories, and my fourth love is a saga. I will try to honor each of them in a way that is fitting for the contribution they have made in my life and the place each holds in my heart.