When we are young, all of our emotions are amplified. Our sadness is unbearable. Our loneliness is singular. And our first loves often haunt us for the rest of our lives. This week, we asked Entropy contributors to write about their first loves. These are stories of heartbreaking loss, abandonment, and also the spirits of lost loves possessing cats.
I was taken to Stanford for tests. I was in third grade. They were out of beds so I stayed for ten days in the child chemo ward. She had kind eyes and a sweet smile and shared my interest in clouds and words. We talked after lights out about storms and sun and how we wanted to be birds. She died soon after. Her family sent postcards.
His name was Fred. He was a preacher’s kid, the son of our church pastor, and we went to school together in a little town in South Carolina. Toward the end of first grade, we were in the middle of recess and hiding under the funky metal-and-wood carousel on the playground, and he asked me to marry him. I said yes, and he gave me a kiss on the cheek. When the bell rang we came out, holding hands and covered in red clay dust, and announced the news to our friends. In the days after, he gave me a ring from a bubble gum dispenser, and we picked and fielded offers from potential bridesmaids and best men. It was all very heady and we were pretty giddy about it, continuing to discuss wedding locations and act all moon-eyed with each other through the end of the school year. His family went on a long vacation and I didn’t see him much over the summer, and then when we came back for second grade you can probably guess what happened. Yep, he was over it, and had pretty much forgotten about me and that kiss and all those silly plans we made. Of course my little heart was broken, and I continued to love him the entirety of grade school, till my family moved to Texas in the middle of my sixth grade year. It seems ridiculous now, but I’m not sure you ever get over that first sweetheart, even one as tiny and fleeting and fickle as mine.
I was 5 or 6 and we played in each other’s back yards all summer. One day he told me we couldn’t be friends anymore, because he had the heart of a devil and I had the heart of an angel. Later, I was 12 and he was 14 and the tallest boy in school. The most dangerous boy in school, too. He slipped me notes in the hallways, elaborate, beautiful pencil drawings with his graffiti tag surrounded by hellish scenes. Then writing on the back, increasingly intimate, personal, longing notes. He graduated, he got a girlfriend, I was devastated.
I was 14 and fell hard for a boy the grade above me. Of course we never spoke, but he was dreamy and played base ball and I legitimately wanted to marry him. Unfortunately, at the end of the school year, the baseball coach transferred to a different school so he left. I was so heartbroken I convinced myself (for about nine months after) that his spirit possessed my cat, Sir Francis Drake, and that eventually he would reveal himself to me.
White-blonde Ross went to my elementary school (I must have been 6 or 7) and would wife to my husband whenever we played house in the backyard. I remember his father built dollhouses–the fancy kind with real shingles and hand-carved furniture–in his basement, and he’d made an elaborate one for Ross, who let me compulsively open, then close, its every tiny window shutter while he rocked the baby’s tiny cradle with his index finger.
My first love was my first and only high school boyfriend John Groves. He lived in a one bedroom pool house next to his parents house in La Jolla which always seemed so adult to me. He taught me how to oil paint. We spent many hours painting each other and mutual friends and walking down to the close-by beach. We used to drink black coffee and listen to Bob Dylan and talk about poetry. I was 15-18 years old.
My first instance of thinking I was in love was in 2nd grade. He had quintessential 90’s bangs that hung over his eyes, big front teeth, and seasonal freckles. Our assigned seats were next to each other and I turned my face toward his during a game of Thumbs Up Seven Up, to try to catch what at age 7 were remarkable eyes and are now just very matte brown in memory. He turned his face away. I might’ve cried a little bit but my crayons made me very popular that year so I was fine. Anyway there were two boys the next year so moving on wasn’t that rough. It’s pretty much set the tone for every similar instance since, though.
We were in the third grade. She was the new girl and I couldn’t take my eyes off her. One day, our teacher made everyone change seats in the classroom. For my new seat, I chose the seat the new girl had just vacated. This caught her attention. She approached me as we gathered our jackets to go home that afternoon and asked if I had a crush on her. It was the boldest, most wonderful question anyone ever asked me. For the next weeks, we ate lunch together, swung next to each other on playgrounds. Even now, from a distance of 40+ years, this strikes me as the most remarkable time of my life. During winter, boys played hockey at recess. I was a goalkeeper on the losing side of almost every game we played. About the only thing I could do right was take out my aggression on opponents, slashing the wide wooden blade of my goalie stick at whoever came near my goal. One day, I must have slashed someone a bit too hard, a bit too wildly, and I was sent back to our classroom as punishment. I was crying my eyes out, bawling, so mad and disappointed and embarrassed at my behavior and punishment. She and another girl had chosen to stay inside during that recess period. As soon as I stepped inside the classroom, still bawling uncontrollably, the other girl started mocking me mercilessly—“Ha Ha! Nicky’s crying! Nicky’s crying!” But she, my first true love, hushed her friend and explained that I wasn’t crying, explained that a boy as brave as I would never cry, explained that what appeared to be tears was only the moisture of snow melting on my cheeks. As flimsy as this face-saving gesture was, it silenced her friend and calmed me from my anger and tears. The mercy. The grace. That’s what I remember most from my first true love. How does one repay a debt like that?