"When I was 16 years old, I used to crawl out my window in the middle of the night to meet a boy. There was nothing that could have stopped me from seeing him. Not reason, not rules, not tears, not begging, bribes or threats. Not the shouting arguments that rocked the foundations of our cozy suburban home, sending my younger brothers and sisters running out to the yard and my mother and me to our separate corners of the house in a troubled and terrible silence. First love is heady. Summer love is heated. Together, they can be a potent prescription for trouble."
That was the lead of the story I wrote for the 1992 Scene Summer Guide, a story about summer love, which for me also happened to be first love. Like all first loves, particularly those that grasp hold when you are 16, it was all-encompassing, all-consuming and all about us. He had already graduated high school, and lived 15 miles away in another state. That didn't matter. Every single moment that we weren't working our summer jobs, we spent together — riding out to the river at night, down to the beach for the day, flying across winding country roads in his Austin-Healey, top down, our hair streaming behind our laughing faces turned to the sun. Our lives entwined around one another so tightly it seemed I couldn't take a breath without him taking one at the same exact second.
And then he was busted for marijuana possession, and I was forbidden to see him, which is when I began jumping out my bedroom window after everyone had gone to bed, running across our backyard to the next street where he waited in his car to whisk me away to our place by the river. Until one night, a neighbor saw me, and I was sentenced to my sisters' bedroom on the second floor.
A week later, days before school was to start, he came to where I worked and told me he was moving to California. My heart broke in the way only first love can break it, and I spent the winter locked in my bedroom, playing "our" album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, over and over, sobbing and inconsolable.
When that story was published, my daughter Joy had just turned 2, and I wrote this toward the end of the piece: "I look at my 2-year-old daughter and I know that ... when she is a teenager, this will happen to her. She will meet a boy and fall desperately in love and want to spend every day and every night with him and nothing else will matter."
Fourteen years later, it did.
Joy started seeing The Boy at the start of her junior year; once they became "official" on Christmas Day of that year, nothing could keep them apart. When he was not at our house, she was at his, and when they were forced to their separate homes for the night, their phones kept them connected until they fell asleep. Their lives entwined around one another so tightly it seemed they could not breathe on their own. There were countless photos capturing every event — as inconsequential as lunch on the lawn at school, her head on his shoulder, or milestone moments like the junior prom, looking older than her 17 years in her elegant blue dress, The Boy handsome in his tuxedo. At the beach that summer, the two of them channeled a Ralph Lauren ad, the skin on their lithe young bodies golden against his white shirt and her white dress.
Watching them together in the blissful cocoon of first love, I was reminded of my own, and also of the way I would sometimes catch my mother watching Ronnie and me, her gaze at once wistful and worried, and how I couldn't figure out what she was thinking. But now, watching my daughter immersed in her first love, I knew.
Just as I knew the minute I walked in the door one cold night in February of her senior year and saw, on the sofa in the parlor, the huge framed collage of their photos Joy had made for him for Christmas. My heart sank immediately, and my tentative call to her was met with a wail of primal pain as ancient as Adam and Eve. "He broke up with me," she sobbed, sitting at the top of the stairs, her face streaked with mascara and awash in hurt, clutching the teddy bear he had given her.
As painful as it had been to be left by my first love, it was nothing compared to the pain of watching the same happen to my daughter. I felt helpless to comfort her, or lessen her hurt. Each time she wept in the ensuing weeks — on a lonely Valentine's Day, at the empty spot on the beach for spring break, after a random encounter in the school parking lot — I soundlessly wept with her. But I knew something she did not, and I did not 35 years before.
I knew that one day down the road, she would be able to look back on her first love with fondness and forgiveness and sweet memories of sunlit days on the beach, and the magical moonlit night of her junior prom. And she will know the truth of what I wrote at the end of the story of my first love, speaking to my 2-year-old daughter's 16-year-old future love. "I will tell her that it was worth the pain to feel what I felt in the summer of '71. I will tell her such a love should happen to her too."
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