First Love

First Love

From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul

First Love

Truly loving another means letting go of all expectations. It means full acceptance, even celebration of another’s personhood.

Karen Casey

Michael and I were never really boyfriend and girlfriend. He was three-and-a-half years older than I, which was a lot when I still didn’t need to wear a bathing suit top. We grew up around the pool and tennis courts of a country club. He was an excellent tennis player with sure, calm strides and a powerful stroke. When I had to take time out from swimming and diving because my lips had turned blue, I sat on the grass wrapped in a towel and watched the tennis matches. Later in the day, the guys would come to the pool and hoist the girls on their shoulders for water fights. I liked it best on Michael’s shoulders, which were broad. I felt safe.

At 16 his parents allowed him to drive during the day, and he often brought me home in his gray Dodge. The autumn after I turned 14, he started asking if I wanted to go to a late-afternoon movie with him. I wanted to say yes, but then I would get this jumpy feeling in my stomach and always change my mind. His dark eyes looked into mine, both pleasing and frightening me.

Gradually I stayed longer in his car, talking about things that troubled me. My older sister had lots of boyfriends, and although I worshipped her, she mostly didn’t want anything to do with me. Then there were the intrigues around who was dating whom and which friends I trusted andwhy. A lot ofmy pain centered aroundmy relationship with my parents, who had divorced when I was 11 and remarried when I was 13. I didn’t know anyone else with a broken family, and I felt ashamed and unsure ofmyself, like I wasn’t as good as the other kids. I could talk withMichael about all this. He was reassuring, and I began to trust him.

As time passed, I was ready to go to the movies with him. We also enjoyed hanging out at my house, where we would go down to the television room in the basement. I loved to watch TV with Michael so that I could cuddle with him on the couch. We were a strange pair. He loved sports, while I loved the arts. My sister and others made fun of his sports obsession. I guess I would have preferred it if everyone thought he was cool or if he’d been more artistic, but no one else cared about me the way he did. When he kissed me for the first time, we were at his house during a thunderstorm, watching a baseball game on television. I ran up to my sister’s room when I got home. I must have looked goofy as I stood in her doorway and announced, “Michael kissed me.”

“So?” she said. “Was that the first time?”

“Yeah,” I nodded.

“What have you guys been doing all this time?” she demanded.

Michael dated other girls, and I went out with other boys. But I hated their sweaty palms and was horrified when a blind date tried to put his tongue in my mouth. Only Michael understood that I needed to move slowly, and he was always very patient with me. Even though Michael reassured me many times that our relationship was special by saying, “It doesn’t matter whether or not I have a girlfriend or you have a boyfriend; I will always be there for you,” I still got jealous when I saw him interested in someone else.

Michael got engaged to a girl from out of town when I was 19. I was the only unmarried, unrelated girl at the wedding. As the bride and groom said good-bye to everyone, Michael came over to me and kissed me on the cheek.

“I love you,” he said.

He remained true to his word. When I needed to talk to someone, he was there. I got jealous sometimes when I thought of him loving and being romantic with his wife, but that changed as she and I became friends. I moved across the country and only saw Michael occasionally, at the club when I returned to visit my family. Now we sat at the pool and watched his kids swimming. Our lives were very different. I thought I probably wouldn’t have much more than a half hour’s worth of conversation to share with him, but I always felt a current of love go through me when I saw him.

When I was 38, my father died. The morning before his funeral, I thought to myself, I wonder if Michael knows. We hadn’t seen each other or spoken for years. After the service the next day, as I was talking with the many friends and family who had come for the funeral, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned and saw those dark eyes.

“Are you all right?” he asked. I nodded. Putting both hands on my shoulders, he held me, looking into my eyes.

No one had ever understood the bond between us. I’m not sure that we did. But it was, and will always be, there.

Mary Ellen Klee

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