When I was six years old, I took a ride in my mother’s tiny Ford Escort on my way to the first day of my second year of school. I remember the sun beating down on the small red car and squinting to dull the brightness. Luke, my younger brother, kicked his legs in the back seat, strapped unwillingly in the booster seat as he was distracted by the toy of the moment, which toy being unimportant as long as it had wheels, bright colors, or something he could launch at the back of his big sister’s fiery red head when mom wasn’t looking. The sound of Bonnie Raitt’s ”Nick of Time” cassette tape slipped softly through the vehicle’s stock sound system; my mother’s favorite at the time. I sat up straight, jolted by a large dip in the road that led up to what we affectionately called the roller coaster hill and turned to my mother, remarking how we hadn’t gone up roller coaster hill since I’d graduated from kindergarten, and exclaimed that I couldn’t believe I was going into first grade. My mother agreed but for her own sentimental reasons.
Then someone punched the fast forward button on my life.
Years passed. Birthdays came and went. As time progressed, gifts ranged from dolls and boy band CDs to lip gloss and an electric guitar. My hair grew long, then got cut, dyed, straightened, curled, braided. I had my first, second, third, and fourth crush; my first love came later. I went through phases like the moon, only far less consequential and far more humiliating. Suddenly I was in high school and had no idea where I would go from there. My friends came and went and had aged just as I did, and although we hadn’t yet grown up we thought we knew everything and ignored the “wet behind our ears”. At this time in my life, the world was boundless and I could do anything.
In the months leading up to my first day of ninth grade, I grew like a Sequoia tree, reaching my branches out for something bigger, better, brighter…all the while neglecting to dig my toes into the dirt and set down roots somewhere close to home, a place where I rarely showed my face anymore. I would take walks daily if I had nothing better to do. I’d walk and walk until I crossed paths with friends who had no earthly idea where they were going, just as I did not.
These walks brought me to my first love and my first heartbreak in my freshman year of high school. For the purpose of confidentiality, the name will be omitted, but the lessons learned and the memories will always remain.
Try as I might I will never forget the rough texture of his hand against my own, the slightest bead of perspiration slithering between his thumb and my forefinger as we skulked home from school in the late summer heat. He always smelled of musky Curve cologne and Marlboros stolen from his mother or father’s dresser drawer, a task completed rather effortlessly in a home where he was virtually invisible and had to compete with four much younger siblings.
We must have been a hell of a sight, he in oversized black tee shirts and Jenko jeans, and me in vintage rock band garb and drawn-on Levi flares with holes in the knees when I bought them. Aside from the wardrobe, any passersby would have caught an earful of an ongoing argument about anything and everything, while an antagonizing blend of Afroman and ICP blared from the cheap old headphones around his perpetually sunburned neck. Eventually though, the mystique of my first serious relationship began to wear off. We had problems. His friends caused a lot of them. The scent of Marlboros was replaced by heavier, stronger stench of marijuana, something he saw as perfect and could see no reason for me to hate, even when he continued getting more and more hostile.
Things came to a head the following winter when a bottle of my parents’ Southern Comfort went missing from the kitchen cupboard after one of my boyfriend’s visits that were strictly forbidden when no one else was home. My father made me end it…but that didn’t last. I bought into the lines about his friends taking advantage of his trust and the fact that he had my house key. I ate up the clearly scripted apologies and then came running back for more, just like a yoyo on a string. However, the damage had been done and things continued to go downhill at an alarming pace.
By April, we’d been on and off again four times and he was scheduled to move to Johnsonville, South Carolina in the summer. Things were looking bleak but I was determined. It was around this time that his hostility turned into violence and my parents began to worry, questioning me about what I saw in him, what I knew about love and sex, if I was on drugs…but instead of taking heed of all these blatant signals and cutting my losses I poured everything into what little relationship I had left, scrambling to make an impossible goal come to fruition. Still, my efforts were in vain when I learned a month later that he’d been in trouble at school and was now under parentally mandated house arrest for the rest of the year. We didn’t go on dates. We didn’t have the same friends. We hardly saw each other. When we did, we fought.
In the end, it concluded in a heated phone call upon the discovery that he had been lying about his house arrest and hiding another girlfriend for months. On June 1, 2005, I was cussed, trash-talked, and dropped like it was hot over the phone, despite my valiant effort to save what was never really there. At the time I never realized we were such a joke, but we were in love by the standards of high school.
Nevertheless, in the face of premature heartache, I walked away with minimal damage and multiple lessons learned. It was one of the defining moments of my life to realize that no matter how hard you push or how thoroughly you pour your heart into something, if it isn’t meant to be, there is no way on earth to make it work. I learned caution and restraint. I took better care to make people earn my trust before jumping headlong into something serious. Most importantly, I learned that I can do fine on my own.
In a sick, twisted kind of way…I kind of thank that bad boy from freshman year for all the bad stuff he put me through. If I hadn’t been forced to call myself into question while going through the healing process after he moved away that summer without a word, on Independence Day—my birthday—I never would have started writing later that year on my blocky old laptop computer. I worked through the mess he left behind with dusty blue Jasmine incense sticks burning on my nightstand and the blindingly bright computer screen in my face into the wee hours of morning.
I never would have seen the sunrise golden against the lavender sky, nor would I have been able to experience the pinky pixy dust clouds or the dull, dewy mist that collected on the sliding glass door that led out to the balcony. It was on that balcony where I would lie in a hammock I recovered from the dusty, dank hall closet and allowed to fray in the unpredictable summer rains, a sanctuary where I would hide out and contemplate life as a whole from a slightly skewed, teenage perspective, wondering what it was all about as I watched the starlit sky and waited for something worth wishing for.