It has been many years since I first saw you. I remember it vividly. You were standing with your girlfriend at the back of the school auditorium. I looked at you longingly… confused by your shirt choice but intrigued by your bright smile.
I still remember your smile. Bright white teeth. Eyes that sought truth. Lips that formed intellectual concepts I wasn’t able to fully understand, yet. I dreamt of first kisses, holding your hand (the way that she did), and having a boyfriend who was as happy as you seemed.
I remember that I somehow convinced my friend to introduce us. I remember your girlfriend not really liking it. I also remember the day you both broke up and how I met you at the mall shortly after. The mall that became our hideaway. We spent countless hours rummaging through oversized t-shirts of rock bands, potential new book bag patches, and new flavors of ice cream before the movies. We weren’t even fifteen yet.
I couldn’t have asked for a better first love. Our parents took us to concerts (tickets you bought with sacrificed lunch money). They spent Friday nights and Saturday mornings driving us to each other’s home so we could watch movies together. They saw how happy we were and they acquiesced to most of our requests.
This is how we grew up, together. We learned what it meant to fall romantically in love with someone without restraint. You allowed me to make my own choices and taught me valuable lessons through patience and understanding. We didn’t know what we were doing but we walked through the darkness together, holding hands. If I leaped, you leaped.
After almost three years, we broke up. That’s what I do. That’s what I still do. Break things off before they get too serious. I remember applying to colleges. You told my mother you would follow me anywhere, someone had to take care of me or I’d get wild. Well, I did. I got wild.
I fell in love with men who treated me well. I fell in love with men who didn’t treat me well. The wild swept in like an ocean current, slow at first without notice and then turbulent as it wept out everything in an abrupt crash of water and earth. After destruction, the tide would recede and I thought it was time to try again.
But no man has ever met your standard. Funny, isn’t it? The way we remember things about relationships even decades later. I wonder why the men I meet don’t have the same qualities as adults that you had as a child. Why a man can’t write me a folder full of poetry and paintings, like you did. Why a man can’t respect me without objectifying me, like you did. Why a man can’t be empathetic with his criticisms, like you were. I think about all of these qualities as I wait for the next one. And while I wait, I wanted to say thank you.
Thank you for teaching me how to think of others first, how to sacrifice instant gratification in order to show others you care, and how to trust others to be a safe space when the world is rough. So as I wait for the right one to come along know that you were fundamental in helping me understand what it means to love.