My first real relationship was doomed from the start. I was well aware of this fact and to be honest it just added to the romanticism of it all for me. The notion that it was a forbidden love that could never last only made me want it more. This should have been my first hint that my idea of love and relationships was a bit skewed and that I really, really sucked at love, but 15-year-old me with her wide eyes and minimal life experience could not think of anything more romantic than a man who would risk a jail term and more to be with me. And as screwed up as it may sound, I still reflect fondly on him.
I was an odd kid. From an early age, I realized I did not quite fit in and struggled to maintain friendships with people I had little in common with just so I could “say” I had friends. I was perfectly happy by myself, but I was aware enough to know that we should, to some degree, want to be liked. By high school, I had all but given up on the endeavor. The fickle and cruel nature of cliques in an all girls school was beyond anything I could feign interest in just to be “friends” with people I did not even really like. Luckily, there were a few others like me out there who were worth the time and trust a real friendship takes, like my friend Tess, but we’ll get to that later on.
Besides Tess and a few others, I spent a lot of my time at school talking to teachers. That of course did not help my social status, but it didn’t really matter. I played chess with one of the nuns on Wednesday afternoons, discussed history with another teacher before musical theater rehearsal, and went to school early every day to sit and have breakfast in the music room with Mr. M. If you asked me then who my best friend was, I would probably have said him. Mr. M was the school’s music teacher, as well as the older brother of a fellow student and the musical director for our shows. He was a strange bird himself, and as two social outcasts of sorts, we quickly became friends. It was wonderful to talk to someone? who had similar interests and who I generally found to be much more intelligent and interesting than most people I knew. Soon morning breakfasts in the music room turned into rides home and then to trips out for sushi, to movies, and broadway shows.
Now before you go thinking I had an affair with a teacher, take a step back because that is not the case at all. Mr. M never even hinted in the slightest at wanting anything more than friendship and if anything acted like the older, wiser and extremely judgmental brother I had always wished I had, minus the judgmental part I suppose. He even helped me pursue my interest in theater the summer between sophomore and junior year, getting me a director’s assistant job on a community theater project he was the musical director for… and that is where I met My First Love.
The show we were working on was close to opening and the orchestra was brought in for final rehearsals. I knew from the minute I saw him that I had to find a way to get his attention. He was tall, at least to my five foot frame of reference, with deep blue eyes you could drown in and the kind of charismatic smile that can make you weak in the knees. I begun hanging around the orchestra making up things I needed to discuss with Mr. M just to be in proximity of the handsome musician he was directing, hoping, praying I would catch his eye. That first day I think he may have said all of five words to me. I was in love.
I started getting dressed up for rehearsals, wearing make-up and perfume and doing all the things a teenage girl does in hopes of being noticed. And it actually worked, to my heart’s delight. He started making an effort to talk to me, smiling at me across the room while he played and spending his breaks sitting outside chatting with me. I can still remember what he smelled like the first time he sat so close to me that his leg brushed mine, a mix of cologne and hair gel and handsome.
He assumed I was at least a bit older and I assumed I would die if I didn’t have him. The first time he offered to drive me home from rehearsal, I had to excuse myself and do a happy dance in the hallway like in all of those crappy romantic comedies before saying yes. That night, sitting in front of my house in his car that awkward way two people who like each other do when neither wants the moment to end, he finally asked me how old I was. I thought about lying, but what was the point. “Fifteen,” I muttered before bracing for the impact of rejection. I’m pretty sure it was an expletive he blurted out before shaking his head repeatedly and laughing. “Do you know how old I am?” he asked, turning those eyes towards me. “No, but it doesn’t matter.” I replied in my naiveté. “I’m 22. It does matter,” was his answer, and the disappointment came over me in waves as he told me that as much as he liked me, and he really did, I was just too young. I went inside and cried myself to sleep that night. I was sure this was what a broken heart felt like and it was horrible.
The next day at rehearsal, Mr. M sensed the awkwardness and finally caught on. He asked me what was going on and in private I started to cry. His immediate response was to ask if My First Love had done anything inappropriate. “No,” I replied. That was the problem. Mr. M was relieved to hear that My First Love had declared me too young for him, and began to go over all the reasons why dating him would have been a mistake, most importantly that that I was too young to be involved in the way an adult would want. I sulked back into rehearsal, doing my best to look fine. And then I caught his blue eyes staring at me. He looked just as miserable as I felt. Could it be that he was feeling as badly as I was? All of a sudden, a new found determination arose in me. I was going to show him I was mature enough and at the very least I was going to make sure he would know what he was missing.
I began joking (and maybe even flirting a little) with everyone in the orchestra, much to the chagrin of Mr. M. I talked about any music or theater related topic I could think of in an attempt to sound like a well-versed woman instead of a 15-year-old kid. I knew one of the other guys — he gave lessons at the high school and would hang out in the music room sometimes chatting with Mr. M and I — and I used that and anything else I could think of to my advantage. I was a woman (at least in my own mind) on a mission and I would not be thwarted.
I managed to get myself invited out for pizza one night with the orchestra after rehearsal. I remember calling my mother begging her to let me stay out past midnight just to be able to be around him a little longer. I lied and told her I would be with Mr. M, who my mother trusted to a possibly irrational degree considering, and finally got the go ahead. My First Love sat next to me and I could feel the butterflies in my stomach doing cartwheels. I’m pretty sure I didn’t eat more than two bites.
When it was time to leave I pushed his hand, asking the music instructor I knew from the high school to give me a ride home. My first love promptly offered to drive me instead. The drive to my house seemed to be endless and somehow too short all at once. We pulled up in front of my house and I blurted out “I really like you.” He took my face in his hands and kissed me. It was on.
We started dating immediately. I lied to my parents and said he was nineteen, still too old for a fifteen year old, but not so old that my parents would refuse to let me see him. He was young enough to look it and the fact that he was still in college helped. School started again, he turned twenty three and I became a high school junior. Despite this, we were incredibly happy and practically inseparable. I found everything about him fascinating. He had his own car and apartment and best of all he was musician which, in a young girl’s eyes, is the coolness trifecta. And he wasn’t a garage band wannabe rockstar like the high school boys I knew, he was a “real musician” in college studying music. I was mesmerized. And too young and immature to handle any of what came next…
As Rebecca Wells so brilliantly put it, “There is the truth of history, and there is the truth of what a person remembers.” I’ll try to bridge that gap as I tell you the story of how I eventually figured out I suck at love. Come back weekly for new installments.