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 Announcing 2015 Past Loves Story Contest Winners

Thank you to everyone who submitted a story for our 2015 Contest. Each year, we feel privileged to have an opportunity to read so many well-written and touching stories. And as we have said before, choosing “winners” is always the hardest part. But we are so pleased that now we can share these stories with you.

Again, we received so many wonderful stories that we added one Fourth Place Winner, and have included five Honorable Mentions as well.

 

FIRST PLACE

 

The Gull
by Mark Wacome

 

It’s April, and I’m skipping rocks on the Niagara River, a couple miles above the falls. And I’m agonizing, because my fabulous ex-girlfriend, Mandy, is getting married. Mandy and I had fallen in love at this very spot five years earlier during a game of kick-the-can that we spent kissing on the riverbank.

Now I’m back, alone, and she’s getting married—to my best friend, Kyle.

Kyle and I met when we were two, and we’ve been competing since the tricycle. I was faster, he was quicker; I could catch peanuts in my mouth, he built a tree house that we could sleep in.

And Kyle was a birdwatcher: so, of course, I become one, too. In PA, where we lived, when everyone else was watching the Eagles or the Orioles play, Kyle and I would go up to Hawk Mountain to count eagles and hawks as they flew over—thousands in a single day. Here on the Niagara, there are 19 species of seagull—and Kyle has seen them all.

Mandy and I were more into volleyball. That first summer we dated, we played every weekend at the lake. In the fall we went off to different colleges, but we stayed together, long distance. The first semester we wrote letters. Spring semester she wrote faithfully.

We all came home the next summer, including Kyle. One girl invited everyone out to her hunting cabin. As the weekend went on, this girl and Kyle begin to flirt: they were obviously clicking. My old competitive self showed up (and Mandy wasn’t there), so I started flirting with her, too; and when we all finally turned in, her sleeping bag was next to mine by the fire.

Kyle left early in the morning.

The next night when I walked up to Mandy’s house, Kyle’s car was parked out front. There was a glow in the basement window. I peeked in—caught a glimpse: Mandy, sitting crossed-leggéd on the floor; Kyle, lying with his head in her lap.

A beginning. And an ending: we broke up officially the next day. I never mentioned what I’d seen. When they got engaged a couple years later, I was glad for them—and I was far away in Boston. Then Kyle asked me to be the Best Man.


Last September, Mandy and I ended up taking jobs in the same tiny PA town. As Best Man, I suggested we get lunch. We did. It was dizzying to sit across from her again, all that familiar beauty. We met for a second lunch—and we’ve kept on meeting, every other week or so. Kyle’s been up state all winter, finishing school. (It’s OK: I’m the Best Man, right?) Lately, Mandy’s eyes are saying, Don’t make trouble—if you make trouble you do it soon, and be serious.

Was I going to make trouble? Again?

That’s my question as I skip rocks at our old kissing spot, two months before the wedding.

I’m bringing back my arm for an infinite skip when I see, out of the cold sky, a seagull drifting toward me. I don’t intend to do this—but as I’m winging the rock, I make a quick adjustment and launch it up toward where the bird will veer, and it does veer—and the rock crushes into its ribcage, and the wings fold around the rock, and the two plunge into the river.

I’m stunned. The gull is motionless, head down. It’s a black-backed gull; oh Kyle—I see it, I know it. And the smashed body emits something that stills the ripples around it—in an ever-widening circle of calm. And then another gull appears, and begins calling to its beloved, get up, get up, lift your head—and suddenly the air is wheeling with gulls, a dozen, all crying over this exquisite wreck of feathers and bone.

And I put my hands in the water, and pour the river onto my face, and vow never to throw at a living creature – heedlessly – again.

So: in June I stand beside the groom, watching the beautiful bride. And when the minister asks my question, do you promise to uphold this marriage?—the Best Man says, “I do.”

 

SECOND PLACE

 

Carpe Diem

by Evelyn Krieger

 

During my sophomore year of college, I fell in love. It seemed as if a scrim had been lifted on my dim world. Chris captured me with his good looks, intelligence, and charm--traits that overshadowed his physical disability. Chris needed crutches to get around because of bad leg joints. He wore knee braces under his jeans. He couldn’t run or play sports like football and basketball. Simply bumping his leg could cause painful swelling that required a trip to the emergency room for a blood transfusion. These limitations didn’t stop Chris from having fun, though. He’d race me down the dorm hallway with his “speed sticks”. He'd challenge me to games of pinball and pingpong. He serenaded me with his soulful saxophone. Chris loved taking me to rock concerts, Broadway shows, and parties. He’d plan mystery dates and “afternoons of adventure." On his dorm room wall hung a poster with the words, Carpe diem, ‘seize the day’, which is exactly what he did--so much so that I sometimes forgot Chris had a life-threatening illness.

When my birthday approached Chris asked me how I wanted to celebrate.

I shrugged. “I’m really not into celebrating my birthday.”

He looked at me. “What? Why?”

“It’s hard to explain. I guess I don’t like to think about getting older.”

A shadow of sadness passed over Chris’s face. He put both hands on my shoulders and said emphatically, “Always remember this: the person with the most birthdays lives the longest.”

I smiled. “That’s cute.”

“Please,” he said, “let me have the pleasure of being with you on your birthday. I promise, no candles. And I won’t sing.”

Although Chris kept his word, he ended up giving me the most meaningful birthday gift I’d ever received-- a rolled piece of paper, tied with a pink ribbon. It was a copy of the New York Times front page from the actual day of my birth. On the top of the paper, Chris had written: An Extraordinary day! I’m so glad you were born. Never be sad on this day.

 

Fast forward fifteen years. As I sit working on the book Chris always told me I could write (if only I believed in myself), I receive a phone call, out of the blue, from his mother. She says she found my number in an old address book. She thought I’d want to know...Chris passed away.

Words of comfort lodge in my throat. At that moment, I can hear only fragments of what she says next. My thoughts spin out of control. Hospital. Complications of hemophilia. Memorial service next month.

Afterward, shock gives way to grief. I cry a river of tears. It didn’t matter that we had broken up before our graduation, that I hadn’t spoken to Chris in ages, or that I had married someone else—the powerful young love we once shared unfolds in my heart.

I flip through the memories in an old photo album. I see our fresh faces smiling from atop the Twin Towers, New York City behind us, under a sky as brilliantly blue as that future September day neither of us could imagine. Who knew back then, that our love would crumble under its own weight, that we would not reminisce together in middle age?

Through tears I stare at Chris’s favorite photo—me in my striped bikini posing on a Cape Cod beach. I barely recognize the slender girl smiling for the camera. How foolish I’d been back then, back when I was beautiful, to fear growing a year older.

Suddenly, I sense Chris’s spirit, like a butterfly brushing my arm. I hear his distant voice whispering, Always remember, the person with the most birthdays lives the longest.

Chris’s tally: thirty-five. He knew that the odds of him living to old age weren’t great, but he didn’t fear death. Chris wanted me to be alive in my life, to fight the depression that pulled me under, that made me sad on my birthday. It’s taken a long time for me to fully appreciate this message.

Nowadays, whenever I hear someone groan about another birthday, I smile and share Chris’s wise words. A birthday is a blessing.

 

THIRD PLACE

 

A Few Too Many Speedbumps

by Josh Lefkowitz

People always ask me if I knew that A was a lesbian. No, I say, I don’t think she was while we were dating–we dated for six years, after all, from ages 20-26 (18-24 for her). I think for A, sexuality was akin to movement on the dance floor: it was fluid.

We’d met in theater school, at the University of Michigan. I was a 20 year old virgin and to be honest, if either of us were bound to one day reveal themselves as gay, folks would’ve put money on yours truly! I spoke (still do) with a slight sibilant ‘s’ lisp; I loved theater and poetry; I enjoyed wearing turtlenecks. I’m wading in stereotypes here, I know, but those same stereotypes were what caused my peers and classmates to wonder if–when?– I was going to come out of the closet.

“I hope Josh allows himself to be whoever or whatever he really is,” read my friend Julie aloud to me from her diary at the end of freshman year, while sitting on the corner of my dorm room bunk bed, and I thought to myself, guess we’re not making out tonight (as I’d originally hoped).

“Are you sure you’re not gay?” my childhood best friend Aaron asked me. I was so put off that I took a drag of my cigarette and un-intentionally (very intentionally) blew smoke into his face.

I searched my feelings, and wondered. Finally, I announced myself as bi-sexual. In other words, I was a sophomore in theater school, and right on track.

Sure, boys kissed boys and girls kissed girls at our alcohol-fueled theater parties, but that was simply part of being an ‘artist’, after all. For me, the moment finally came to a head when I met Andy, a fellow bi-sexualite, who confessed to liking Hemingway and Fitzgerald. “Me too!” I replied, “we have a lot in common!” (along with every other burgeoning literary 20 year old across the country, I might now add).

“Do you want to come over tonight?” Andy asked, passing me his bottle of whiskey. I thought about it, realized that I didn’t, declined the offer, and haven’t ever identified as anything other than straight since.

A, meanwhile, was a freshman in our program. As soon as I’d seen her I knew I wanted her to be my girlfriend: curly hair, interesting nose, eyes that went on forever. (Fine, yes, great boobs too).

On our first date, we went to see my friend play acoustic guitar at the coffee shop (college!), then wound up back at my place. I hadn’t had anything to drink nor smoke that night; I remember shaking with fear as we listened to music in the living room, petrified as I wrapped my scarf around her, and leaned in for my first (only?) sober, honest, true kiss.

Within a week I’d told her I loved her.

We stayed together through long distance, once I’d graduated and moved to Washington, D.C. We stayed together through our mutual moves to New York. We moved in together after a year in the city, and then, finally, our youthful love hit a few too many speedbumps. We’d met too young, I think–I had exploring to do, and I see now A did as well.

When folks ask if I’m surprised that A wound up with a woman–a woman whom she would go on to marry, and is married to today–I sometimes puff up my chest like a peacock and crow, “well, it’s not like she could find a better guy than me!” (Parenthetically, I’ll confess that this is one of the dumb ways men behave in the world, all proud and stupid).

But privately, I’ll admit that no, it doesn’t surprise me at all. I always thought of A as an incredibly grounded, open individual–hell, I still do. She’s not the kind of person to let gender or societal norms get in the way of her own life’s journey; it’s probably her greatest quality. I feel lucky to have been a part of her life, and to be a peripheral part still today.

One thing, though: A’s wife? She kinda looks like me.

 

 

FOURTH PLACE

 

Tuesday at Four O’clock

by Desiree Simons

It was eight years ago. Sometimes it feels like eight days, sometimes it feels like a lifetime ago. I remember looking at the clock after I finished writing the poem about you. I wrote it in the past tense, which sort of shocked and disturbed me. It was 4:10 in the afternoon. I pushed the pen and paper away from me and listened to the phone ring… and ring…and keep on ringing. I put my pillow over my head to block out the sound. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I didn’t even want to get out of bed. Two more hours until the next ICU visiting hours.

From the day we heard the words “Stage IV cancer,” I knew you could be gone at any time. Well, my head knew. It took longer for my heart to really get it. “This can’t be happening,” I said. “We’re getting married in a month!” But we didn’t get married. And the cancer was very real and moving through your body at breakneck speed.

After your diagnosis, I was surrounded by people, but I remember feeling profoundly alone. I also felt guilty for the times I doubted you. You once asked me why I held back or sometimes pulled away from you.

“Fear,” I said. “I am afraid of getting hurt.”

I remember wishing I hadn’t been afraid. I know now that if you love someone you should love like there is no tomorrow.

Because sometimes there isn’t.

Every winter when it’s cold outside and the trees are bare, I remember that horrible time when you were sick. It was the worst winter in years. The ice hung heavy on the trees. It was freezing in our garage, but still you stayed out there. I brought you jackets and blankets, and gallons of coffee. The hospital bed in our room would have been more comfortable, but you hated it. You never said it, but I believe you began to think if you lay in that bed, you would never get out of it.
First your migraines increased. Your bones ached. Then your chest, your back, your arms. You didn’t want me to see you in pain so the garage became your refuge. It became your place to escape, to be alone with your fears, your thoughts, and your pain. And you smoked.

I hated that you smoked. You promised you would quit, but you didn’t. After the cancer diagnosis, you smoked ever more.

“I smoke when I’m stressed,” you said.

What’s more stressful than dying? Watching someone you love die? Maybe I should have smoked with you.

From the window, I watched you pace. I saw you grimace and try to ride the waves of pain. I watched your breath, visible in the cold air, mix with cigarette smoke. I felt the cold inside me. It got colder every day.

Inside and out.

One day you said, “I’m running out of time. “We need to write my will.”

So we sat together on our bed and we wrote it. You were such an amazing artist, but you couldn’t even write your name anymore. You dictated and I wrote. Neither of us cried. I knew if I started to cry I would not be able to stop. I wondered what it felt like to know that you were going to die very soon. If I had asked, you would have told me gently and honestly. But I didn’t ask. I couldn’t take any more pain in one day.

On that day eight years ago the phone rang again several times. I ignored it. My neighbor came over and let himself into the house. He came into my room. He stood for a moment and didn’t speak. I knew.

“They’ve been trying to call you. I’m so sorry. He’s gone.”
“When?” I asked.

“Today. A few minutes past four o’clock.”

 


HONORABLE MENTION (Five stories, in alphabetical order by author)

 

Saudade

by Michail Mulvey

On summer Saturday afternoons I often cruise classic car shows. I'm looking for a 1956 Chevy Bel Air in particular and when I find one, it evokes memories of my first true love, a girl from Cos Cob named Jean.

Jean had reddish-brown hair and blue-green eyes and was nothing like the loud, gum-snapping queens in tight skirts and heavily-hairsprayed hairdos who ruled the halls of Stamford High. Jean was shy and, as I later learned, very bright. We were an unlikely couple, this quiet girl from Cos Cob and the socially awkward kid from the projects of Stamford, but we soon became a couple.

Like most teens in the early 60's, on Friday nights Jean and I went to the movies, usually the Starlite Drive-In on Shippan Avenue. Later we might go parking at Cummings Beach.

All was not drive-in movies and making out at the beach, however. On warm Saturday or Sunday afternoons we might hop in my '56 Chevy and head for Playland in Rye or Sherwood Isle on Long Island Sound. One special weekend in the spring of 1965 I took Jean to the New York World’s Fair. And one magical night, I put on a jacket and tie and took Jean to a fancy restaurant in Manhattan. I had never been so happy in my life.

A week after graduating from Stamford High, I was in the Army, doing basic training at Fort Dix. Jean drove down to visit one weekend, but the Army was a jealous mistress and sent me far from home and Jean. For awhile we wrote, but eventually the letters stopped and Jean and I drifted apart. We didn't see each other again for almost three years.

When the Army set me loose in the summer of 1968, I bought a '55 Chevy Bel Air - the twin of my ‘56 Chevy. Thinking this car might magically transport me back to a time before the Army and Vietnam, I had hopes that Jean and I could pick up where we’d left off.

But we weren't the same two kids who’d said heartfelt goodbyes back in the summer of ’65. I’d been to war and Jean had been away at college. We dated on and off that summer, but come September Jean went back to UCONN and I left for college – Western Connecticut State in Danbury. That summer of 1968 was the last time I ever saw Jean.


On the rare occasion when an owner lets me sit in the driver’s seat of his ’56 Chevy Bel Air at a car show, I’m back at the Starlite Drive-In or Cummings Beach.

I run my hand along the bench seat and instinctively look to my right, hoping I'll find Jean next to me. If I close my eyes, I swear I can smell Jean’s freshly-washed hair and the scent of her perfume–Shalimar was her favorite. And I sense the warmth of Jean’s body next to mine as we huddled on those cool nights. But I know I’m at a car show and it’s only the sun streaming through the side window.

My 2014 Honda sometimes speaks to me. It’s a woman’s voice–“In one hundred yards turn right onto South Street”–but it doesn’t speak to me like Jean spoke to me those nights at Cummings Beach when we gazed out over Long Island sound and listened to soft night music played by Murray the K or Cousin Brucie on my AM car radio–“A Summer Song” by Chad and Jeremy was one of our favorites.

Those nights were a feast for the senses - and an assault on inhibitions: the fragrance of Jean’s perfume, the taste of her lips, the soft touch of her hand on my face, the salt air from Long Island Sound, the twinkling lights from the opposite shore, the whisper of waves caressing the sand.

Once upon a time there was a girl named Jean and she traveled the known world with her white knight in his '56 Chevy Bel Air. It was a simpler time, a time when there was peace and love in the world and life was rife with possibilities.

 


The Red Zone

by Liz Rolland

The year was 1982. It was our last night on campus before we all headed home for summer break. Every girl from my dormitory floor was invited to the party to meet Michael, Anne’s big brother. He had driven seven hours to pick her up from school.

I was the last to arrive. As I stepped out onto the black tarpaper of our dorm’s roof, the warm breeze lifted my hair and caressed my bare shoulders. I was wearing a vintage dress from the 1950’s and carrying a small bottle of sparkling wine. Everyone else wore khakis and alligator shirts with penny loafers. They were all drinking beer.

My eyes met his across the expanse of that rooftop. The electricity between us was instant. Goosebumps prickled up and down my arms. Although he was surrounded by my dorm-mates, I felt like the only woman there.

For the rest of the evening, it was as if a fish bowl had descended from the sky to encompass just the two of us. Although the other women attempted to chat with him, Michael referred every question back to me. “How do you feel about the situation in Cuba?” he asked me. “What did you enjoy most about the movie Reds?”

I flushed under his intense scrutiny. I had only ever dated boys my age. Immature and self-centered, not one of them had shown any interest in the opinions I held. But Michael was a real man. A working man. A charming man.

As it turned out, he was also an active member of the Communist Workers Party. Not only did he want to hear my opinions, he wanted to mold and shape them. At the time I was only eighteen and eminently malleable.

Michael and I spent the rest of that evening intertwined in conversation, but we never physically touched. No hand-holding. No hug or kiss good night. We departed with a sense of longing that led to many handwritten letters on lined notebook pages.

Love at first sight turned into long-distance romance, which turned out to be unbearable for either of us. Halfway through my sophomore year, I quit school and moved to Schenectady to live with Michael in a second story, rented apartment.

Michael encouraged me to stop shaving my legs, stop wearing makeup, stop worrying about my looks. How refreshing, I thought. While he went to work each day at the General Electric Plant, I read voraciously and took long naps. At night, he went to meetings. I joined the Young Socialist’s Alliance in the hopes of seeing him more.

He was so smart, and I knew so little, it was only natural that he should educate me. He gave me books about women and the revolution, and we discussed the important role I could play in the upcoming transformation of our society. Michael had absolutely no doubt that a communist revolution would occur within his lifetime in the United States of America.

The Party kept him so busy, I rarely saw him. On May Day, International Workers’ Day, I packed my bags while he attended yet another march. I believe we were both looking for something that the other person simply could not give. I could never pledge my undying allegiance to the Party, as he did. Although I did believe in equal rights, I was only trying to please him by giving lip service to the revolution. And he could never put our relationship ahead of his politics.

Years after we broke up, we saw each other one more time. He came to watch me rehearse with a dance company. I was married, but of course, he was not.

“You look different,” he told me. “What’s different about you?”
I broke the news: “I’m pregnant.”

He tried to smile, but his sadness leaked through. Michael always told me he would never marry, never have children. Marriage is an institution of the capitalist state. And children, only a distraction from The Cause.

My own smile may have also been tinged with regret, but mostly I felt sorry for Michael. Although he would never waver in his allegiance, The Party couldn’t keep him warm in bed at night.



Gray

by Lisa Romeo

It's been 30-something years, but I could find him now, if I wanted to, but I don't. Don't find him, that is. I do want to. Where Brant was concerned, I always wanted to, wanted him.

In 1976, I was rich, white, nearly 18 and going on 25. He was black, blue-collar, and 23. Most of the horses at the stable he managed belonged to rich white girls like me, though I didn't feel anything like those girls. Brant told me I was nothing like them, though my horse's stall was in a prime location.

Dating was out of the question, though my father realized the price of redlining the love interest of a headstrong, independent daughter, and stayed mum. I want to say Brant's color did not matter, but it did. I was drawn to differences, trained on years of family travel where my father emphasized befriending people of different cultures, seizing local experiences, seeing not exactly past color, class, and religion, but rather seeing and not pretending not to see. Coming of age in hotels and exotic locales, my early experience of attraction was not just to to the opposite sex, but opposites. Brown boys. Jewish. Poor. Black boys.

Home, though, I was expected to date white, Catholic, Italian, middle- or upper-class boys. And I did. Before, during, and after Brant. We knew it made no sense to pretend we were going steady, or even official. He wouldn’t be picking me up in a sport jacket on a Saturday night, making small talk with my father. I wouldn't be visiting his Mama's church and staying for Sunday dinner.

For five years, we were not what you'd call boyfriend-girlfriend, but something else: connected, coupled, but not. We ate hundreds of meals together, watched scary movies on his TV. We went bowling, galloped along trails, walked around New York City, 12 miles east of home. And, there was romance: single roses, hand-made gifts and moonlight strolls across dewy pastures, the horses softly shuffling in nearby stalls. We danced to Motown in clubs I'd never otherwise know existed.

But we avoided the suburbs where I lived, though in a bold moment, I asked Brant to my senior prom. He chuckled and growled, Girl, leave it alone! I didn't really mind. We spent that night like so many others—in private, in conversation, entwined. We spent a lot of time in his pick-up truck, the riders' lounge when everyone had gone, diners in nearby cities where mixed race couples were less problematic. There wasn't anyone I'd rather talk to, then. Had I known what I'd learn years later, I might have recognized it—that stunning easy companionship and benign pleasure of shared silence, of coming to understand one another by doing, essentially, nothing.

Much of our time was centered around horses and shows, a shared love of the animal and the discipline necessary to train and compete. A fun Saturday night was cleaning tack, packing show trunks, ordering Chinese. Then we'd settle in an empty horse stall, freshly bedded ankle high with shavings, talk, eat, and do what hormone-driven young couples might. Though not everything. You're not ready, and I will never push you, he said, for years. He was right.

A few of my girlfriends urged me to find a traditional boyfriend. Yet they were constantly fending off pressure to sleep with their guys, and eventually I understood my luck: I'd learned to love and care for someone, for years, without approval or traditional trappings—without expectation. I'd been given the gift of getting to know someone intimately, slowly. When you stay in a lot, or stay mostly with a small trusted group of friends, either that happens, or you break.

We never broke, but we knew we'd part when I graduated, found a job, and moved. And we did, with grace and goodwill; without expectation.

Thirty-something years later, I live with my white, Italian, Catholic husband not far from that now-gone stable. I could find Brant if I wanted to. But I don't. I don't find him. Occasionally, I want to. Then I hear him: Girl, leave it alone.

 

 

Oh, the Angst!

by Anne Skalitza

 

When I was a teenager, I thought I was the master of grief when The Big Breakup by my boyfriend of six months and three weeks, landed at my feet. I sobbed so hard I felt like my heart would explode so I pressed my hands to my chest. There I sat, collapsed in the stairwell, my dad below me, wringing his hands, wishing out loud that my mother was home because she'd know what to do.

Finally I took a deep breath and told myself that grief and I were now one. I retired to my room and played all the breakup songs I could find. I penned lovelorn poems that I was sure would win me an award for Best In Angst. I called all my friends but they had not a clue about the devastation I felt. My heart weighed ten pounds, my stomach twisted itself into a knot, a golf ball lodged in my throat. I would never be able to eat another morsel of food.

Later that day, as I wallowed in misery on my bed surrounded by spent tissues, I had an absolutely fantastic idea. I'd call him up! Maybe he was sad too, and didn't know how to tell me. So in those days before texting and social media, I eagerly punched in the numbers to his house. His mother answered. She hedged, she stammered, she said he wasn't home. I heard voices in the background. There was laughter and someone saying his name. His mom sighed heavily and said, "I'm sure there are other boys for you, sweetie," The death knell of all relationships is the boy's mother answering for him. And also referring to you as "sweetie." But I assumed she was just being a mom, letting him be with his buddies. That is, until I heard a high-pitched voice I recognized.

It was his ex-girlfriend, the one before me, the one whose chest preceded her when she walked into a room. So she was there and I was not. I hung up and threw my pillow across the room, sobbing loud enough so that the neighbors would hear and sympathize. Instead my dad turned up the volume on the television (football, second quarter).

With my throat becoming sorer by the minute, and my eyes feeling like they were going to pop from tear overload, I calmed myself down to hiccups. I was all alone in my grief. I hugged myself tight and rocked on my bed. What if I stayed this way and never emerged from my room? Would my ex feel sorry for me then? But then I remembered the class trip coming up and decided it wasn't worth it to will myself into catatonia. And I wouldn't be able to make any new friends if I sequestered myself in the house.

Darkness rolled in and my mother came home. I gave her the chance to witness how deep my grief was; she told me there were more fish in the sea and would I like pizza for dinner.

"How can I think of food at a time like this?" I wailed while my stomach growled.

"Honey, he didn't die. He broke up with you. Two very different things."

That brought on more tears. How could she say that? What did she know. Hugging my knees, my head lowered into my arms, I felt the bed shift next to me as my mother sat down. Her hand ran over my hair, slowly, soothingly. "Oh, honey, I'm sorry. It's hard."

"I'll never love any boy again!" I sobbed.

She hugged me tight. "With love, you're always taking a chance. But it's a wonderful chance, because you never know when Mr.Right will come along."

I paused in my crying. Maybe my mother was right for once. There was that cute boy down the street…. And I was hungry. The call of pepperoni pizza couldn't be ignored.

To this day, the angst I felt so many years ago, has flavored my writings, from short romances to poems, and even mysteries. After all, there isn't anything more emotionally encompassing than the trauma of losing a first love.

 

 

Sweet Dreams

by Dallas Nicole Woodburn

It had been a wonderful, romantic evening. Dinner, dancing, holding hands. Jon and I had only been dating for three weeks, but already I felt myself falling for him. Hard. He walked me to my front door. We lingered, unwilling to part.

“Good night,” I said, giving him a kiss.

“Good night,” he said. “Sweet dreams.”

“Of you,” I said.

“Love you too,” he replied.

I was too startled to respond. I waved goodbye and closed the door, collapsing onto my bed in a jumble of thoughts and emotions. Part of me was elated – he loved me! – but I was also terrified. What did he mean, he loved me, too?

He thought I had said I loved him. I felt like I was trapped in a romantic comedy, the inevitable part with the misunderstandings. But this wasn’t a movie; this was my life. I had to explain to Jon that I didn’t love him. You couldn’t fall in love in just three weeks.

Right?


In truth, I had dated throughout high school and college, but had never been in love before. Was I in love with Jon?

“No,” I told my best friend the next day. “I mean, I like him a lot – we have fun together and I feel comfortable around him and he’s thoughtful and funny ... but love, I don’t know. Love is a big word.”

“Love can be scary,” she said.

“Yes! Very scary. It’s a huge step.”

“Maybe you’re in the ‘pre-love’ stage,” she mused. “You’re not in love yet, but you can see yourself falling in love with him in the future.”

Pre-love. That sounded about right.

There were many things I loved about Jon: his sense of humor, his child’s curiosity, his generous heart. I loved the way his hair stuck out in all directions when he first woke up. He made me green tea and rubbed my back when I was sick, and told me I was beautiful even when I wasn’t wearing any make-up. From the moment we met, I was drawn to his eyes and smile and laugh. As our relationship grew, I loved these features even more – but I also loved less-obvious details about him, such as the freckles on his shoulders or the way his blue eyes looked greener when he wore his dark green sweater.

Just because I loved these pieces of him didn’t mean I was in love with him. Still, once you’ve said “I love you” you can’t really take it back.

Then again, I’d never actually said it.


I was nervous about seeing Jon again after “the incident.” I worried things would be awkward. But the next evening when we met up for a movie, he was goofy and sweet as always.

Before I knew it, we were standing in my doorway, saying good night. The three words hung over us with palpable weight.

“Listen, Jon,” I said, “About the other night.” I explained the miscommunication and said that I did like him a lot, but love felt like a big threshold to cross so soon in our relationship. To my relief, Jon agreed.

“I really like you,” he told me. “But I’m not ready to start saying ‘love’ yet, either.”

We decided that we didn’t want to say “I love you” just to say it; we wanted the words to mean 
something.

Two months later, as we walked hand-in-hand across the grocery store parking lot talking about what to make for dinner, Jon suddenly stopped in his tracks and turned to me. “Dallas,” he said, a smile spreading across his face. “I love you.”

Elation and certainty flooded me. “I love you, too,” I said. Our eyes met, and we both knew it wasn’t a mistake.

Today, I think back on the young love Jon and I shared with a smile. He taught me that there are no boundaries to love – it is possible to fall in love in a matter of days! More important than the words or labels you put on your relationship is how the other person makes you feel. I will always be grateful for my first, mis-communicated “I love you.”

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