Announcing 2018 Past Loves Story Contest Winners

Thank you to everyone who submitted a story for our 2018 Contest. This year, there were nearly 200 stories from twenty-nine countries. As always, 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.

Because of our difficulty choosing winners, we added two Fourth Place Winners, and have included four Honorable Mentions as well.

On a sadder note for us, 2018 was the last year for the Past Loves Day Story Contest.  There will be no further contests.

 

First Place


One Morning

by Karen Ankers

“Would you like to wake up with me?"


This wasn’t the question I was expecting. I was used to men whose hands and stares were full of hunger. This was a question too gentle to be real. I searched your face for any trace of cunning, for the lifting of a lip that would betray a lie, for eyes that saw only the reflection of your own desire. But I saw none of these. Your eyes rested on me patiently while I considered your simple question. Did I want to wake in your arms, safe beside you, warm and tangled in your limbs and your love? Yes. I did

.
And so we slept, wrapped in each other, sharing a warm space in my narrow student bed. And we woke in the morning and kissed and smiled and talked, and when you left, my flatmate’s eyes were full of questions I didn’t want to answer. Because I knew no one would believe what we had done. What we had not done.


So many years ago. Life parted us, took us in different directions, you across the ocean to Carolina, me home to Wales and the mists that would always whisper of you. But we grew like flowers seeded together, joined by roots and tendrils in a simple purity that time and distance could never break.
We are friends again now, having made contact after a long silence. Both married, both parents. Oceans and skies appear to separate us. But what we had still lives, still grows.


You taught me to trust. You taught me I was worth more than a night of sweat and sudden passion, more than heartbreak, more than anxious fumbling in the dark. I remember floating on the feeling that I was worth your gentleness. Your kisses were soft and light as butterflies. You kissed my closed eyes as I swam into waking. I will never forget waking to your smile, in your arms, knowing that you expected nothing from me.
And when life is difficult, when I am pulled in different directions, when I doubt myself, I remember your arms around me and your lips warm on my eyelids, and I go back to that first morning we spent together. Because it is mornings, not nights, that I remember.


You taught me how to wake. You taught me to treasure that first moment of the day, when dreams part their petals and I return to my senses. You taught me to take a moment, with my eyes still closed, to feel warm and safe and loved.


So every morning I think of you. So long ago. Grey in our hair now, our children are the age we were then. And I watch my sons and I hope that they will know love like this. Love as delicate as a butterfly’s wing. Love as simple as silence. Love so pure that nothing will ever taint it.


I will always love you. We will always love each other. But our love is light footed and will not tread on the love we have for our partners, for our families. We keep it in a place as quiet and as safe as the space we shared that morning. A place where our eyes are closed and the world cannot intrude. A place where lips dance on skin and all is well.

 



Second Place


A Journey Home

by Keren Claire Davies 

I sit here on the step, unmoving. The breeze passes gently through my hair and reminds me that these long summer days are coming to an end, the last of the sun kissing gently down my neck. A squirrel perches on a tree branch across from me, unfazed by my company. As an almost permanent feature in this garden I pose little threat, maintaining a familiar position, book in hand. Returning to the page, a small exchange in the story conjures up another from my own.

***

He rested his hand upon my knee without a second thought. Traveling down a road that neither of us knew, the rain attacked us, driven by the wind. The windscreen wiper squeaked repetitively as the rain pummeled every surface. Before long, its relentless grip had penetrated the car as my eyes too began to overflow.

He kept on driving without hesitation or hint of fear as my body grew increasingly rigid, trying desperately not to betray my panic to him, the driver at the helm. The drops kept falling down the windscreen, down my face. He reached out his hand, and never once took his eyes off the road.

Shrouded in darkness, only the falsely-lit fluorescent dashboard by which to see the hills and hollows of his face, a face so tender yet resolute in its commitment to the task. A gentle smile creased the corners of his eyes. His mind was whirring and intent on nothing but the journey home, the exits and the road signs, diversions and flash floods…but still a glimpse of something that led his comforting hand to me.

***

In the years that have passed, I know that I have never felt as safe and as seen as in that moment. Beyond words, beyond lust, that firm, familiar touch grounded me in an immediate reality that would always be a stranger to me.

The recollection brings about a bitter pang of melancholy that I will never feel that touch again, but also a profound gratitude that I once did.

 


Third Place

I’m Going to Be a Priest

by Saralyn Richard

 

“I’m going to be a priest,” Frank told me the day we met on the beach. But we had on the same madras parkas, a sure sign we were meant for each other.

It wasn’t the best pick-up line on earth. In fact, it hardly registered in my fifteen-year old brain, since the day was sunny and breezy, the surf was warm, and his eyes were oh, so blue. The future, especially the future of careers and commitments, seemed eons away.

Thus began a relationship that rocked my world in a million different ways. Frank took me to movies and concerts, fishing and crabbing, to the zoo, to dances, to amusement parks and bowling alleys. We talked on the phone, listened to records, read each other’s writing, watched tv, cooked, and hung out with each other’s families. We washed cars, played games in the street, listened to the seagulls, and flew kites. Through it all, we laughed and cried and loved.

Perhaps unusually, we also visited with nuns and priests, celebrated holidays and holy days together, read religious-themed books, and shared philosophies. People in town wondered whether we were becoming too serious, two kids from different religions. Looking back at those years, I realize that we were becoming serious, but not in a romantic sense. We were building the foundation for a deep and enduring friendship.

Frank and I went to colleges in different cities. We both met and formed relationships with other people. But we remained tethered by an umbilical cord made of shared memories and shared values. Frank did become a priest, and I married someone who could make me laugh in the same way. When I first attended a Mass at Frank’s church, I was filled with pride and the joy that his dream had come true. When Frank met my husband, the two of them realized how much they had in common (me), and they formed a fast friendship. We began a tradition of spending Christmas Eve and Midnight Mass with Frank, no matter where he said it, a tradition that continues to this day.

When your former boyfriend is a priest, you don’t have to worry about certain things. You don’t have to worry that his wife is better-looking or smarter or more fun than you, or that she will obliterate the memory of his relationship with you. You don’t have to worry about your husband being jealous over your ongoing friendship. You also don’t have to worry about sharing certain ideas or thoughts—you can just invoke the sanctity of the confessional.

Though I’m not Catholic, my favorite priest has been by my side at many life cycle events—we’ve shared the joys of marriages and births, as well as the challenges of illnesses and deaths. When something significant happens in my life, whether happy or sad, the second person I want to share it with is Frank.

A half century has gone by since that day I met Frank on the beach. Many of our friends have started and ended their careers and their marriages, and many have gone to their heavenly rewards. Many first loves have all but been forgotten. But the love that Frank and I shared in high school has morphed into a loving friendship that still endures. We both consider it a true blessing.

 

4th Place

 

Ceramic Moment

by Lauren Sayre

It was my birthday. She couldn’t know that, because it was only our second date, but it was a special day for me. When I invited her for a walk in the forest, I knew it was cliché. I knew it had been done before by countless others, but I couldn’t help it. It was a sixty-degree day in February. In Michigan, if you didn’t spend that kind of day outside, it should be considered a crime. The harsh winter forgotten for the day, the forest was calling out to me.
Trees shoot up around us, nothing yet green, just varying shades of brown and grey. The smell of melting snow elicits a giddy response within me. And I can’t tell if it’s because it’s almost spring or that I’m walking with a girl I really like, but I can’t seem to wipe the grin off my face.


As we’re walking, she notices a shard of ceramic on the ground near the path. At first I didn’t realize she stopped. I didn’t understand what was so special about this broken piece of pottery. It was just a glossy, green shard in a vague triangular shape. She stooped down to pick it up. Her hands were not delicate, but rugged from use. She turned the fragment over in her palm, exploring it from every angle.


She extends her hand to offer me the pottery. I hesitate, unsure what she expects before reaching my hand out to meet hers. I take the ceramic.
It’s just a broken piece of pottery, I think to myself. Am I supposed to gather some deeper meaning? I racked my brain for something to say. Anything. I needed to add my contribution and it needed to be insightful, witty, and meaningful.


“It looks like it’s from a bowl,” I mumble, knowing how stupid I sound as I say it. But I said it anyway and had to now roll with it. “Because of the slope,” I add, hoping to make it better, but making it worse.


She just smiles. Too kind to state the obvious. I am an idiot.


I hand the ceramic back to her, I watch as she examines it once again. And then it registers. She was never waiting for me to give some insight. She didn’t have some secret agenda or test she was trying to vet me against. She had no expectations from me, but merely wanted to share something that she thought was curious. I didn’t have to say or do anything.


As I looked into her soft, hazel eyes, I could see only curious wonder. There was this innocence in her demeanor. Like a child that believes anything is possible. And as I’m standing there, watching her wonder, I discover the beauty of living for a ceramic moment.

 

4th Place


Eyes

by Laura Thomas

The pullover sweater was soft, fuzzy, and lime green and it had seemed a perfect choice to wear that day, the type of day in autumn when it’s chilly when you first wake up. Once I had been walking a while, though, the afternoon sun got stronger, and I began to wish that I had chosen a cardigan instead.It was the kind of sweater someone else should have worn – a girl who was older, and who, let’s just say, would have filled it out more. But it was my sweater and it was me. I was thin, my hair not yet manageable. I don’t remember people saying I was pretty. But I liked school and was a good pupil. I had friends and we laughed a lot. I loved to write poetry while sitting near the lilac bush in our backyard.


I remember that the sun was in my eyes. It was in the days before I wore sunglasses, before anyone did except for movie stars. I was far from that. I was walking home from my friend Pam’s house. I loved to walk. In that way I haven’t changed in fifty years.


As I turned the corner–the last turn in my mile journey–I heard it. Two tones. One that ascended upward, and the other downward as it faded into itself. I looked around slowly. There was no one else walking on the street. It had been meant for me. A wolf whistle. Meant for me.


I was ten years old and he was fourteen. I found that out later. In the moment I first saw him, he was standing near the front steps of his house. No doubt he had been watching me look around, and once I spotted him, he broke into a smile.


In the years since that moment, whistles and comments from men have at times exasperated, humiliated, embarrassed, flustered, and even angered me. But not then. I walked with my head high and felt wonderful.


In the following days he would pass me on the street as I walked home from elementary school and he from junior high. He would smile as we passed and say, “Hello Eyes”. I couldn’t bring myself to say anything to him in return.


Finally I had to tell someone about it and I mentioned it to my older brother and sister. What a mistake! They laughed. “Any 9th grader who likes a 5th grader has something wrong with him,” they told me. I didn’t understand what that meant exactly. What was wrong with his liking me?


Nothing of course. I know that now. Over the years I have heard many stories of romances that began between virtual children, stories where a young boy saw something in a young girl that no one else had noticed yet. Perhaps a beauty that adolescence hadn’t yet made self-conscious, a genuineness that hadn’t been molded by conventions. Or maybe it was simply a vision of the woman that girl was to become.


I remember the many good firsts that intersected my life’s path. But the first time a boy whistled at me remains in its own category–the first time someone saw more in me than I saw in myself. And I love that boy for that. I’m guessing he would have liked to sit with me near the lilac bush and that he would have listened as I read poetry. But then, I think there is such an odd beauty in never knowing for sure.


Honorable Mentions

 

Love, or Something Like It

by Whitney Jackson

1998

I got married the summer I turned five. It was a simple ceremony with a sloppy, wet kiss and no ring. I wore an itchy, pink nightgown and stood tall in the center of the garden on the soft, plush grass of the backyard. Dominik stood next to me, wearing a faded Batman shirt and black shorts. I still don't know why I let him get away with that one. There's a picture somewhere in a box that captured this image, us standing there in front of the flowers, his warm hand in mine and two pairs of squinted eyes looking into the sun.


2000
We had three unruly children. Sometimes more if the kids down the street wanted to play too, but usually it was just the five of us. The basement in our home was transformed into the stage for which we played, and even my parents never rearranged our imaginary life. We started in the early morning after the three siblings got dropped off at our house, and continued after school until it was time to go home. Dominik was always the dad, I was always the mom, and the game never ended.


2002
If I think back hard enough I can remember the grape kool-aid dripping slowly, sickly off the table and onto the tiled floor after it exited Dominik's nose in a fit full of hysterical bellows. His two siblings, and my older brother roared with him as I had stood standing in the entryway of the kitchen, a firm pout planted on my face. I remember my mom sliding in easily next to me, catching the uproar with a puzzled expression.
"Mom," I had started. "Dominik said I have a nice butt." Hysterics unfolded all over again, but this time I couldn't help but join in.


2005
We moved eight hours away from our cushy cul-de-sac life the summer after I entered fourth grade. Dominik and his family drove those long eight hours often, never letting distance hinder our chances of losing a lifetime friendship. We held hands under a blanket on a blue, tattered couch that nestled itself cozily under a wildlife print of a fox and her pups in my basement. Who grabbed whose I'm not quite sure, all I remember is that his hand was hot, not sweaty, but just right and I was positive I didn't want to let it go.


2011
I felt like a princess in that dress. It was yellow and strapless, and expanded at the waist like a ball gown, just like the one Belle wore in Beauty and The Beast. Dominik had stood at seemingly twice my height in a slate gray suit, which he knew he looked good in. He danced with all my friends, and waited while I took pictures with everyone from my class on the most perfect night of my life. He had a girlfriend at the time, but that didn't keep him from accepting my invitation to prom my senior year of high school. We spent the entire weekend together after that night and I cried when he got on the plane to go back home.


Present Day
The day I married Dominik in the backyard, under the hot sun, with pink lace itching my wrists is one memory I will never misplace. That picture of the two of us in the backyard on our special day even made it to the fridge for a while before being packed into a box in preparation for another move. He was the first boy who ever held my hand and he was the first boy to ever give me a first kiss. Even now, as we grow older, our visits with one another fewer and farther between, I never doubt for a second that we will always have each other. After all, we are still married.

 


First Love


by Alice Schellhorn Magrane

We were still children, seventh graders, and had grown up on opposite ends of our small New Jersey town. He had attended West End Elementary and I, East End Elementary. We met when both schools merged in seventh grade, to attend North Plainfield High School. Back then, in the fifties, heterogeneous grouping was frowned upon and students were segregated by test scores into levels. He was in general studies and I was placed in accelerated classes, but wow…he could dance!

Somehow, passing each other in the hallways and having the same lunch period brought us together. Opposites attract and this attraction was certainly proof of that adage. He was on every teacher’s “watch list” and probably spent as much time in the principal’s office as he did in the classroom. When my mother got word through the local grapevine that we were “an item,” I got a stinging lecture that revolved around the theme, “You’re known by the company you keep.”


Didn’t matter. I was hook, line and sinker in love and no words of wisdom from any adult, least of all from my prim and proper mother, could have kept me from him. I thought he was funny, sweet, and different from any of the boys in my accelerated classes. We had school dances in the gym and although I went with my girlfriends, he and I danced together all night—when “all night” meant until 10:00 PM. We regularly won the dance contests—a fact I had completely forgotten until very recently when an old friend told me how jealous she’d been each time we’d won! Imagine me—a 13-year-old me—entering and winning dance contests. My 73-year-old self finds that difficult to even contemplate. He gave me two pennies to put in my penny loafers and that meant we were going steady. Once again the news reached my mother’s ears in record time, but I simply refused to change my behavior. He was a bad boy, but he was MY bad boy.


On the last day of 8th grade, my friends and I were in the schoolyard, standing around a picnic table, when a tough kid overturned the table as a prank. It landed on my leg, breaking my ankle. I was in a cast most of that summer, but felt vindicated when I heard that my boyfriend had fought that kid and won.


I’m really not sure when or how we split up, but by the middle of ninth grade, he was no longer a part of my life. I’m sure it must have been a very sad breakup, but try as I might, I can’t describe the event.


During my college years, my mother sent me a clipping from the Newark Star Ledger with a photo of him and a story about his up and coming country and western band. I smiled when I read it and remembered how he and his band had played at many of our high school dances. I still have that yellowed clipping pressed in my high school yearbook.


I had hoped to see what he was like in adulthood, but he never attended any of our class reunions. At our 50th reunion his name was on the list of deceased class members and I felt a little piece of my heart shatter as I read his name. Maybe it was just a young girl’s first crush, but it was strong and real, and I think I would have run away from home before I allowed anyone to come between Larry and me.

 


First Love… or My Romance Mentor

by Peter Mehren

“I think that tonight, Malcolm’s going to ask me to marry him…and I think I’m going to say yes.”


Mary had already taught me to try to think before speaking, and when appropriate to avoid speaking, particularly any attempt at humor. So I sat at the opposite end of the sofa in her parents’ living room, with just a slight smile.


Was it because she’d tried, over nearly five years, to train me to consider the words of other people, and not always relate them to me? Was it because, even though I didn’t know Malcolm, I was happy for her? Was I laughing internally at myself, knowing that at age 19 I was certainly not ready to marry anyone, whereas what I’d heard of Malcolm indicated that he was nearly 23, with a college degree and a job with a future pension at the University?


Later she told me that, having finished two years of university, she was, as she put it, “tired of dating.” She wasn’t settling, she was progressing, getting on with life.


I knew that I’d miss her mentorship -I couldn’t call her feelings for me “love.” Rather, as I’d been cluttering up her time and emotions, off and on, for nearly five years, I was more like a natural force, like fog or rain or a minor earthquake: intrusive but not significant. But still, to her I was someone deserving of her abundance of compassion.

We’d met on the first day of high school, our names adjacent in the roll book. She was transitioning from cute to beautiful, being a year younger than many of the others. She’d skipped a grade in primary school, indicative of her above-average intelligence. I was also young, my parents, recognizing my intelligence, having gotten me into First Grade a year earlier than some others my age. And this was Berkeley, where demonstrative intelligence was a given.


I’d only started interacting semi-maturely with females during the Summer before we met; but I quickly asked her out on a date.


Eventually she accepted…but I learned that between my invitation and her acceptance, she’d “vetted” me, asking girls in our class from my junior high what they knew about me. It had, she later told me, taken conversing with several before anyone had anything positive, or much at all, to say about me.
And so it began, occasional dates. As the first one drew to an end, she noted that there would be no kissing until at least the third date. Hmm.


And it turned out that, over the next four years or so, most of our dates–to movies, plays, musical events, and so on–were de facto second dates…
Instead, they were training sessions in how to behave like a mature human being, with next-day observations on my good and inappropriate words and deeds. Unconcerned with hurting my adolescent feelings, she’d list, when I’d phone her the next day, things I’d done right and things I should not have said or done, with specific advice about better choices to have made.

Over the years, I was often late picking her up. Ten, fifteen, or more minutes late. Not out of intentional disrespect: just an inability to properly budget my time.


But when I showed up one time, a bit over two hours early, saying that this was to “average out” all the times I’d been late, while she might, internally, have gotten my attempt at a joke, she told me to go away and come back exactly on time. So I did.
Happily for me, there were other young ladies at the high school, and then at university, who were not so critical, who were able to make simple demonstrations of youthful affection.


Occasionally, we did kiss, but in a comfortable, nearly unemotional way, just an inch or two away from air kisses on each other’s cheeks.
And then she married Malcolm. And continues to live happily ever after.


There’s love and there’s love. Ours was never romantic, but always affectionate. And I continue to refine my behavior, grateful for my memories of her attempts to civilize me.

 


Who Says You Can’t Go Home Again?

by Rosie Sorenson


I was sixteen before I had my first real date. I met Marty, a baby-faced, brown-eyed boy with dimples and a flattop, at his cousin’s New Year’s Eve Party. A junior at another high school from several towns away, Marty was unaware of my reputation as a class brain which, back in the 60’s, did nothing for a girl’s popularity with boys. Our eyes met as Marty slowly worked his way through the crowd toward me. I don’t remember what we had to say to each other, but the fact of a cute boy’s attention left me breathless.

Marty called me several days later to ask me if I would go out with him on a double date with his older brother, Frank, and Frank’s girlfriend, to see a movie. I’d have said yes to most anything. I’d been dying to have a boyfriend, but there were no guys in my high school class of only 69 students that I wanted to go out with.

When I was fifteen, I had asked my seventeen-year-old brother, Robert, what I had to do get a boyfriend. (I don’t know why I turned to him since he wasn’t skilled in the fine art of dating, but he was a guy, and I had to ask someone.) His advice, though limited, still holds me in thrall: “Whatever you do, don’t get fat. Guys don’t like fat chicks.” At least that was one thing I could do, stay thin. As for the rest, well, I’d have to figure that out for myself.

Marty and I double-dated every Saturday night for six months, with the brothers alternating as drivers.

What I remember most was the hormonal delirium I felt when it was our turn for the back seat. I hadn’t kissed a boy since my first-grade crush on Danny Hudson. I swooned then, but I swooned even more when I kissed Marty. We were two teens at the drive-in, our lips warm and moist, our fingers squeaking across the steamed-up glass to draw little hearts with our initials inside.

That June we made a date to meet up after his cousin’s high school graduation, but after the event Marty, who had been sitting in the reserved section with his cousin’s family, disappeared before I could push through the crowd to reach him. His cousin let me know that Marty had left.

A sixteen-year-old girl of today would likely whip out her cell phone and get all up in his business, but in 1962 in the Midwest girls did not call boys, ever. I assumed I’d done something wrong but had no agency to find out.

Decades later, when I was starting to date again after a break-up, I thought of Marty and the pain I had suffered because I felt then that I had no right to find out what happened.

No longer that shy girl with low self-esteem, I dialed Information in his old home town and got his number. When he came on the line, my sixteen-year-old heart flipped. I told him who I was and before I lost my nerve, blurted out, “Remember how we used to go out every Saturday night for six months? And then you just...disappeared? I’m calling to find out why.”

“Uh . . . I dunno,” he said, sounding just like the sixteen-year-old boy I’d loved.“You were real nice.”

“You were nice, too, Marty, and I really liked you.”

“You did?”

“Well, yeah, why did you think I went out with you?”

“Maybe you felt sorry for me or something?”

I fell silent. I don’t know what I expected, but this wasn't it.

Before I could respond, he quickly asked about my life in California, and I inquired about his family. Even though I never found out what really happened in 1962, what I got was more important: the satisfaction of acting on her behalf and finally taking care of that sixteen-year-old girl’s broken heart. Priceless.

Some might say you can’t go home again, but you know what? It doesn’t hurt to call.