The Sunday Scribblings prompt this week gave me a lot of food for thought: First Love. The immediate question in my mind was, do I write about my first puppy love, my first time being really IN love, or my first time really experiencing a quality long-term love relationship? Each one is a story in itself. Tough choice.
I decided to write about my first puppy love because when I thought about it, while it wasn't the strongest or most intense love of my life, nor does the story have an especially happy ending, it was the sweetest, purest and most innocent love and it has a foothold not just on my childhood but my life as a young woman as well.
Ladies and Gentlemen, meet my first love: Kenny G.
No, not THAT Kenny G., although wouldn't that be the coolest thing if it were him? No, MY Kenny G. was the boy next door. Literally, right next door. I can look out of my window now, and his family's old house is right there. Oldest son of our dear friends and neighbors, Kenny was my "boyfriend" as far back as I can recall. Here's a photo of me and Kenny at about ages 6 and 7 respectively (an "older man!"), standing with our little sisters seated in front, mine the redhead, his the two blonds (and a few years later his parents had another boy so it all evened out in their family). Can you tell I utterly adored him?
We never, ever fought about anything. He was my hero, my champion, my protector. He'd always pick me first to be on his side when we played group games (no one else in my life EVER picked me first for any game or sport -- mainly because I suck at sports, but Kenny didn't care. He was nothing if not loyal). We were often co-conspirators... once we played a joke on his dad during a co-family barbecue (we called them "get-togethers") where we took a pitted black olive and stuffed it with all kinds of spices from my mother's spice cabinet and got his dad to eat it. It was MY idea from the get-go but Kenny took most of the heat for it -- a true cavalier!
Kenny was my first kiss -- on the mouth, which is pretty big stuff when you're a pre-teen. I think I was 11 and he was 12 and it was the night his family was moving to another town about an hour away. The movers had already carted off their furniture, and his parents had him sleep over at our house because they needed to unpack and get things settled; an easier job if you have no kids underfoot (I guess his sisters were at someone else's house because they weren't at ours).
Knowing we were about to be separated, and neither of us very happy about it, we made plans for me to sneak out of the room I shared with my little sister and to sneak into the guest room so we could kiss. I was scared and excited all at the same time -- such romantic drama! It was sweet, and brief, and then I got embarrassed and ran back to my own room. But we had that as "our secret". And I relished it.
Our "romance" continued over occasional visits to his family's new home. On our visits, it was still me and him against the other kids... we always found some way to have our little private secrets. Though in truth I don't remember there being any more kissing after that first time, I do recall him wanting us to "make out" one evening when our parents were out and we, the two oldest, were "in charge" of the littler kids; but I was scared about the prospects of "making out" (I think I was 12 and he 13 by then) and found some way to avoid being alone with him the rest of the night. I wonder if he was disappointed? If he was mad about it, he never showed it though.
There was always just something special about the two of us together. For my 12th birthday he bought me a set of jewelry - a pair of earrings and a stick-pin with my initial "L" - and believe it or not, I still have the stick pin although the earrings are long gone. Eventually though, the whole G family up and moved to Minneapolis when Kenny's dad got transferred for his job. I don't think either of us bothered writing after that... we were in junior high by then and had other fish to fry.
True to the usual cases of childhood sweetheartdom, the story SHOULD have ended right then and there. But it didn't.
When I was about 21 or 22, I went out to Minnesota to visit the whole family, but mainly to see Kenny's sister, Nancy, who I'd managed to stay in touch with and still do to this day (she now lives in Seattle with her husband and two adorable little boys, in a house with a view of the Puget Sound that I just LOVE). But part of me knew Kenny would be there, too, and even though I knew he was involved with a girlfriend I was really excited at the prospect of seeing him again.
And apparently I wasn't the only one eager to reconnect with my childhood sweetheart. The day I arrived at his parent's house, he was on his way back from a road trip to visit his grandparents, with his girlfriend in tow. I remember when he finally got there the next day, I heard him walk in and the first question out of his mouth was "Where's Lisa?", followed by him giving me the greatest hug (in front of his girlfriend, no less. She was very nice, actually).
The rest of the week I was there, he became my friend, my hero, and my champion once again. One day when his sister had to work, he took me on an all-day picnic, did all the food shopping and barbecuing and we just hung out together and enjoyed each other's company. We all went bowling one night, and he introduced me to my first Tangueray and Tonic (still one of my favorite drinks!) And one night when we went out clubbing, his sister's boyfriend and another male friend got in trouble with the bouncers at the club and got arrested. Obviously this was a very upsetting experience for his sister (and not terribly pleasant for me -- no one I knew ever got arrested for anything), and Kenny made sure he whisked me away so I wouldn't have to be involved with it... still looking out for me, just as he'd always done!
Later that night after the melodrama at the club... we were back at home and talking about our childhoods and our lives now, and then what was once just puppy love took an unexpected and very intimate turn. And this time, I wasn't scared and didn't make up reasons to avoid him the way I did when we were children. I certainly hadn't been looking for that to happen, nor was I expecting it, and I don't think he planned it either. But maybe it was inevitable. Maybe that's just what needed to happen between us. And it was lovely.
After I came back home, he and I wrote letters for a while. He and that girlfriend broke up, I seem to recall, though he claimed at that time they weren't "that serious". He was trying to convince me to move to Minneapolis at one point, but I don't think his heart was REALLY in it. I think he was in love with the IDEA of being in love with me, and for a while I got swept up in it. Over time it sort of fizzled out -- too much physical distance between us and in those days there was no e-mail or cheap long distance phone service to help us stay connected. I do, however, still have the last letter he wrote me, tucked away in a box with my other memories along with my prom night corsage and old photo albums.
Eventually he married that same girl he had been going with when I visited. They had two children. For awhile they looked like the perfect family. Then I learned through his sister that his wife had left him and took the children with her because Kenny had developed an alcohol and drug problem. I'm not sure how he's doing with that now although at one point we heard through his parents that he finally went into treatment after years of being in denial about his problem even after his marriage imploded. I don't know if he's managed to stay sober since having gone into that treatment program.
But oh, God, how I hope so. It made me sad to learn that the sweet little boy and sexy, devilish 20-something young man, the one who was the first "love" of my life -- my former hero and protector -- was struggling with something that big and had made rather a sorry mess of his life. I don't know what he's doing with his life these days... has he stayed on the wagon? Do his children get to, or even want to, see him? Has he managed to get his life on track and start fresh? I don't like thinking of him as one of those "losers" who never gets his life together. To me, that would be such a tragic thing for a man who is a really good person inside. I don't know what brought him to substance abuse, but the boy I knew was kind and sweet and funny. Something else must have been missing in him, though, if he tried to fill the hole in his soul with too much of that old "party spirit" we ALL had way back in the day.
I have no desire to see him or talk to him or know him now. I don't think of him as "the one who got away" or wonder "what if?" because we have no unresolved issues between us. We were in love as children and then as grown-ups we had a chance to be a little bit "in love" again on another level. I think that's all we were meant to have... sweet memories of a first love that we don't have to wonder about or have regrets about. For my part, I regret nothing. He's a special part of my past, and sometimes the past has to STAY in the past.
But no matter what mistakes he's made in his past, or who he is now, or who he becomes in his future, he'll always be my first boyfriend, my first kiss and my first love. So in my heart, I'm sending him a kiss right now, wherever he is and whatever he's doing... a sweet, innocent, precious kiss, just like the one he first gave me.