I’d say my first true love was my Raggedy Ann doll. In retrospect, the nice thing about falling in love with an inanimate object is that it can’t break your heart. Which is a really good thing, because just about every other true love I can think of in my life involved serious soul-sucking heartbreak, which I really don’t care for. So loving a doll is simply so much easier. The only problem is when your brothers decide to stuff it in the toilet just to be spiteful.
Of course you can’t stay in love with a stuffed doll forever (or if you do, you’re eventually carted off to the psyche ward), so I suppose that was as good a time as any to break it off with Ann, because she was certainly quite raggedy after that episode in the loo anyhow. Or at least irrevocably soiled.
This ushered in my schoolgirl crush phase. My first real crush was this guy with a tangle of blond curls, a smile a mile wide, and a wicked backhand. He came from this sort of shabby chic Nantucket-in-Pittsburgh type of family—the kind that looked as if they just finished a day sail in the Narragansett Bay and were ready for a clambake/badminton game on the beach, one of those beaches for which you need a four-wheel drive and you have to let the air out of the tires and you need a special permit. He was hip before I knew what hip even was. Before I could act on those tugging hormones, however, my best friend went away to summer camp. Same one tennis boy was at. They came back an item, and remained so for, oh, the rest of my school years. Unrequited crush, never had a chance to be first love. That rat.
My next first true love was a high school senior when I was a freshman. That was doomed from the get-go. No senior worth his salt is foolish enough to hang back for a simpering girl that much younger. It was fun while it lasted, but onward and upward. I repeated that pattern yet again my sophomore and junior years, so seemed to be the one left behind with tattered heart and tear-stained countenance.
It taught me to be cautious and savvy before getting too torn-up over a guy.
College brought a succession of entirely forgettable guys. One, my freshman year, broke up with me in such a cad-like way that I sought passive-aggressive revenge by strategically positioning his senior class picture (see, my first mistake—there I was dating elders again!) at the center of my dart board. I became quite skilled at darts (see for yourself!).
Sophomore year some random guy (actually, Random was part of his fraternity nickname) who always had a wad of chew tucked back in his cheek, and forever kept a dining-hall issue coffee cup in which to spit right by the gear shift of his 280-Z. Sharp turns and that nasty mix of tobacco soup would spill all over the car (or its unwitting passenger). Random wasn’t the guy for me.
Junior year? Can’t recall anyone worth mentioning. Except some last-minute formal date named Chip who is lucky I will refrain from elaborating on him, except to tell you that he had two formal dates that night but neglected to mention the other one to me. Disappeared after dinner for 90 minutes to appear at another formal with his other date, thinking I wouldn’t notice him missing. Had I been a malicious person, I might have aimed my darts at him, not his picture. I had thought about whipping together a voodoo doll in his honor.
Senior year I finally ended up dating someone my age. I think for the first time ever. It was a lot of fun and he was a great guy but timing matters and the timing completely wasn’t there. We parted ways when his old girlfriend slithered back into the picture. Had I been able to unearth my dartboard from my boxes of college detritus, I can assure you his picture would have helped me to further hone my dart-throwing skills, but by then I was far too sophisticated for such childish measures. Instead I slunk back home while job-searching and spent my free time—which until then had been devoted to him—in the pursuit of my Jane Fonda Exercise Workout (this back when we had to listen to it on the record player, if you’ll all recall…).
I have to tell you, Jane Fonda will never compare with a flesh-and-blood boyfriend. But she does wonders for whittling away all of that excess beer poundage from college, so to her I owe a debt of gratitude (and to this day I can hear her haunting lilting voice telling me to “feel the burn.”).
Soon after my endless manhunt drew to a close. I ran into this guy I knew in college. One of those guys who always has a girlfriend. Only this time he was girlfriend-less. Perfect timing. But for the niggling little detail that he wanted to go out with my sorority sister.
But I had a few tricks up my sleeve by then. We planned to get together on our own. About ten times. Each time one of us cancelled at the last minute. It didn’t seem destined to much of anything, really, what with our inability to connect in the first place and that propensity to blow each other off at a whim.
But then we went out and had a lot of fun and the next thing you know, we were dating, and then we were dating seriously. And the he got seriously cold feet and tried to break up with me but I told him “no way, dude” and just refused to leave that day. It was a bold move, perhaps a bit foolish, but it worked. A year later we were married, and later this month it will be 21 years (!) since I had to even consider those Looking for Mr. Goodbar moments, which honestly, I don’t miss for one minute.
Oh, and you remember that tennis boy? The one I never did have my moment in the sun with? Well his brother went off and became some hugely successful movie star and damn, if things had worked out differently, well think of all of those Hollywood premiers I could’ve attended and perhaps rubbed shoulders with George Clooney and who knows, maybe even had my very own Lana Turner Schwab’s Drug Store Moment and, well, okay, this is where my vivid imagination takes over and I guess this is why I’m a fiction writer because I can capitalize on fantasy and run with it and make it something far more interesting than it ever would have been in real life. Narragansett Bay or not.
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