I was 13 years old when I met him; we were introduced by an older mutual friend. He was 15, adorably cute, funny, and sweet. We were both instantly attracted to each other. We started dating, and spent a lot of time together, but sadly, neither of us really remembers how long we were together.
The memories are 30 year old memories. The photo booth at Woolworth’s, him meeting me after school at my school (his school got out earlier than mine), walking around downtown for hours, lots of kissing. Snippets of a time when we were happy together – the kind of happy you feel as a child, before responsibilities and life weigh you down so much. Our biggest issues were making sure we made it to the last bus home, doing our homework, and arguing with my brother about how much time we each got on the phone.
He spent a lot of time at my house; my parents were stable and kind – his parents did not give him the same sort of blissful childhood I enjoyed. He was living with his dad and step-mom in my town, but he didn’t feel wanted. My house was a respite for him, with the kind of parents he wanted to have. I have the kind of parents that any kid is blessed to have. We spent a lot of time in my room, talking, kissing, laughing. We cooked after school snacks; and I began his lifelong attachment to Minute Rice, although I didn’t know that at the time.
And then we got in trouble. We snuck out together and stayed at a friend’s. It was innocent; the stuff of good kids who were smart and cautious – we watched The Princess Bride, stayed up all night and kissed. But he got caught. He was marched over to my house the next day to confess to my parents while I was still out with my friend. I got grounded for a few days. His punishment was excessive; he was put on a plane and shipped back to his mom’s in California. Banished for a minor teenage mistake. I never even got to say goodbye.
Life went on and I pined for him at first; later on the memories faded and I thought of him less. But I still thought of him from time to time. I even tried to look him up more recently online and on Facebook, but was never sure if any of the countless profiles with his name was his. The one who got away. The curse of a common name. I never knew he thought of me too.
In early July I posted a video on YouTube of my swim with whale sharks at the Georgia Aquarium in order to embed it into my post on this blog. It was shortly before I left on my big road trip, and it was the first and only thing I have ever posted under my name on YouTube. A few weeks later, on July 30, I was at a tiny state park in Minnesota. I needed a day of rest and had found a little out-of-the-way park on a man-made reservoir with farmland all around. It was quiet.
I woke up from my first night in the park to find a comment on my YouTube video. “funny, i used to have a girlfriend with the same name…..but she had braces and LOVED minute rice. then my parents screwed it all up and grounded me for life. i felt like a jerk and always missed her. its probably been 30 years now. i’m a dummy.” The comment was left with an obviously fake name, but I instantly knew who it was, and I knew he had found the right girl – given that only one other person on the internet shares my extremely uncommon name.
We started emailing, then talking on the phone, as I drove further and further away from California (where he still lives), on my trip. The connection we felt as teenagers was still there; he still made me laugh, his core personality was the same as the boy I dated at 13, only grown up now. We have both been through our share of joy and trials, and we both keep trying to find happiness in the simple things in life. We found ourselves talking everyday, and he soon asked if my trip would take me through California. Days turned into weeks, then months, as we texted and talked, and exchanged photos – my trip, his life at home.
My trip did indeed take me into California, where the things I was feeling over the phone turned out to be even stronger in person. Can first loves work out? Can you find happiness with someone from your past who has found you again? We never broke up as teenagers; there was never a fight or a gradual loss of interest. He was simply taken away from me. At 13 and 15, before cell phones, driver’s licenses and the internet, or even the money for long distance phone calls, being 1,100 miles away from someone is the kiss of death for a teenage romance. But we have been given a second chance after all this time.
He is kind and sweet and I have fallen in love with him all over again. His quirky sense of humor makes me laugh; he keeps me from being too serious. There are details we both need to work through if we are going to work; it will take time and it is complicated. We both want it to work though.
It is strange that my past found me 2,000 miles and 30 years away from home? That we just clicked – the same way we did when we were kids? I always wanted the fairy tale. And finally, once again, my Westley found his Buttercup. As you wish.
Me and Jeff