Do you remember the first person you fell in love with? I bet you do. And maybe, like me, the place in your heart that person occupied has remained theirs for years after. It will most likely never be given to anyone even though you will have greater loves, more endearing loves, maybe even permanent loves.
Even to this day, I can never scramble eggs without feeling my first love, hovering behind me. It was he who taught me how to make them “just right.” The sight of the yellow whirls in the frying pan evokes his presence like incense burning in a lamp.
high school sweethearts
Mike and I were sweethearts in high school. We never actually met one another. Rather we slowly came into one another’s radar. I cannot pinpoint the moment when we realized that we were “together.”
I felt like I knew Mike long before I actually came face to face with him. By the time I was in junior high, I had determined that I wanted to be a journalist when I grew. When a ninth-grade English teacher required our class to interview an adult working in our hoped-for future career, I called Dorothea Bump, who wrote a weekly column for our local newspaper. Ms. Bump and I had a delightful conversation. She didn’t pull any punches about how challenging it was for a woman to succeed in the world of journalism, but she encouraged me to pursue my dream. While we talked, I learned that she had a son my age.
My curiosity piqued, when I started high school the next year, I paid attention in classes and at school events to see if his name showed up. And it did. Although it was a huge school and we didn’t have many classes in common, he was on the football team. At a high school in central Indiana, this was not the big deal it is in many other places in the United States. At our school, basketball was king. Football games were not well attended. In fact, girls, who wished to be cheerleaders for the basketball games, tried out at the football games.
More notably, Mike was very involved in student government and in speech and debate clubs. That meant he appeared on stage at student assemblies. A charming and persuasive speaker, he was a popular choice for campaign manager for kids who ran for office. At that time, however, I had an enormous crush on a guy from my junior high and Mike didn’t cause my heart to turn over.
Junior year brought us into the same circle. My best friend, Nancy, dreamed of a career in theater. She was involved at some level in every production our school put on. Usually, she played a lead role as she was (and is to this day) a fine actor. I had no theater ambitions, but I liked being where Nancy was. So, I signed on to build sets, procure props, and help actors learn their lines.
Mike’s closest friend Kelley was another young actor. Kelley’s involvement with the school theater drew Mike in. Mike had no desire to act, but he had a fine voice and got “volunteered” for the chorus for musicals – not just to sing, but to lend his strong back to scene construction.
This convergence of interests put Mike and me backstage on the sidelines with the rest of the support crew for long periods of time. Most of us tried to get some homework done as we curled in whatever comfortable corner we could find, but with all the comings and goings of the rehearsals, concentration was pretty hard. We couldn’t distract the actors, so we would converse in notes. Finally, Mike got frustrated enough by this abbreviated way of communicating that he asked me to go for a coke one evening.
meant to be
The rapport that began backstage blossomed at the diner. I don’t remember that Mike actually asked me for a date after that. We simply started being together. Anything he was involved in, I engaged in as well. He did the same for me. We attended all the school dances as a couple for the next two years.
In senior year, he, for some reason, decided not to take the class trip to Washington D.C and New York City. But as soon as our bus pulled out of the station, he realized he had to share it with me. He hitchhiked to New York. Washington had been fascinating, but lonely. What a wonderful surprise to find Mike sitting in my hotel lobby when my classmates and I arrived in New York. I fell in love with New York with Mike. It’s still my favorite American city.
Our romance unraveled when we graduated high school and attended different colleges. It wasn’t easy. We both ended up with broken hearts. Few people marry their high school sweethearts. Those who do often don’t stay married to them. It’s way too early for most young people to make a life-long decision. That doesn’t make the end of the relationship any less harsh or the memories any less poignant.
The love lesson of our romance, however, never faded. Mike taught me that I could be loved wholeheartedly for exactly who I was. Because he believed that, I could believe it. The knowledge that I am worthy of unconditional love was his gift to me long after our young romance slipped away.