You remember it, don’t you? Of course you do. Everyone does. No one forgets the first time love sucker punches him (or, I suppose, her) in the groin.
Note #1: I’m not going to veer off into which member of our brood is undergoing the incident that’s sparking this post. That’s not mine to share. Speculate at your own peril. For all I know, they’ll be “back together” before I get this typed. (Yep, I was right. They are.)
Note #2: This is young love I’m talking about here – and the pain associated with it. I’ve lived through divorce and that’s a full-on story for a different day. That’s a degree of pain, of sadness, of guilt, and of anger on a whole different plane. I can’t minimize that. But there’s something singularly tragic about the demise of a first love. It has something to do with naivety and unfamiliarity with what to expect. So basically, I’m not sure Rod Stewart had it exactly right. I don’t know that the first cut is the actually deepest. But (as evidenced by the fact that we all remember ours), it’s the one that never quite heals.
I still laugh looking back because I fell for the girl with the greatest first-love name since Princess Buttercup: Jennie Devine. She was a gymnast without confidence. A cheerleader without enthusiasm. And a pretty girl with questionable tastes. She was perfect (as far as I was concerned).
And I did love her…as much as my 16-17-18-year-old psyche was capable of loving.
So when she let me down as gently as she could early in my freshman year of college, I was a complete train wreck. Seriously pathetic. Oh God, I’m talking about depths of mopey, pitiful, puppy-love crap that would have made the producers of Dawson’s Creek demand a rewrite. It was bad.
I mean, when you reach the point where a pretty boy like Dave Rademacher is telling you to man up and take her picture off your desk, that should absolutely be your rock-bottom moment. Not for this guy. I still remember calling to beg her to go to the St. John’s ROTC Ball with me sophomore year. That’s a year and a half after the brush off, for those of you scoring at home. (Yes, if you’re curious, she graciously agreed to come up from Minneapolis and save me from going stag. No, if you’re voyeuristic, I did not get sympathy sex.)
My point (and I’ll get to it here, because otherwise I’ll just ramble on with Jennie stories for much, much longer than you want to scroll) is that it’s a great thing that Jen dumped me. (And it’s an even better thing that she stuck to her guns and didn’t take me back just to make the incessant weeping stop.)
You see, I have no idea what’s become of Jennie Devine. (Note #3: I did see her name come up on Classmates.com at one point with a married name after it. I momentarily toyed with the idea of checking in with her, just out of curiosity – purely platonic at this point, of course. But I was too cheap to pay the premium fee to actually send a message to her. Plus, after all she endured from me, I just couldn’t subject her to the undeniably creepy vibe that would have produced.) Did she ever become a nurse? Did she stay in Minnesota? Did she follow her family to Colorado? Did she find some other place all her own? Did she marry? Does she have kids? Is she happier? I hope so. (There was always a subtle-but-tragic, almost Shakespearean thread of melancholy in Jennie.)
But if Jen hadn’t scraped me off her shoe like so much abandoned gum, I don’t know that I would have learned some important lessons. I don’t know that I would have seen the profound depths of wussyness which my soul is capable of plumbing. And without that knowledge, and the experience of finally escaping it, I would forever live at risk of finding myself in those depths.
Looking back at that pathetic, needy state I was in, I can clearly see life lessons waiting to be learned – lessons I hope my kids all learn much less painfully than I did. For example, a relationship should be supportive…but not to the point where it becomes a crutch. (I was terrible about this one in a couple of different ways.)
If Jen hadn’t let me know she needed more. I would have gone on thinking I was a pretty great boyfriend and an all-around good guy. And this little facet of self-awareness has gone on to become a recurring theme in my life. If I’m not constantly vigilant (and I’m not), I’m in real danger of slipping into lazy, disrespectful, self-absorbed habits while continuing to pat myself on the back for how much I care.
If I were to take that painful experience away, it would alter the course of my life. I may not have met and married Beth and had three amazingly wonderful kids. I may not have found Corinne and the love, support and happiness that I have in my life right now.
There are people who spend their whole lives with their high-school sweethearts. It happens. I’ve seen it. I’m not sure how it works though. My best guess is that the people who are able to pull that off are quick learners whose minds are open and receptive to important life lessons through direct channels. The rest of us? (Or at least idiots like me?) Apparently the access port for downloading those lessons to the brain is tucked in behind the heart. And the only way to get at it is to tear open a hole.