Today is a day I can’t help but think about the past.
(Didn’t really know where I was going with that in the beginning. Usually when that’s the case I end up with a vulnerable, from-the-heartkind of post. Which is exactly what this is. With some walks down memory lane- not to be confused with Mary Lane.)
I’m in the midst of re-reading The Great Gatsby, a book I know I studied in high school and believe I studied in college. My memory of all major plot points is vague but the feeling of excitement and romance this book instilled in me, even at age 15, is as clear as the water between East Egg and West Egg.
Isn’t it interesting re-reading books you read as a teenager? At age fifteen I couldn’t imagine anything more romantic than Gatsby’s unwavering love of Daisy. In fact, in my adolescent infatuations, one might think I used this iconic literary love affair as a model.
I vividly remember the moment my first crush walked in to my second grade class. In that instant, I decided this blond-haired, blue-eyed eight year-old would have my heart. I remained devoted to him well past elementary school graduation, even after we went to separate middle schools. I was 12 years old, hadn’t seen him in two years, and he was still the boy I would talk about at sleep overs. In eight grade I finally saw him, hung out with him and a bunch of his friends at a mall. I was at the age where the smallest thing is embarrassing, this was devastating. Still having a crush on this guy, seeing him in the flesh and realizing I didn’t know him at all, I thought I’d never recover from the embarrassment.
Shockingly, I did recover. Just in time to get a real, actual boyfriend in ninth grade. The relationship lasted almost four months which made it super serious by fourteen year old standards. He called me every single night, without fail. I don’t remember the first time he said it, but at some point he began ending every phone call with “I love you”. “Me too,” I would reply, terrified my parents would overhear.
I have a memory of him so vividly etched in my mind, it could have happened yesterday. Lying in his arms, bathed in sunlight on the floor of his bedroom, we cuddled. The door was cracked open a hair as his mother demanded and we were both fully clothed- we never got close to second base. He nuzzled his nose into my hair and sighed, “I will always love you,” he said. My teenage self played this memory over and over in my head, countless more times than I listened to Blink 182’s All The Small Things on repeat. I believed what he said and was convinced that this first love would be the love of my life.
We broke up and I hardly looked at another boy for the next 3 years of high school. No one could compare to this boy, who I fantasized into my soul mate. We remained “friends”. My heart leaped every time AOL instant messenger flashed his screen name. I’d stare at my buddy list willing him to IM me and he usually would. The time’s he didn’t, I was crushed. Sometimes we’d have long talks on the phone, well into the early hours of the morning. I’d leave for school having slept 3 hours but energized by these intimate chats.
Eventually time healed all wounds. Or something. But this guy will always hold a special place in my heart. In a way, he was my first love. He was certainly the first boy to ever care about me, who ever made me feel special. He’s also a cautionary tale. A realization that I’m prone to hopeless devotion. It’s dangerous.
Fortunately, I managed to break this pattern in my adult life. The jadedness of New York City has actually helped me immensely. I no longer fall for boys primarily shaped from memories and my imagination. I’ve grown older and wiser. Gatsby’s love for Daisy is no longer devastatingly romantic, now I see it as devastating cautionary tale.
But some things haven’t changed: I still fall infrequently and when I fall, I fall epically hard. Today marks the one year anniversary of the first time I gave my heart to someone. May 19, 2013 is when I said “I love you” for the first time in my adult life. You remember that story, right? How I showed up to tell him I loved him and found him tripping on a mind altering substance? And somehow didn’t take that as a massive red flag that the relationship was fucked? Hey, it’s one of my best stories. (Read it here!) That’s all is now, a great story and a cautionary tale.
I wanted so much to be in love then, wanted it more than anything else. Was blinded by it. What once seemed like an impossible goal, after my experience, I realize it was easy. I just lowered my standards. Now, I want to feel worthy of my high standards. Yep, folks, I’m just gonna say it: at present what I want more than anything it to love myself. Every thing about myself. That’s what’s made these past months so hard, realizing I don’t love myself right now. Yikes, I know. Sorry if that’s too much, too cliché for ya, but sometimes I need a “go big or go home” honesty moment.
Tonight is the season finale of my guilty pleasure show, RuPaul’s Drag Race. I mention this only because every episode of that show ends with RuPaul saying, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” I’m working on it, Ru, I’m getting there. Oh it sure is a process. But I promise y’all I won’t stop until I’m hopelessly devoted to myself.