I was sixteen, and had never had a real boyfriend. Camp letter-writing quick-kiss-in-the canoe kinds of beaux, yes, but never a heart stopping, can’t eat, can’t sleep, want to be with him all the time kind of boyfriend. Then I met Sam. He was a freshman from the East attending the local college in my hometown. I was a junior in high school.
We met in the hospital over a bath for his friend who was recovering from an appendectomy. I was a nurses’ aide. He flirted. I flirted. The friend got his bath.
In those days, appendectomy patients stayed in hospital for a week. He visited his friend at least three times a day and then started waiting for me to finish work at 11:00. Then we would sit on the swings on the children’s playground next door to the hospital and talk.
It was late spring in the South and apple trees were blossoming, lilacs blooming. Those fragrances even now make my heart stop. He pushed me in the swing through spring air and moonlight. I swear it is true.
No man had ever listened to me before Sam became interested in me. It was intoxicating. I learned the language of love from Sam. I learned to see myself in the eyes of another.
I was especially vulnerable to this illness of love since my father had no capacity or interest in his girls. In a time when children in general were expected to be obedient and quiet, I was no doubt an inexplicable thorn in his side. So, I was told, so many times ,that my horizons were no more than the front yard of some man’s home, that no man would care for a woman with a smart mouth nor for a woman who didn’t know her place.
Sam taught me that men could love women who wanted to talk about poetry and plays and emotions and a life away from the birthplace. He read my poems and my essays and told me that I was brilliant. He encouraged me to walk my own difficult path without fear because he believed that I would do wonderful things with my life.
Over the next six weeks I had the most intense romantic experience of my life. Eroticism combined with chastity will do that.
Sam left for the summer. There were daily letters. Then he returned in the fall. He had reconnected with his high school sweetheart over the summer and while he wanted to continue an intense friendship, after all, I was young and he was a college man. The planets of birth were poorly aligned.
Hearts do break. I lived with a broken heart until I was in my 40’s. This romance became the template for all others to come. Over time I came to understand the gift that he had given me was the certainty that I could be loved.
Valentine’s Day, yet another holiday I hate, is a burden to be borne still. It is a memorial day for me. I love the one I am with, but I always mourn for that first affair of the heart.
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