February 14th with a Valentine optional, I began to reflect on ghosts of romance past. What a parade!
Like the movies where the calendar pages fly off, I land on my first real boyfriend. A friend brought him to my Sweet Sixteen birthday party and he was beautiful. A Swedish exchange student who had turned 18 the day before, he was 6’2, sandy blonde hair and had the bluest eyes I’d ever seen. A couple of weeks later he sent me a note through someone he knew who went to my school (old school communication – no internet yet). In English good enough to give me butterflies, he wrote that I was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen (things you can only say at age 18) and he wanted to get together again. He became my first love, and we spent a magical school year of ice hockey games (he was a goalie), movies, dates, the prom, everything. Talking on my white princess telephone, his was the first voice I heard in the morning and the last one at night when he would say “I love you” in Swedish. Then graduation came with an opportunity to play hockey at the University of Minnesota and he was gone. We tried to keep in touch through letters and talking on a pay phone from his dorm (it was 1982 – no cell phones) but you know how that goes. After that he had to return to Sweden. Amazingly we are still in touch (thank you Facebook) and great fondness remains 30+ years later.
Now I’m turning 18. It’s the summer after graduation, I’m thumbing through my yearbook and notice a cool guy from Home EC class has signed and left his phone number. Impulsively I decide to call him and we start hanging out. He was into photography and asked if he could take my picture. Whether for art or a clever way to flirt, it worked and we were soon more than friends. He had a fiery personality to match his ginger hair and was passionate about his car — a Chevy Malibu, root beer brown with a bad ass engine. We spent a lot of time cruising the Avenue and sometimes racing the quarter mile between Davis and Eight Mile Road. We were at the beginning of adulthood and we’d park on the levee at Ladd’s Marina and talk and talk about the future and kiss in the moonlight. He had a wonderful family who fed me dinner a lot. Their home was a place I could feel peaceful and normal because my own home life was coming apart with my mother dying of cancer. We started junior college together and his was the hand that held mine at my mother’s funeral. Although our romance didn’t last, something so much more important has. He’s been one of my best friends for over 30 years. We’ve heard each other’s all and love each other much. Knowing him is my great fortune.
Those being the best examples of men I’ve known, I sometimes wonder if I peaked at 19. From then to now has been a cautionary tale. Picture a movie trailer where starburst phrase bubbles flash onscreen and the announcer’s voice booms, “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry…horror, amazement, despair, triumph!”
I’m still looking forward to the triumph of love. Picture between 1984 and now, me running through a field of landmines versus a field of dreams. I’ve pretty much seen and experienced it all — marriage, divorce (twice in 5 years), infidelity, addiction, narcissism, long-distance romance leading to nowhere — let’s just say somewhere along the line my “picker” became warped and broken. Friends who have endured the Shakespearean tragedy portion of my love life have suggested panel interviews for prospective dates in the future. Much more productive than cleaning up the mess made of things on the back end.
Even as I am older and wiser, somehow a shred of optimism for finding love remains. Like big, luscious pieces of chocolate cake and beautiful roses, I see other people having it and I waaaant some too. If you know someone, please have them obtain an application and submit it to the panel.