I met my first love the summer before I left for college. “Nick’s” family was legendary, kind of an Italian-American Kennedy clan plunked down in our northeastern town. There were seven kids, all absurdly good-looking and athletic, and all with auras. You wanted to be one of them, or with one of them, their beauty and laughter and gloriousness was that magnetic.
Their abusive father was long gone and the converted farmhouse where they lived was the site of frequent raucous, chemically-enhanced parties. Music blasted till the wee hours. A game of beer pong was always to be found around the dining room table. Someone was usually passed out in a hallway. And girlfriends and boyfriends cavorted in every bedroom.
One morning, Nick’s sister Isabella and her boyfriend traipsed into the kitchen, tousled-haired and breathless with satisfaction, sheets draped around them like togas. Their mother, who had long ago relinquished the notion that she could harness her wild-child brood, didn’t bat an eye. I, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister and the granddaughter of missionaries, was stunned to witness the smell of sex greeted with such maternal nonchalance.
I had briefly dated the youngest son, Eddy, the year before, but he had broken my heart when he took up with the class tart. Still, I was a frequent guest at the Santostefano bacchanals, and that summer before I left for college I would motor down the dirt road to their farmhouse in my black Vintage Mustang, the Rolling Stones blasting from my tape deck. Yes, tape deck — remember those, old people?
One night a bunch of us were sitting on the roof under the star-spackled sky, ingesting whatever substances were available. It was getting close to my curfew time, so I scooched to the edge of the roof to climb down the ladder. Nick stepped onto the ladder before me to help me down and grabbed me by the waist. We stared into each other’s eyes for an electrically-charged moment, then started kissing intensely on the ladder. This was no stumble-around-to-see-if-you’re-compatible kiss. This was an instantaneous sexual-soulmate kiss, like nothing I had felt before.
Nick and I had spoken earlier that night in the kitchen. I was sitting on the counter eating chocolate chip cookies that he had baked, and he began to talk to me. He was one of the older Santostefanos, and the most sensitive. He had been out of college for a couple years and had come back home to figure out what to do with his life. I was 17, and he was 24, so I figured he was just being friendly.
But now, as we lurched across the yard towards my car, breathless, hands reaching under clothes, Nick entreating me to stay, and me warning him of the wrath of my prim mother, it was clear that his interest in me had been more than friendly.
We were joined at the hip — okay, the groin — for the next several weeks and raised the eyebrows of the vast Santostefano entourage, considering our age difference and considering my mother’s reputation as an old-fashioned parent.
My mother came home early from a trip to the city one afternoon and her world was shattered when she discovered Nick and me scrambling to pull our clothes on in my bedroom. It took a couple weeks, and a man-to-man with my father, and, I think, the ardent hope that we would get married, for her to accept our relationship.
Nick had the sexual prowess of the rascals I had heretofore dated, but he had an innate kindness that most rascals don’t. The night before I left for college, we snuck into an empty dorm room in the university town we lived in, and made love on a blanket on the ground.
“If you weren’t so young,” Nick told me, “I’d say we should get engaged.”
Nick was a Renaissance man. He cooked, he played guitar, he was an Ivy League grad, and a star athlete.
And he was romantic. He wrote me love letters when I left for college, pledging his undying love. I wrote him back, also pledging my undying love, an undying love that lasted about three weeks before I took up with a cute junior on campus.
Still, Nick and I saw each other during the year. We visited during school breaks. He baked cookies, and sent them to me at college. When I woke up in post-op after my tonsillectomy during Christmas break, he was holding my hand.
During that break, headed back to the Santostefano homestead from a party, the car we were riding in broke down. Nick tried to jumpstart the motor, but couldn’t. His brother Eddy figured it out in a matter of seconds and Nick’s shoulders slumped a little.
“Everything comes so easily to Eddy. Sometimes it makes me jealous.”
In that cold moment in the northeastern winter’s night, my ardor for Nick dampened. He had been adrift, smoking too much pot and ingesting too much cocaine. He was working odd jobs as a house painter and I was concerned he lacked ambition. He looked at me for some words of encouragement. But I said nothing.
.We broke up in New Orleans over Mardi Gras. We went with a group of people and I was a world-class bitch, pushing away Nick’s embraces and flirting with any guy who looked in my direction.
“If you don’t want to be with him, you should tell him,” said his sister, Isabella. “It’s not fair to him otherwise.”
So I told him. I told him in a callous, no-biggie kind of way. We were sitting in his car. In an uncharacteristic flash of anger, he slapped his legs and screamed “Fuck you!” over and over. He went on and on about how well he had treated me, how he had never cared so much for anyone, and what a selfish teenager I was.
I felt a little bad, but not really.
Until I did. Over the years, my callousness dug into me. The older I got, and the more ill-advised relationships in which I found myself, the more I realized how special Nick was, and what a colossal jerk I had been. My jerkiness became a default setting my mind would lock onto when I thought of the various yucky things I’d done in my life. I wished I could apologize to Nick.
Several years ago, when I was unpacking boxes during a move, I found a letter Nick had written me a year after we’d broken up, telling me how much he still cared about me.
I sighed when I read that letter. I knew from my high school newsletter that Nick had married and started a successful tech company out west. So much for my conviction that he lacked ambition.
Over the years, I would occasionally check his Facebook profile. It appeared from his photos that he had divorced and remarried. He had three sons, all of whom were as Adonis-like as he was. In the photos, Nick was gray-haired, but had not put on an ounce. He was smiling and exuberant as ever.
There’s nothing like a divorce, and a move, and a Feng Shui clearing of boxes, to make you reflect on your choices, good and bad. So the other day, as I sat at my computer mid-blog-post, I clicked onto my Facebook page and typed Nick’s name into the search box. I scrolled through the photos on his page and didn’t see a wife. I looked at his “About” and didn’t see mention of a marriage.
But his marital status was not the reason I clicked on the conversation box and messaged him. I did what I had wanted to do for a long time.
I messaged him that I had thought of him fondly over the years, that I had been too young too appreciate him, and I apologized for being such a jerk. I acknowledged that it had been so long he might have no idea what I was talking about. But I said that my behavior had always bothered me, and I was writing to make an amends.
Five minutes later, he messaged back. OMG! he wrote. My message had come up on his phone when he was in the car and he pulled over to write me. He told me not to worry at all, that he had been madly in love with me which was not what I needed when I was so much younger and headed to college. He said he still remembered how great that summer was, and how he thought of me whenever he heard the Rolling Stones.
I messaged back my sincere gratitude for his graciousness and told him I would love to see him if he ever came my way.
He wrote back something nice, but vague, so my guess is that the wife may not be in the pictures, but is is still in the picture.
But that’s not the point.
At least not the real point.
The real point is that I made an amends for something that had eaten away at me for decades. I made an amends for egregious behavior I had bestowed upon a man who had shown me only love and kindness. I made an amends with no expectation of a reply, and got back something far better than what I deserved.
And with that amends, a psychic albatross tumbled off my shoulders. I sat staring at my computer screen for a long time, listening to my breath, and smiling.
Today, I’m thankful for making an amends to my first love.