My feet are off the ground
I dunno know where I stand
Do you have to hold my hand
(You mystify me, you mystify me, you mystify me)"
--D. O'Riordan, from "Sunday"
People sometimes present first love as a formbook thing, all excitement and cuteness and the deepest profundity. But my memory of my own first love is that it is a very difficult thing--soaring highs encountering crashing lows like raging storm systems on a western Oklahoma plain. Infatuation is a chemical complex, a mixing of the beakers, some evolutionary impulse disguised in valentine cloth. I remember feeling as if my soul could soar to Heaven. I remember descending to Hell, like Christ in the story, only without the glimmer of resurrection. I love that Joan Baez line in "Diamonds and Rust"--"speaking strictly for me, we both could have died then and there".
Even so, first love is not all sweeping highs and jagged lows. It's also a bit like that animal in the Dr. Doolittle books, the Pushme-Pullyou. This llama-like creature with a head at each end seems at first like the perfect marriage of two minds, with no down(or rather, back) side. The wild chain reactions of mutual adoration fade, and what is left are two heads that pull in opposite directions. One cannot believe what mundane matters can arise between the members of a couple until one has been in that couple. One relatively quickly learns, however, that there are differences between people that cannot be so easily bridged as the novels suggest. We wonder that life is not more simple--but I found it very difficult to bridge the gaps with a single sympathetic mind.
I love that episode of the old TV show "The Wonder Years", when the main character, Kevin, realizes that he is not going to "end up" with his childhood sweetheart, the amazing Winnie Cooper. It's not that he's a bad person, and it's not that she's a bad person. It's just that they are going to be two people who live their lives separately. The couple in the program have that moment of realization--they have touched one another's souls, but they are not to be together, and they both taste, like a pungent curry, that foretaste of a life of being apart.
I remember being 21 on a dark winter night, wandering, as I tend to do, off the proper road, onto a little by-way and without intention but as if by magic coming to rest by Table Rock Lake, in southern Missouri. I recall, as if the scene were in a movie, embracing someone as if the world were ending. The world was not ending, but that we both knew that our own time was drawing to a close, and each embrace was merely trying to put a finger in the hourglass as the sands drew out. It's now over twenty years later, and our lives run along very different paths. I do not regret what was or what might have been. But I never forget the poignancy, or the pain.