“I was lucky. My first time was with my first love.” This from a man who has women vying for a glance, much less attention. Classic tortured artist, he seems to vacillate between digging and abhorring. I listened and wondered: who would qualify as my “first love?”
Has to be Jean Francois.
I was nine and he was perhaps 12. We first met when I was five and he was the horrible youngest of the Swiss family with whom my family was sharing a fraternity house in Palo Alto, Quinoes and Meachams setting up camp for the summer. I only remember an incident with my precious doll needing a new wig and how much I loathed Jean Francois because he was obnoxious and stomped around, drank milk from the jug, and smelled like an animal.
But deep in the summer of 1970, my family was visiting his in Geneva. We had been in London for Daddy’s sabbatical. Daddy bought a VW camper and we were driving around “Europe on $5 a Day,” camping unless it was a big city where we tended to end up in the Red Light Districts. Daddy was focused on the $5 part of our guide.
In Geneva, The Quinoes were hosting in their expansive apartment in the center of town with room for all. After dinner, the kids – eight of us ranging from nine to 23 – went off for ice cream. Then we walked to the end of a pier extending into Lake Geneva. Standing on that pier, watching the fountain Jet d’Eau spew crystals into the darkening sky, I looked at Jean Francois and felt my first molten stab of “true love,” as pure and fierce as only a nine-year-old who had just read “The Diary of Anne Frank” for the first time can appreciate. Here was my Peter. This was our destiny.
Two weeks prior we had visited Amsterdam. My lucky siblings got to go to a youth hostel and Mama and Daddy and I stayed in some raunchy place where the ladies on the street didn’t wear many clothes and I wasn’t allowed to look into the store windows. I did my best to defy. My plotted to make me catch the reading bug because I was a constant source of irritation during long days in a hot camper van. After visiting the Frank house, they pooled resources to gift me the book. I didn’t cause annoyance for days as I poured through every word. And together with narrator Anne, I fell head over heels for Peter.
I pined over Jean Francois for weeks, replaying every moment of that walk, those ice cream cones, that fountain, his eyes. Surely he felt the same. Surely. Alas, this would not be my last experience with unrequited love; it was only the beginning.
In high school, it was the boy who lived across the street. I’ll call him X. My father humiliated me more than once by announcing I was “mooning” over that boy, cheerfully explaining to guests my favorite game was “Spy on X” and encouraging anyone interested to assist me. Junior year, X was the escort for one of the Homecoming Court beauties. Her boyfriend was a football player so he couldn’t wear a tux at halftime. X asked three girls to the Homecoming dance and all turned him down. Everyone kept telling him, “Ask Laura Meacham. She’s in love with you.” So yes, I was his last resort and I didn’t care. Not one bit.
That Homecoming dance was perfect. In my new rust-colored Qiana dress and my mother’s pearls, I felt beautiful – as the most handsome of all handsome seniors confirmed with a passing whisper in my ear. When it was over, X parked his orange VW Thing in his driveway right as Chicago’s “Just You ‘n’ Me” began to play. He left the car on and reached for my hand. We sat in his driveway, listening. When the song was over he walked me down his short driveway and up my long one to the stately front porch where a bright light was on. One short sweet kiss and it was over. I was in heaven.
Alas, nothing good came from this crush either. Months later, we embarked on some parking misadventures that left me feeling confused and sore and empty. Turns out, he was doing the same with one of my closest friends. We compared notes; identical moves. That confirmation helped break the spell.
I wrote a book detailing my grim first sexual encounter (a date rape of the oral variety, which took me 30 or so years to acknowledge as such); my orchestrated losing of my virginity (spoiler alert: it wasn’t great); and my eventual journey to learn how beautiful sex with love could be. But that knowledge was hard gained and most definitely not from the start.
If you, like my handsome tortured friend, got both on the first attempt, count yourself lucky.