I met my first husband in line for the bathroom at a St. Patrick’s Day themed frat party twenty five years ago this month. With such an auspicious beginning, who would have guessed that it wouldn’t last? I nearly didn’t meet him at all, as I was about to leave the party because some drunk frat boy had just smacked me on the butt. I realized my cup was empty when I went to throw my green beer on him. I ended up shaking my cup at him and yelling, “Not nice!” while he laughed and shrugged like, “Whoops, my bad!” It was time to go.
I didn’t want to ride the subway with a bladder full of green beer, so I got in the long bathroom line and the guy in front of me turned around, smiled and said hi. I was going to smile vacantly and look through him, but I noticed that he looked kind of like Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything, which is a stupid reason to fall for someone, but I was 20 and it was a good time to fall. I opened my mouth and something super sexy came out, “I really have to pee, so don’t stink up the bathroom or use up all the toilet paper.” I was a sweet talking devil. How could he resist? He laughed and was waiting for me when I came out, so we sat on a couch and started talking. I found out that he was not one of the frat boys, but was home on spring break from his college, which was four hours away. Frankly, this made him even more attractive to me, as I tended to be far more enthusiastic about romances that seemed like they would be excitingly short-lived. It soon became clear to the fratties that Lloyd (not his real name, but let’s just go with it) was not one of them, and they not-so subtly asked him to leave. He and I, along with my sweet roommate, who had been waiting while I chatted up Mr. Say Anything, got in a cab headed back to our dorm. My roommate was heading to bed and Lloyd asked me if I wanted to get coffee. I always say yes to coffee.
It was a magical night, lightly snowing and cold with a big bright moon giving off a glow that gave the trees and sidewalks a sparkly luminescence. I am not made of stone. How was I not going to fall in love with him? We walked to Harvard Square together and sat at the counter of a diner called The Tasty and had coffee and talked more. Elton John’s Rocket Man started playing and he said his dad used to call him the Rocket Man and made him a t-shirt with the nickname emblazoned on it that he wore all the time when he was a little boy. After our coffee we went into the Store 24 and bought gummy worms and other candy that you can eat at 2 AM when you are 20, yet still avoid heartburn and belly fat. I saw a card that had a picture of a chubby guy sitting at a diner counter and inside it said, “missing you” and I told him he should buy it and send it to me and he bought it. Then we walked back to my dorm and sat in the lounge watching MTV and eating gummy worms and milk duds, and we talked on and on all night. When it was light out, we wrote our phone numbers on the back of a jello box (I seriously had eaten jello for dinner that night. How was I even alive with that kind of diet?) and then I walked him out. At the door he leaned in and kissed me and I remember it being this monumental thing, where I thought, “Whoa….something big is happening.” Maybe it was lack of sleep and too much sugar, but that was the first kiss I’d ever had where I saw fireworks.
We spent nearly every day and night of the next week together and then he had to go back to school. I was sad that he was leaving, but it didn’t seem sensible to try a long distance relationship. The morning he left, we said that maybe we’d get together next time he was in town and kissed goodbye. I was a little relieved that it was over, because the week with him had been way more intense than anything I’d ever experienced romance-wise and I felt like I needed to catch my breath. I was watching tv with my friends that night, when the phone rang and it was Lloyd, drinking at a bar near his school. He said, “I was wrong, I think we should give a long distance thing a try. I don’t want to wait and see.” I was surprised, but thrilled. I threw caution to the wind and said yes.
Everything about love was so new to me. I’d had a couple of boyfriends before, but it had never been like this. It all seemed like magic. He wrote me letters from school and would draw me funny cartoons and write silly poems. He took a train and a bus and traveled a ridiculous amount of hours just to come see me every couple of weeks. We were crazy about each other and never seemed to run out of things to talk about. We came up with silly ideas and stories and laughed like maniacs. We made each other mix-tapes. Plus, we were both young and adorable and having the type of sex that young people with endless energy, are limber and need very little sleep have. Lots and varied. Ah youth. I found a way to stay in Boston for the summer while he was home from school (four part-time jobs!) and we spent all of our non-work time together. We loved taking long ambling walks through the city. Sometimes we’d ride the subway to a stop we’d never been to, then get out and walk around for hours. The first time he asked me to marry him, we were on a late night walk, just four months after we met. Our summer together was ending in a matter of weeks and we were both starting to get anxious. “We should get married!” he said and I just laughed. But he stopped and spun me around so that he was looking in my eyes and said, “I’m totally serious. Let’s get married.”
“But we can’t! We’re too young!” I said. I adored him more than I’d ever adored anyone in my life, but I had no interest in being a wife. I still had two more years of college. He said we could do it and still finish school. Maybe we could just secretly get married, and we wouldn’t even have to tell anyone? That idea actually appealed to me. I like secrets and I am prone to doing ridiculous things on a whim. We didn’t do it, though. Before he left to go back to school he bought me a gold ring with a little heart-shaped amethyst stone in the center. “Will you wear it on your left hand?” he asked. “I want everyone to know you are mine.” That sounded like passionate adoration to me back then. I was all in.
We should have done it. We should have made that spectacular mistake early. Gotten it out of the way and been divorced before we could do any major damage to each other. Instead we had a long distance relationship while we were in college, then moved to Texas together so that he could go to graduate school. He asked me to marry him again when we’d been together 6 years. This time it wasn’t romantic. We’d been growing apart and fighting more and more. And then he had a health scare, something minor that seemed major, and when we got back from the doctor he said, “Maybe we should get married?” And I said, “Sure, why not?” And we tried to plan a wedding, but neither of us was really interested, so we flew to Vegas and got hitched in the Chapel of Love. Maybe it was an attempt to get back to the days when we were younger and frivolous and did wild things together. Eloping in Vegas is some wild and crazy fun.
Sadly, I’d say that was the last time we ever had crazy fun together. Things quickly went to shit after that. The jealousy and possessiveness I’d mistaken for passionate love in him was starting to smother me. He seemed to disapprove of everyone in my life: friends, family, anyone that took my focus off of him. I somehow thought that marriage would make this better, that he would feel more secure and loosen up a bit, but it seemed to make it worse. Two months after we married, we had a huge fight where he was angry at me for talking on the phone with my sister when he wanted me to watch tv with him. He yelled at me and punched a wall, and I grabbed our car keys and took off. I drove around aimlessly thinking, “I’ve made a huge mistake and I am going to need to get out of this marriage.” But I stuck it out for two more years. I always loved him and I kept hoping that the stress of both of us being in graduate school was our biggest problem. We still seemed really compatible, as long as I didn’t spend too much time away from him. And working full-time while going to grad school didn’t give me much opportunity for a social life, so things just went along for a while.
He was at the point in his academic career where he was teaching his own classes, while working on his dissertation. He seemed restless and unhappy. He began telling me salacious stories about a colleague who was having an affair with a student and I was fascinated and repelled. Somewhere in the back of my mind it began to dawn on me that he knew way too many details about this affair. One day I came home from class and he smelled like a fruity shampoo that we didn’t own. He left to go play basketball that evening and without thinking, I logged into his email. I’m not sure what drove me to do it. I’d never done anything like that before, but it was easy because his password was my name. I found a chain of his emails with a college friend of his, whom he was supposed to be meeting in New Orleans that weekend. It was all about keeping a secret from me. It said, “Don’t worry, I’ll tell her I’m with you if she calls.” And it ended with “Fuck your brains out this weekend!” So then I knew.
I’m not saying I was perfect. I know I can be petty and mean. Conveniently, I can only rememer two instances of my egregiously bad behavior towards him. One was in college when we’d had a fight and I hung up on him, then got all dressed up and went to a party. I met a guy and ended up making out with him in a bathroom stall, standing on a toilet. I thought it was hot at the time and now I can’t believe I didn’t get flesh eating bacteria. The other thing is shitty, but not nearly as gross. Once he was sitting on our bed, shirtless and I went over and poked him in the belly and made that “hee-hee” sound like he was the Pillsbury Dough Boy. This seems way meaner to me now that my stomach will never be flat again, due to having three babies. These days, I’d cut somebody who poked me and made the Doughboy sound. Then I would cry. But at the time I laughed maniacally at him while he stared at me in horror.
Also, that amethyst heart ring he bought me? I lost it. He had another one made for me a few years later and I lost that one too. I was appallingly careless back then. But it may have been symbolic. That ring and that relationship sometimes made me feel smothered and I would take it off for a while to breathe and be myself again. I think I knew it wouldn’t last, but I still hoped it would. Maybe he felt the same way.
When I found out he was cheating, I was devastated and furious. I kicked him out of our apartment and proceeded to cut all of the crotches out of his pants and underwear, then folded them up in a box for him to take with him. Surprise, asshole! I threw out all of the love letters he’d written me in college, including the “missing you” card from the night we met. I gave him back my wedding ring and told him it didn’t mean anything to me and I never wanted to see it again. I held on to being angry, because when I wasn’t angry I felt more lost and desolate than I ever had in my life. I divorced him, even though I still loved him, because I thought that he’d end up ruining me if I let him stay. I don’t think it was the wrong decision, but it was one of the hardest things I ever did.
I wish I hadn’t thrown out all of our love letters. I wish I hadn’t let my second husband convince me to throw out the three wedding pictures that I had from my time with Lloyd. I wish I hadn’t lost the heart rings. I have no physical evidence left of that relationship and sometimes it feels like it never really happened. I’m writing it down now, while I still have the memory to do so. It’s already flawed and missing pieces, but I can still remember that feeling of first real love, long before things got so sad and ugly between us. It was a pure and beautiful thing. He and I aren’t in touch today. I once ran into him at the gym a few years after we split and we had a nice conversation. I haven’t seen him since then, 12 or 13 years ago. I’m not really interested in knowing him now and I don’t want him to know me. But I am glad that he was my first real love and also that he was my first real heartbreak. The love we shared opened me up to so many good things. When you’re in love, I think you learn to be generous, kind and vulnerable in ways that you never have before. Maybe that’s why we keep doing it, taking the leap even though it can turn on you. It makes all good things even better. But the heartbreak from that relationship taught me that I was strong, brave and resilient and that I was capable of picking myself up and moving forward on my own. It has been immensely helpful to know that in my life. I am grateful for all of it.