It started with a picture, and a kind note, and I was reminded of a drawing, tucked away in a box, sleeping in its frame. “Don’t forget the note.” A 15 year old version of me repeated. When I’d framed the drawing – one of a young woman resting contentedly in the arms of her lover – I had worried that I would forget the dedication on the back. “Don’t forget the note.”
I had forgotten the note along with the picture decades ago. I suppose it was a form of self-defense – a way of flipping the coffee tables within my mind, and storming off to help push down the memories.
If you knew me well in high school, you knew I was a quiet but horribly sarcastic nerd. You probably knew that I was the president of our orchestra, I was reasonably smart, my best friend was Julie, and that I was completely obsessed with a guy named John. This guy was beautiful, vibrant, funny, completely aware of who he was, and was able to see through the layers upon layers of walls I’d built up to protect myself from people seeing any shadow of the real me. (I build a great wall. It’s the best wall. Just saying.) He consumed my thoughts almost every waking minute from 15-18, and probably a couple of years beyond. Being around him was like dancing too close to a bonfire, but I could never quite resist that flame (much to the chagrin of my best friend, who had to tend to each tear-filled wound every time I was scorched); I made for a beautiful and perfect moth.
John was my first kiss. I was a freshman, and it was minutes before my final exam in Mr. Casarez’s Algebra 2 class while we stood in the drama hall. I was so giddy, I could barely focus the rest of the day, and it’s a small wonder I actually passed that final. It’s also a small wonder I didn’t jump up and down, clap, or do an interpretive dance. My heart sang with such tremendous joy that I can only imagine how obnoxious I was for the days, weeks (and years to follow – sorry, Ju). Thus began my personal angsty teen girl saga.
As a teen, adults (not in my close circle) viewed me as polite, smart, and reserved, and they usually felt that my parents had won a sort of teen lottery, because I did not have any noticeable streaks of rebellion. I was a rules follower, I was quite studious, and I was seemingly above all the typical teen drama. In truth, when it came to John, I was your average teenage girl. I could waver from super dramatic highs to super dramatic lows, and sometimes those occurred within hours of each other.
When I think of him, I remember silly things like him riding his bike from Wm. Cannon to Barton Springs (roughly seven miles), then we’d walk down to Zilker to go swimming or watch the kid’s train wind around the park while singing When Doves Cry. I remember his best friend, Carlos, the worst teen driver in the history of teen drivers whom I was forbidden to ride with, so of course I got in his car all the time. I remember John carrying me on his shoulders across Wm. Cannon while I held a gallon of milk and just laughing. Now, when I imagine how that would look, the daydream ends with two people in traction (and a smile). I remember the song he dedicated to me, Duran Duran’s The Chauffeur (which when I’ve listened to it as an adult, it has given me a tad bit of pause – though I find I’m still drawn to it). I remember him saying the movie Purple Rain was very “him” and me agreeing. (Watch that as an adult, and see if that wouldn’t make you want to put your teen daughter in an convent or move the family to another town.) I remember the notes passed in the hallway, the cards (all of which I do still have), and of course the crushing heartbreak when he and a close friend destroyed my teen heart. So much aftermath – thoughts and feelings that ripple into today and form the tapestry of my soul, affecting how I feel about certain people in my life – creating its rough template of who I tend to fall for. John was my foundation.
We stopped speaking sometime in college. Encounters with him, though pleasant, would leave me temporarily wrecked and withdrawn, and at some point I had to cry “uncle.” And then I received a picture, with words meant for the back, and remembered another picture from a long time ago with a note I was never supposed to forget.
I went looking for him, willing to risk the flame, only to find that he had gone. The 17 year old that lives in my heart fell apart, and then the one friend who remembers my 17 year old, and accepts that’s sometimes who I am, stepped in like she always did to remind 17 year old me that she was ok. That dealing with death is challenging.
John 11/7/1966 – 12/25/2014
He had passed away on my birthday a few years ago. I read his tributes, since I really never knew him as an adult, and he was loved dearly by his friends; I’d expect no less. He had grown into quite a beautiful human being who pursued his passions.
Two things I learned from him: 1) Live passionately. 2) Don’t rely as much on words, as on what your heart and senses tell you is right. People will say things to protect themselves, but your heart knows the truth if you’ll listen. You just have to have faith in what it’s telling you.
And now the bookends of my life… my first and last love have left, and I sit a little more broken.