Not everyone knows where their first love is in the world, especially after several decades have gone by. Sure, some people married their first love and held on to the person who they knew was “the one” for them. Most of us didn’t take that opportunity. A few of us never had that opportunity.
This week was the 33rd “anniversary” of my first love’s death. I spoke to her last night, as I sometimes do around this tragic anniversary. It wasn’t just thoughts; it was me whispering out loud how much I wished that she was still alive, how much I cared about her during our brief time together, and how much I hoped that her family (parents & brother Gary) were still doing OK without her around. It was my own little prayer so that she knew I still remembered her all these years later.
She and I were best buds during our freshman year in college. We would share stories about our families, talk about life at college and our new found freedom, talk about life back home with the family (we grew up less than 15 miles away from each other), and just enjoy being around each other & sharing fun times (flag football in the quad was always fun, and it was dorm vs. dorm so we were always on the same team). If I was homesick or down on life, she would try to cheer me up, and vice versa. If she was worried about something, I would try to lend an ear and listen to all that she had to say, and vice versa. Even though she had a boyfriend, she still made time for me when she knew that I needed it. It was nice. It felt good. It was formative to who I am today, so many decades later.
Over the summer of 1987, she was traveling in Europe. Her family was of German descent, so she was very excited to visit “her homeland” and to see all of the places that her ancestors had lived. She told me that she would tell me all about it when we got back to college. I spent that summer working at a new job in the company that my Dad worked for, so I was busy and learning new things. I thought about her occasionally and looked forward to seeing her again in September. She would be living in a different dorm area, so I wouldn’t see her right away when we got back, but I knew that we would reconnect eventually.
During the first week of the semester in August, things were busy, so we didn’t reconnect. By September, when I hadn’t seen her yet, I was a little worried. Then, as I started reading the first edition of that college year’s campus newspaper, I froze. Her picture was on Page 1 with a story of her death during the summer in Germany. I didn’t know anything about it until right then and there. She had fallen from a window on to a concrete sidewalk or patio several floors below. She wouldn’t be coming back into my life ever.
Looking back on it now, it seems unreal. I have a fuzzy recollection of the details, but I’m not 100% sure about them anymore. I do remember screwing up my sophomore fall semester in college, earning a horrible grade in one class (C-? D+? I don’t remember exactly) and failing the other 3. I didn’t put any effort into school, choosing to travel around to other college campuses and visit friends (mostly girls). I even took a week off and flew to another state to “shack up” with a girl that I “met” on the pre-Internet (chat rooms have been around since the 80s in one form or another). I think that my first love’s death hit me so hard that I couldn’t handle school without her and just said “f*ck it” and decided to live rather than study or care about school.
As with most things in life, time heals them so that you can deal with them differently. I know that I am making it seem like we would have reconnected, maybe dated, maybe gotten married, etc. I don’t know that, and it is highly unlikely that that would have been the case. Still, it would have been nice to have had that chance.
I remember her this week, on that tragic anniversary, and I smile. I know that she loved me in her own way, and I loved her, if only for a brief moment in time during that first year. I hope that her family knows that someone still remembers her and cared for her.