The other day, while going through some of my old Army stuff I had saved away, I ran across a letter I thought I had destroyed. After reading it again, all these years later, I couldn’t help but think about the events related to it and decided to write them down. The mention of any names has intentionally been avoided here as I do not wish to anger or offend anybody involved.
There is validity in the old adages “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” and “you never forget your first love.” Many people naively think that their first love is “the one.” That special person they will be with for the rest of their life. Sometimes it works out that way. Unfortunately, many times our first love becomes a lost love, and although lost, that first love is never forgotten. It doesn’t mean we ever want them back. They were lost for a reason. But they were also part of a significant moment in our lives; evoking emotions in us we had never felt before, and thought we would never feel again. They changed us as a person. They become a memory we have forever.
I was in my twenties before I started dating. A bit later than most I suppose but that was my choice. My first couple “girlfriends” never progressed beyond being friends with some kissing and cuddling thrown in. There was no emotional intimacy. There was no sex. I wanted to save that for the right girl; my first love – my only love. I never believed in casual sex. That’s not to say I felt you needed to be married first. However, I did feel you needed to have love, trust, and commitment first. Without them, a marriage is nothing more than a piece of paper. I had hoped my first love would be my only love, but as fate would have it she was my first love and my only broken heart. I’m glad I only had one, because it hurt like hell. But in time, I got over it and her, and things turned out for the best. Had I not gone through that, I never would have met my true love; my wife of nearly 25 years, who I still love with all my heart. I have no regrets.
I was still in the Army when I first met the girl who would become my first love. It was at the home of my best friend’s fiancé’s parents, who were not at home that evening. I didn’t know at the time that my best friend’s fiancé had actually set all this up in hopes that I would like, and ask out her best friend – which I did. I remember that even though we seemed to hit it off great, I was extremely scared to ask her out. I felt she was way out of my league. I had to drink a little bit before I got up the courage – I actually drank a little too much. I heard my words slur as I asked her if she was seeing anyone and if she would want to go out with me. I thought my drunkenness had blown any chance I had, but to my amazement, she said she wasn’t and she would. The only problem was, I had to return Fort Campbell in a few days and I was tied up all but one day before I had to go back. Fortunately, she wasn’t busy that day, so we set things up for then.
The only thing I remember about our first date is going to her house and meeting her family. I really liked them, and they seemed to really like me. Her dad was a veteran, so we talked quite a bit about his and my time in the military. Near the end of the day, I told her that I really wanted to go out with her again, but I still had about three months before I got out and probably wouldn’t be able to get home again before then. I asked her if she would be willing to wait for me until then. She said she would. I told her I would write her often.
I wrote my first letter to her within a couple days of my return to Fort Campbell. I felt I had finally met someone special and didn’t want to lose her by being away, so I wanted to get a letter off to her as soon as I could. I tried to write her as much as I could without being overbearing. I didn’t want scare her off either. I also chose my words very carefully, letting her know I really liked her, missed her, and was looking forward to seeing her again. I say I chose my words very carefully because I really felt there was something special between us and already, after seeing her only two times, I was hoping it would turn into being with her forever, but again, I did not want to frighten her away. She wrote back nearly as often as I wrote her and expressed equal feelings to what I was saying in my letters, so I felt I had made the right choice. All was going well; until I got her last letter, two weeks before I was scheduled to return home. That letter started out similar to her earlier ones. She responded to what I had said in my previous letter and then updated me on what she had been up to. Then, near the end, she nonchalantly told me about this guy from college she recently started seeing. I was stunned. I knew I had to have read that wrong. I read it again in disbelief. Then I read it again…and again. There was no explanation, no apology, just “oh, by the way…” like it was no big deal. But to me it was a big deal. It was a very big deal! I must have read that part a hundred times before I tore the letter to shreds, along with the picture I had of her. I cried. I tore up all of the other letters from her. (At least I thought I did. I recently found her very first letter in with a bunch of my old Army papers, which prompted me to write this.)
I was livid. Fortunately, I had some privacy in which to vent my anger and frustration. Being in Air Traffic Control, the Army barracks my unit was in was a bit nicer and more private than most. We had semi-private rooms with a bunk bed, a personal closet for each of the two soldiers assigned to the room, and a shared wooden desk and chair. My roommate was gone when I was reading the most recent letter. It was a good thing too, because nobody was there to see me take out my anger and frustration on the wooden desk chair. I probably looked deranged. Although I can be loud and boisterous at times (runs in the family), I have never been a violent person. But this time I was so distraught, so pissed, I had to take it out on something. As a friend of mine told me a couple days later when I confided in him about the letter, the poor chair never had a chance. All that was left was a pile of splintered wood. That was it. I was done with her.
…or so I had thought.
A few days after the destruction of the chair, I talked on the phone to my best friend’s fiancé trying to get some insight into what was going on. She told me that I could have gone out with other girls while I was away. I agreed that I could have, but explained that that I wasn’t, and that from what her best friend and I had written back and forth, I had every reason to believe she was waiting for me until I was discharged and came home. Besides, before I left, I asked her if she would wait, maybe a somewhat unreasonable request, considering we had only just met – but she said she would!. I was really confused about what was going on, and what I should do. I decided to wait until I got back home before I sorted it all out.
I was home about a week before she and I spoke again. I honestly don’t remember who called who, but I’d like to think she called me, so that’s how I’ll say it happened. After talking for a short while I asked her if she was still seeing the guy from college. She told me she wasn’t, so I thought I’d give her the benefit of the doubt and ask her out again. She said yes, and we started seeing each other frequently. I never brought up her seeing the guy from college again, but that’s not saying I didn’t think about it; more often than I wanted to. As I got to know her better, I found out that she had pretty much always had a boyfriend all the way through high school, where she was a cheerleader and fairly popular. I got the feeling that being in college, not having all the high school friends around, and not having a boyfriend who was there scared her a bit. I wouldn’t call myself a loner, but I definitely am comfortable being alone or on my own, so I didn’t really understand being the way she was, but I could accept it. I wrote off what had happened with the guy at college as insecurity. I trusted her and believed something like that wouldn’t happen again as long as we were together. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t have that trust and belief forever.
As I met and got to know her extended family, I couldn’t help but notice that it was much larger and they were much closer and more supportive of each other than my family. Being around them was much more relaxed than being with my family. Even though that took a little time for me to get used to, I really liked all of them right from the start, and I think they all liked me. I know it was much more difficult for her to feel comfortable around my family. It would be for almost anyone. Let me put it this way, I already said I can be loud and boisterous – well, I was the quietest one in the house. In short, my family could be overwhelming at times. After being on my own for four years, I even found them difficult to be around too often. Sometimes, it would just get too intense. I couldn’t even imagine how she felt. If we visited my parents, she and I would usually wander off to a quieter room, if there was one. Most of the time we wouldn’t stay too long.
My mom really liked her, but my dad didn’t really care for her at all, although he kept quiet about it – except when he was drinking. If he drinks a lot, he can turn into a bigoted, opinionated, ass. Needless to say, I tried to keep her away from my parents when my dad had too much to drink. My sister, from almost day one, told me she thought my girlfriend was boring. I didn’t think that to be the case at all. She was reserved when you first met her, but she could be very outgoing and fun once she was comfortable with you. My sister can have a tendency to make quick judgments about people, either really liking them or not, before getting to know them very well. Sometimes, after she gets to know them better, she does a complete turnaround with her opinion of them. I figured that would eventually be the case, in time. Back then, I just wished that she would keep her comments to herself.
When I first got out of the Army, I had to move into my parent’s basement until I could get a decent job and find a place of my own. It wasn’t much, but it was functional. My dad had put a toilet and shower and one room down there. I was never sure as to why, but he built the toilet up on a platform. It was really weird. I’m average height and I had to duck my head so I wouldn’t hit the floor joists when I used it. Like the rest of the basement it was rather crude, but functional. I added a kitchen and bedroom, and built a closet, so it was a self-contained apartment. Most of the time, I used the back door to the house as my entrance so I wouldn’t have to walk through my parents’ house upstairs, just the laundry area. Being in the Army, on my own for four years, I needed to feel somewhat independent.
Similar to the basement, my parents’ house was a bit crude upstairs. It was very old and needed a lot of updates. My dad did not like to hire anybody to do the work for him, and consequently a lot of improvements and repairs ended up being functional, but did not look as good as a professional would have done. Plus, once functional, some improvements were left unfinished. I was somewhat embarrassed to bring my girlfriend there, but this was my home. This was where I grew up. This was my family. Hopefully, she was okay with it. She never commented about it, so I never asked. I just hoped I would get a decent job before too long and be able to get myself a nice apartment that we could spend time together at instead of the basement; maybe an apartment that we could move into together one day. I felt it was still too early to mention something like that to her, but that was my dream. I got hired to work on the assembly line at General Motors a few months later, which is about the best paying job I could get with only the limited college I had so far. Now I just had to start saving up for my first place so I could live that dream.
As far as I was concerned she and I started having sex way too early, but I was worried that she might think there was something wrong with me if I didn’t try something after a while. That was the way the world seemed to be. The truth is that our first time, there was a part of me that hoped she would have said “NO!” But on the other hand, I was a 22 year old guy; I had hormones running rampant when I was around this beautiful girl I was in love with. I trusted her, and I was committed to her. It was okay, I could let it happen. I was sure she would be my one and only. Before our first time, I confessed to her that it was my first time with anyone. I knew she wasn’t a virgin and that didn’t bother me. But I didn’t want her to be disappointed if I wasn’t that great. I’m guessing I wasn’t my first time. God knows I was nervous. I really enjoyed making love with her. The intimacy, the physical part of it, it was all good. I hoped we would do it more often when we were together, which we did.
After a while I could tell she felt about me like I did for her, and on at least one occasion we talked of being married one day. She was Catholic and asked if I would be willing to go to a camp where I would convert to Catholicism. Now, I was born to a Jewish mother, which makes me a Jew, I was baptized Presbyterian as a baby, and I attended a Lutheran church as a child, I saw no reason I couldn’t throw Catholicism into the mix, so I agreed. Everything seemed to be going great. When her birthday came around, I tried to get her a nicer present than she probably expected, but one I felt she deserved. I bought her a diamond necklace. It wasn’t a big diamond, but it was a nice one, the best I could afford at the time. I knew I had a problem expressing to her how I felt, and hoped it would convey that I was serious about us.
A couple months after that, after we were dating for almost a year (including the time I was in the Army) things started taking a turn for the worse. I couldn’t help but notice that we had started to argue more, and in general didn’t seem to be getting along as well as we had been. I know that I had a lot to do with the arguing part. No matter how hard I try not to, I can be difficult like that (runs in the family). I started to get the feeling that she was pulling away and that she didn’t feel about me anymore the way I still did for her – that she didn’t love me; that she wasn’t in love with me. We seemed to be seeing each other less often. I knew her college classes were taking up more of her time now, so I figured that was part of it. But I couldn’t help feeling there was more. I kept remembering back to when she started dating that guy before I got out of the Army. Was she maybe seeing somebody else now? Was she thinking about it? Was she just holding on to me until somebody better came along? Or was I just being insecure and paranoid? I thought about asking her about it, but staying true to my pattern of not opening up to her, I never did. I told her brother-in-law, who I liked a lot and felt I could confide in, that I was getting worried that things weren’t going to work out between her and me. I knew he couldn’t ease my concerns, but I also knew he liked both of us and would be honest, impartial, and sincere. I also knew he would keep our conversation confidential. He was a good guy. He obviously couldn’t give me insight to how she was feeling, but did tell me that I was the nicest guy she had gone out with, which made me feel a lot better. He added that if it didn’t work out between her and me, she would probably end up getting pregnant by a future boyfriend and end up having to get married; which is exactly what would eventually happen.
Not too long after that, when she and I were alone together at my place, she told me that she felt we should stop having sex until she was finished with college, which was several months away. I thought it odd at first, but agreed. After she left, I started thinking about it more and more – maybe over thinking it. Why would she want to stop making love after being together this long? Was she worried that she might become pregnant before she completed her college? Or…again, my thoughts went back to what happened when I was still in the Army…was she seeing somebody else? Maybe already having sex with him and didn’t want to also be having sex with me? I realized then that it didn’t make any difference whether or not she actually was seeing somebody else – I believed she could be. I believed that she would. I realized then that I still didn’t trust her, and I probably never would. I still loved her. I was still in love with her. But I didn’t trust her. There was no need for us to even talk about it. Even if she told me there was nothing going on, I would only be able to partially believe her. I didn’t want to commit the rest of my life to someone I didn’t trust completely. Whenever there would be rough times in our relationship – and I knew that every relationship has its ups and downs – I would always wonder about her honesty and fidelity. At that moment, I knew it was over. I would have to break up her. Even though I was still in love with her, I had to end it. I didn’t sleep at all that night.
I met my best friend at a local bar the next evening and told him that I was thinking of breaking up with her, but I didn’t want to make for a bad scene at his wedding, so I would wait if he wanted me to. All he said to me was “you’ve got to do, what you’ve got to do.” I don’t know if he knew anything or not, and I didn’t want to know. It didn’t matter. I didn’t trust her and didn’t think I ever could. I drove to her house the next day, hoping to see her at home. Instead, I saw her walking down her street. I felt I had to just get it over with, as quickly, and hopefully as painlessly, as possible. I stopped my car, walked up to her, and told her I didn’t think we should see each other anymore. I can’t even begin to express how much it fucking hurt to say those words to her at that moment. I couldn’t even look at her when I said it. I had to look past her, into the distance. She started to say something and I just said that I didn’t want to discuss it. I got back in my car and drove away. I thought there wasn’t any way I could hurt any more than I did at that moment. I was wrong. The next time I saw her would be worse.
She came over to my place a couple days later, she said to talk. I thought about telling her how I felt about not trusting her. How I thought she might be going out with somebody else. But I didn’t see the point. If she denied that she was, would I believe her? And if she admitted she was…well, I didn’t want to hear that at all. But seeing her then, I wondered if maybe I was wrong; if maybe I should give her the benefit of the doubt one more time. We ended up making love for what would be our last time. It was wonderful being with her. I loved looking at her face. Afterwards, I didn’t know what the hell I wanted to do. Actually, I did know – I wanted to trust her; I just didn’t know if I could. I was so confused with what I should do. I decided to think about it some, after she left. But I wouldn’t need to. As we were saying goodbye at the door, she said she didn’t want to see me anymore. I was so taken aback, all I could do was stare blankly and say “okay”. After what had just happened, it just didn’t make any sense. I broke down after I closed the door. It was the worst pain I had ever felt in my life.
With her being maid of honor and me being best man at our best friends’ wedding not too much later, it was to say the least, very awkward for me, as I’m sure it was for her. She attended everything with an old boyfriend from many years prior. I went stag. I couldn’t help but wonder if they had started seeing each other while she and I were still dating. I did my best to bury that thought whenever it reared its ugly head. I didn’t want to know. Despite the breakup, we were amicable through the wedding rehearsal, ceremony and reception. She seemed happy with her new (old) boyfriend. Our obligatory dance together as at the reception was extremely painful for me. I couldn’t wait until it was over. I kept away from her the rest of the night so I wouldn’t be totally miserable. I wanted to have a good time at my best friend’s wedding.
It would be about a year before I would date anybody again. Within that year, she got pregnant by her new (old) boyfriend and they got married. In the years that followed, they had a couple more kids, raised a nice family, and have been married for 28 years now. We run into each other occasionally because of our mutual best friends, who are coming up on their 29 year anniversary. About three years after it ended between her and me, I met someone who made me feel that love again, someone I was in love with – my beautiful wife of almost 25 years. We raised two kids and have a very good, modest life together. As in any life-long relationship, there have been ups and downs, good times and bad times. But through it all, there has always been love, there has always been trust, and there will always be commitment. As I sit here writing this, looking back through all the years, I don’t think things could have turned out better for any of us. Which reminds me of one more adage that I also believe unequivocally: “Everything happens for a reason.”