I like to say that I was a ‘late bloomer’ because it wasn’t until I was 23 that I kissed someone for the first time. Having grown-up in the small town of Tampico, Illinois – population 850 – I wasn’t exactly worldly. In fact, I was pretty naive and eventually she would grow to call me “Peoria” from time to time. It was her way of getting under my skin sometimes. At the time it was aggravating, but in hind sight I must admit that it was sort of cute and funny.
I moved into an upstairs apartment with a guy in the summer of 1992. That summer changed my entire life. One evening he and I were standing outside, smoking a cigarette. I looked up and saw this woman walking from the left end of the street and crossed over to the other side and disappeared into the house right across the street. I stopped in mid sentence and said to him, “Who is that woman?” He smiled and said, “That’s Ellen. She lives next door and that’s her cousin’s house across the street.” I was stopped dead in my tracks and as God is my witness, this is what I said to him, “I will be with that woman.” He laughed hysterically, but I was dead serious. I honestly never believed in love at first sight…but it was sure as hell lust. I was smitten, bitten and tongue tied, for the most part. I always felt like everything I said around her came out wrong and I felt so incredibly awkward most of the time.
I fell so hard for her and she wasn’t even single, though she made it clear that she’d prefer to be and that she wasn’t happy at all. Each day I would watch her drive by in that silly Volkswagen bus. You could hear her coming long before she actually drove by, in a flash of faded red that played background to the bright yellow daisy painted on the side. Just picturing it right now makes me smile so big. Those were wonderful days, the summer I finally started to become me.
One day, I got the outlandish idea to buy her a dozen red roses. We’d talked a few times, made small talk and drank a few beers one night out on the lawn. I have no idea what possessed me to think that I had any business buying her roses but I did. I took them to her cousin’s house and asked if she’d give them to her when she did her usual stop in after work. I stood in the upstairs apartment across the street and waited, chain-smoking with my roommate. I couldn’t take them to HER house…she lived with a guy and I surely didn’t want to start any trouble.
When she came home, I was having heart failure as I watched her walk into her cousin’s house. She wasn’t in there ten minutes and came marching out with her flowers, in the vase I had bought for them, and took them to her house. My roommate declared, “Oh my GOD…she’s gonna go flaunt them right in his face!” Yep, that’s pretty much how it all started. We played cat and mouse over the entire summer with nothing much happening…it was all very innocent at first, until that night….
It was growing into the last days of summer, when the nights began to get cooler and the stars over the St Pete sky glistened like diamonds in the black velvet of that night. I shall never forget it as long as I live. We sat on her deck, she had invited me over. The hour was getting late. She seemed to need someone to talk to and I hung on her every word. She told me of her life as a child, as a teen and how she’d ended-up here in this city – the place she’d ultimately grow to love with such a passion. She was fascinating to me, with all her world views and opinions on politics and such. She knew where she stood and I really didn’t yet. I was still impressionable and …. well … naive.
As she talked, my heart seemed to move around in my chest as if it was freely floating. As I recall, it was bumping into things and sliding up into my throat on occasion, making it rather hard to swallow with such a lump suffocating me. I was filled with feelings and thoughts that I truly didn’t even understand. My entire body seemed to be doing its own thing, while I tried very hard not to let it show. I doubt she ever had any idea how nervous I was that night, or how her mere presence before me caused my pulse to rise and my heart to skip beats. I remember thinking that she was the most beautiful woman I had ever gazed upon.
She had tears in her eyes at times, as she spoke about her current unhappiness and the things that she wanted to do with her life. She talked about the accident that had landed her in the hospital and physical therapy. Clearly she was in pain emotionally and had issues with the scars it had left upon her physical being as well. I wanted to touch her, to hold her hand or even just to sit closer. To me, she was simply beautiful. She wore her hair in a French braid and it was lovely. Sometimes she wore it down and other times she used to pull it up over the top of her head, twist it and pin it. She had the most gorgeous hair.
I was frozen in my chair for at least two hours. It wasn’t until it was very late and she had tears trickling softly down her cheeks that something inside me took over. The entire world seemed to fade into the background as I stood and walked to her. There, in the cool breeze of the night, I gently lifted her chin to look into her eyes. I bent and softly kissed her right cheek, where a tear slowly made it’s way downward. I could taste the salt of her emotional wounds and I softly kissed the other cheek, noting how soft her skin was and how warm she felt. I remember letting my cheek linger against hers. My heart was racing and to this day I do not know where I found the courage to softly kiss her lips but I did. I wasn’t even sure if I was doing it right, but I was so lost in the moment that I could have crawled inside of her and wrapped my arms around her very soul right then and there.
I can still, to this very day, feel how soft and inviting her lips were. It was a sweet, soft kiss that wasn’t meant to lead to anything. I was happy to just be there in that very heartbeat in time and want for nothing more. It was a magical moment for me and I don’t know what it was like for her, but I’m grateful that I have that memory. It was the first time in my life that I fell in love with someone and I knew it in that very moment. How many people can remember the exact moment in time that they knew they were in love with someone? True, I was innocent and naive, but I was so in love with her in that very moment that nothing else in the world mattered but her. To this day, I can close my eyes and remember the way she smelled and how she felt, with her cheek against my own. I was in heaven.
That night, I would leave her with that kiss and go home, a couple of doors down. We had a very sweet courtship that lasted for several months before we would finally end-up together and it was an amazing time in my life. Am I romanticizing things and being overly sentimental? Perhaps. Shouldn’t we all remember our first loves in such a way?
Is is coincidence that she JUST called me and we talked for two hours? After a crazy break-up and a LOT of water under the bridge, we recently started talking again and I have to say that she’s still got me hanging on every word and she’s still every bit as beautiful as she ever was, perhaps even more so now because she’s grown so much in the last twenty years. I hope that I have too. Once again, I’m happy to say that I’m lucky to have her around.
So many of you who have been following me and my writing over the last year have heard me say that it feels as if my life is coming full circle. I think that talking to her again has made the circle complete. In a strange way, it feels like I have been off on a twenty year adventure and now I get to tell her all about it over conversations where we catch each other up on the last several years of our lives. How amazing life is! What a strange adventure indeed!
As we ended our conversation tonight, she said, “Miss you” and it made me smile. I have missed her too….for twenty years. To this day, she’s the only woman who ever bought ME flowers – EVER. They were Peace roses and Godiva chocolates, because she said I ‘hadn’t lived’ if I had never had Godiva chocolates. I still remember the perfume that she wore – Magie Noire – and it took me years to stop smelling it when I closed my eyes. Suddenly, tonight, I smelled it again. Thanks, Ellen.