Like Neon at Twilight

Not long ago I made the striking realization that I've been with my current girlfriend longer than I've been with anyone, more than two years now. It hasn't seemed that long, this particular helping of lifetime, but this realization has put my mind to my first serious relationship and to the scant gulf of the decade between that liaison and this one. That one didn't turn out so well and I find myself constantly thinking back to it even though that affair is an unlike this one as I think possible.

Why does our first love always haunt us? No matter how wondrous or how tragic the affair, that original lover is always there, looking over our shoulder on every first date, snickering secrets during every first kiss and making vicious comparisons over every first breakfast. We never get away from it.

I had been pondering this at great length, all the mistakes I made back then and all the things I've done right lately, when it dawned on me that this is not a unique property of love.

It's not just our first love that stays forever in the distance behind us, refusing to dip below the horizon even as the more recent events devolve into trivia with ever increasing celerity, it's firsts of all kinds. Our first car, our first job, our first hangover, our first great victory, our first great failure, our first brush with death and our first time away from home all sit at the back of our understanding, underlying all else that we do. It seems our memories are a pad of onion skin paper and the first time we write upon it we always press down too hard, leaving the impression of that inaugural scribble beneath every other bit of the record.

My first talent was bowling. It's still the only competitive sport I've ever played and I was among the best in the state when I was still in junior high school. At the age of fourteen a future as a professional bowler seemed like a perfectly reasonable and attainable career goal. I gave it up while still in high school, intent on pursuing other things.

Now, at twice the age, I go bowling about twice a year. I still do better than most casual recreational bowlers but I'm no where close to my competitive form of fifteen years ago. My ball doesn't fit my fingers and my shoes don't fit my feet. Even though it has been more than a decade since my last competitive game, everything I do I compare to bowling. I was so good, so young, that it sometimes seems that I've never been that good at anything else. This isn't true, of course. If there's any objective comparison to be made, I'm a much better film maker, puppeteer and, I hope, writer than I ever was a bowler. It's just that I was a bowler before I was anything else.

I'm glad I've moved beyond all of that, beyond all those firsts and onto other things, beyond my Camaro, beyond the IHOP I once managed, beyond the headache I had the morning after David's Bar Mitzva, beyond that accident that nearly cost me the use of my right hand and definitely beyond bowling.

Some people, it seems, never do move beyond their firsts and I can't decide whether I pity them or envy them. Some people keep their first job, marry their first lay and have a brand loyalty about cars that I'll never quite understand. Are they scared of change or do they know something that I don't? Might it be better to stick with the firsts and avoid the years of comparisons, the suspicions and the alienations that come from seconds and thirds? Did they learn to appreciate what they have in a way I never did? Is all of life like one's original go at cocain and we'll never get higher than that first time?

I don't know. I'm not that wise and besides, it's too late to try the first time again.

Two years and we're still together. I love you, Rawkstahr.

1 comment:

Anne Johnson said...

I'm so old that all my firsts are behind me, except maybe the first diagnosis of a deadly illness. This was a terrific, thoughtful post, and I wish you all happiness with your not-first friend.