I was 17 when it happened first.
It’s difficult to explain what love is, as it’s to some degree indistinguishable from insanity.
You do things you’d never imagined doing before.
You become someone you never imagined possible.
And nothing and no one seem to exist.
So at 17, when I walked into Burger King on graduation night off 59th Avenue and Thunderbird with Leonard Jacinski and Charles Lambiase, we were fueling for a night on the town….
I saw what was – as of that day – a former classmate in chorus by the name of Mikaela Rydin.
A Swedish Exchange student that everyone was in love with.
Me. Not so much. I could not understand the interest in her
But as we waited, she walked up.
In a literal sense of the word.
It slowly resumed, and as Mikaela introduced Leonard and Charles to her, I stood there like a deer in headlights barely able to mouth my name.
“Brian. I. Um. Just Graduated.”
That was my best line.
Truth was, I had no lines nor did I have game at the time.
“Really?,” she said nonchalantly, “So did I!”
“No way,” I said, “What school did you go to?”
“Cactus, we just graduated too!,” she said confidently.
I’d attended Cactus for four years.
Never, not once had I met her before despite our small graduating class of a little over 300.
So for the next 30 minutes while Leonard and Charles were obsessing over Mikaela, for the first time in my life I’d had a girl I was truly interested in who was interested in me.
It was everything I could do NOT to ask her to come out with us that evening, but Leonard, Charles and I had our hearts set on visiting a nude strip club that had a lax ID policy where I could get in.
But in the weeks that followed, Donna and I quickly became inseparable.
To say I was lost without her would be an understatement.
My social life with friends was put off, and as I learned more and more about her – I felt like I was becoming her protector and savior. At the same time, I was increasingly having problems with control by my parents in my life – for a myriad of reasons – and Donna was becoming my excuse to exert my independence from my family.
Not long after graduation, I went to work at Orbital – a company which specialized in rockets and space systems in Chandler, Arizona. Donna wasn’t long to follow – as was a few high school friends of mine – Jim Hughes and his soon to be wife Tina.
Along with Donna came her best friend – Angela Sutherland. A woman who’d attended 3 years of high school at Cactus in my class, but again, like Donna – a woman I had never met prior to meeting Donna.
Angela was the homecoming queen my junior year.
You’d have thought I’d have met her once or twice, but I didn’t attend prom that year to even meet her.
Not long after commencing work at Orbital, I moved out to a small one bedroom apartment with Donna that we could barely afford. At a time many of my friends were out partying and taunting me about it, I was becoming domesticated. But something was off that I couldn’t put my finger on at the time.
Not the least of which I was horribly insecure.
I mean, truth be told, I’d never had an expressed romantic interest in anyone prior to this point. And Donna – she quite frankly represented an unknown and unpredictable quantity to my otherwise predictable life.
And while I loved this. At the same time it scared the shit out of me.
“Will she leave me for another man? How do I know she feels the same way about me?”
Were not unusual questions, and over time, they grew even worse
“Where is she?,” when she didn’t come home from work on time, “She must be cheating on me!”
The truth is. Imagination’s a funny and downright abusive thing when you let it control you, and with Donna and every subsequent relationship I had until I turned about 35, I didn’t realize how much my own fears were controlling me and the relationships I was picking, and when they ended, my imagination punished me for the failure.
But Donna and I. We only lasted for four years.
For years after the failure of the marriage, I blamed myself. As this blame shifted to believing it was a 50/50 deal, I started really taking a long look at my life and my relationships – especially Donna.
There were a variety of reasons and excuses for the marriage ending, but there was something I just didn’t understand about me in relation to the world around me and the clues had always been there even prior to Donna.
In the end.
But I learned to do something I needed to for my own sanity’s sake.
I separated out love from sex, and sex from relationships.
You see, what I learned was – a lack of permanency in anything does not denote a failure.
I’m a creature who enjoys exploring. Learning. Playing. And as I have learned, I enjoy variety in my partners.
I’ve learned it’s ok to obsess. It’s ok to be addicted – whether that’s with a person or an object. And while sometimes, these addictions and obsessions can become downright abusive, they add flavor to life, and create character.
And as I grew older and not necessarily wiser, I came to reflect on the relationships and do something called ‘framing’ them differently.
With Donna and that relationship. There were things I didn’t understand about the world.
Questions I needed to file away for later, and the learning experience I shared with her elevated the importance to remember the times I spent with her for later reflection and analysis.
There were questions I needed to ask.
But wasn’t quite ready for the answers on.
Questions such as:
How could I have gone four years without knowing the two most popular girls in my class at my school?
I wasn’t that far removed from the ‘in’ club to have missed these two vivid personalities.
Questions such as:
Why did it seem when I accused Donna of having an affair despite her insistence she didn’t, did the concession feel like I had actually made the affair happen when prior to my influence it did not?
I suppose, when all is said and done.
I had love.
It was fleeting.
But it was real.
And there were things I learned about myself – much later – that made it so important that I understand what happened between her and I and the temporary nature of our relationship as for a number of reasons that were well beyond my comprehension at that time.
Life is, after all, like a box of Chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.
Unless, of course, you’ve had a chance to sample a few of them beforehand.