The day after Independence Day, he and his friend ______ spent the day helping me to move into my new apartment in the heart of the District. Afterward, I expected him to head home with his friend, but he wanted to spend the night with me again. It would be the first time we spent an entire weekend together. I’d had something else to do that night, something important, but I’d told him he could stay instead. I was surprised when not long afterward, he fell into bed, foregoing our plans to go to dinner and go out, and promptly ignored me. When I mentioned that I’d changed my plans for him, he sat up.
“Do you want me to leave?”
“Well, maybe you should if we aren’t going to do what we have planned. I don’t know what the point of you staying is.”
Angrily, he threw the covers back, put on his clothes without saying anything and walked out. I was torn about what I’d done, but the move I’d just had to make was an emotional one and he also knew that too. I needed some time to think about everything that had happened in the last few days in my life independent of him without the added drama so it was probably best that he went home after all.
He texted me a few minutes later, however.
“Thank you,” he said.
“For asking me to leave. I’m never coming back here so that means we’re done.”
It was a common tactic of his– claiming he was “done” with our relationship when he was angry about something. I’d talked to him many times before about how to handle his emotions, that he should say something like, “I’m really upset, but we’ll talk later” instead of doing something rash. I’d recently put my foot down about it because I was tired of the immaturity, and I had a lot of other things I needed to deal with at the moment.
“I didn’t ask you to leave, but, okay, goodbye,” I said. Then without thinking, emotional myself with all of the stress of the day and in general, I added: “I’m breaking up with you then. I told you if you ever said you were done again instead of just taking a break to calm down, that it would be true.” It was true. I had said this.
“At least be a real woman and do it in person.”
“Okay, then come back and I will. You can’t have gone that far yet.”
“Okay, I’ll will then you can tell me to my face.”
He was waiting for me in the lobby. There were groups of men in freshly pressed jeans and women in black mini-skirts and halter tops waiting for cars to pull up outside and take them to clubs and parties. We stepped into the elevator together to the lingering scent of cologne and beer. My anger at his outburst was beginning to dissipate as his skin brushed against mine. He pushed the button for my floor and we rode up in silence.
Once we got into my apartment, I didn’t know what to do so I walked back into my bedroom and he followed, shutting the door. We stood there for a moment, then at the same time sat down on my bed. The lights were off and I hadn’t bothered to turn them on. I could feel him staring at me, but instead I looked straight ahead at the shadows on the wall that were outlined by the yellow light that filtered in from outside. I couldn’t make myself say the words that he’d come back to hear me say, of course, because I didn’t really want to. Now I was the hypocrite.
“So I guess you’re breaking up with me?” he said finally.
“Yes,” I said. Damn I was stupid, but he wasn’t protesting so I presumed he was okay with it. Maybe that meant it was for the best.
He stood up and moved until he was directly in front of me, so I stood up too. His white T-shirt glowed in the darkness.
“Can I have a hug?” he said.
He leaned forward and we embraced. His body was warm as he rubbed my back.
“I love you,” he said. His cheek burned against mine, and I knew right then there would be no breaking up. “Thanks for everything.” What was he talking about? I couldn’t speak. I had said exactly one word since we’d been back in my room.
He pulled back and his face was inches from mine, his lips poised to kiss me. In the streetlamps from the alley shining through the window, I could see his eyes looking right into mine as if he could see every thought that was passing through my mind at that moment, as if he could read every doubt. Then suddenly, his lips were on mine and my breath was sucked away under his full, perfect lips and warm tongue.
“I’m not leaving anytime soon,” he whispered. He pulled back, his eyes staring into mine intently again. “I can’t leave you.”
I was trembling, afraid to match his passion. “I love you,” he said again, softly. He used his body to push mine gently onto the bed behind me until he was on top of me. I was still frozen under him and some heavy thing was hovering somewhere inside me, something that I was holding onto in fear, but the weight of him was pressing into me in a way that was engulfing, safe, mesmerizing.
He kissed me again and smoothed back my hair. “Say it.”
In that moment, the truth hit me: I’d been saying the words he wanted me to say back to him for months but they hadn’t meant what I thought they’d meant. Not just to him but my entire life.
And then, right at that moment as we lay there, I just let go.
“I love you,” I said, my voice quaking. A dam burst inside of me. It was the truest thing I’d ever spoken. He was an inventory of beautiful quirks that I could hold in my mind one at a time to suspend myself in endless pleasure and they all flashed into my awareness at once. I loved how he got excited when he was telling me about something he was passionate about, how he had to stand up to talk about it and his arms would wave around and his voice would rise and quicken and he got that gleam in his eyes as he imagined the possibilities. I loved how he said whatever was on his mind and went after what he wanted. I loved how he mispronounced words sometimes, how he would ask to borrow my comb and it would rhyme with Tom. I loved his laugh and his smile and his voice and the faded scar on the right side of his cheek. I loved the way he smelled and the way his skin felt. I even loved how he looked at his biceps every time he came over and walked in front of one of the mirrors in my bedroom and predictably asked me if he looked bigger than the last time I saw him.
At that moment, I knew I was in love and I gave in to it completely. And then I gave it to him while I lay under him and I let him see in my eyes that I was giving it to him. Some layer of something deep inside of me that had been buried exploded open, something with cracks in it that was long forgotten. Light filled it. I plunged ever downward into the feeling, sinking into it while he held me. In that brief moment, I was in him and he was in me.
Oh my God. This is what love feels like.
I didn’t know you could feel love in your body the same way you could feel sadness or anger or fear.
Some part of me waited for him to reveal it all as an illusion, to confirm my deepest fears that I had been foolish to give in to that vulnerability. Instead, he drew me deeper into him. I saw him smile. He gently touched my face. “You know I can never leave you now. You’re my everything.”
The warmth inside me grew until I felt as if I might burst apart from the fullness of my love. From that moment on, he had all of me and I felt no fear.
Later, I would feel despair when I knew the truth. But at that moment… I felt alive for the first time in my life.
He was my first love.