The list was mocking me.
Smoothing the creases out of the paper, I stared at the names written there. And they stared back.
There were five names. I had dated others over the years, but these five were the ones I remembered the best. These were the ones who had the biggest impact on my personality – on my life – and the ones I needed some level of clarity from.
Should I start at the beginning with Chris, my first love? Or should I start at the end and reach out to Joey from college first?
I was still in social media contact with Chris. We were an item off and on through high school, staying close friends into college. I couldn’t help grinning whenever I thought about him. There was an old saying about how you never forgot your first love. That certainly held true for me. Chris would always fill a special place in my heart.
We were barely teenagers when we first became friends. To be honest, middle school – and genetics – hadn’t been kind to me. But there came a point when I was 14 that I decided to make a change.
I had been the quiet, nerdy girl with wild hair and glasses, afraid of her own shadow, ignored in the back of the room. But after a particularly harsh rejection from a boy I had liked, I made a conscious decision to be different. I started participating in class, only raising my hand if no one else would – I mean, boys didn’t like smart girls, after all. I made jokes under my breath that only the people close by heard, but I made them laugh. I talked to the people I was most intimidated by and pretty soon I didn’t have to work so hard.
While Chris was my first love, he wasn’t my first boyfriend. That was Jerry.
Jerry was two years older than I was, cute in a rough kind of way. I saw Jerry at a basketball game and we spent most of the night sharing surreptitious flirty smiles. Until Kelly had had enough. She simply marched over to Jerry, grabbed his elbow, and dragged him over to introduce us. She didn’t know him, she just was tired of my bullshit.
I loved that woman.
Jerry was shy and sweet. He was pretty decent at small talk and was always a gentleman. He’d walk me to class and walk me home after school. He called me every night and gave me daily compliments. Not bad for a first boyfriend! Jerry was not, on the other hand, a very good kisser. He was my first kiss, too, but even I could tell something wasn’t quite right.
Nice guy, Jerry. But it didn’t take long for me to realize there was nothing substantial in our conversations. I was 15! I had read Wuthering Heights, Emma, and Somewhere in Time more than once – I wanted romance. I wanted to be swept off my feet by a boy who could get my heart racing with his personality. Jerry was not that boy. So, I broke up with him after about six weeks.
There’s very little that will boost a teen girl’s confidence like having – and breaking up with – an older boyfriend. From this new self-assurance, I found myself talking to Chris.
He sat behind me in our history class. He was funny and adorable, crushed on by many, but with zero ego about it. He played football and basketball – good at both, but not a star in either. Chris got good grades, he was well-liked by everyone, and didn’t seem to get pulled into high school popularity politics. Chris lived on a farm and belonged to 4-H. He was respectful, got up to some harmless shenanigans with a handful of good friends, and loved his mom.
One day in history class, I turned around and just started talking to him – I must have been feeling a little flirty and full of myself. I don’t remember that first conversation being anything earth-shattering, but I know I turned around the next day, and the next. Then he started tapping my shoulder to get me to turn around. I do have a vague recollection of painting his fingernails one day in class. Why I had nail polish with me, I don’t know. But that adorable, blond, curly-haired boy sat there, listening to me ramble on about what I can only imagine was drivel, and let me paint his nails a fetching shade of pink.
The weeks we spent getting to know each other was exactly what I had always dreamed of. It was so effortless to talk to Chris. I never felt self-conscious around him. We talked about everything and anything. He was smart and funny, challenging me when I needed it but supporting me always. My mom would have to threaten me to make me get off the phone when he and I got going.
He quickly became my favorite person. We sat next to each other on the shuttle bus, finding little ways to touch each other: on the shoulder, or the arm, sitting close enough for our legs to touch. It was obvious to everyone around us what was going on, but neither of us had the gumption to pull the trigger. Until a girl from our class forced his hand.
She turned around in her seat on the bus, sitting up on her knees, watching Chris and me goof around.
We both looked up and she waved me off.
“Not you, Alexis! Just Chris!”
I rolled my eyes and covered my ears. She pulled a fake whisper – we were on a bus full of high schoolers, she couldn’t have whispered to the person in the seat next to her, much less to Chris five seats back.
“You two are so cute together. Why don’t you ask her out?”
Even years later, that memory made my cheeks burn and my heart race. But that darling young man didn’t miss a beat. He turned to me with a smile.
“How about it? Want to be my girlfriend?”
It was a little blunt – he had been put on the spot – but it had worked on me. I smiled for days. And the girl made sure to take credit for getting us together.
After graduation, Chris’s life took a different path than mine. While we were flirting through emails in college, he and his girlfriend – still in high school – had gotten pregnant and they got married right after she graduated. They weren’t together anymore, but from what I heard, he was a devoted and loving father and never had a bad word to say about his ex.
I traced my fingers over the letters of his name and frowned.
As Kelly and I were leaving the park the other day, she asked a question that had been scratching at the back of my mind ever since.
“Is there maybe another reason you want to talk to these guys?”
Brushing the dirt and grass off my pants I frowned at her.
“What do you mean? What other reason?”
She shoved her hands in her pockets and started walking. It took her almost a block before she answered me.
“You say you want to talk to them to make sure you don’t screw up your relationship with Jamie. But…” Kelly peeked at me from the corner of her eye. “But could it be that you’re scared you still have unresolved feelings for the names on that list? You’re afraid that you missed something with one of them and you want to just…” She waved a hand in the air. “Check?”
My denial was loud and immediate. I had no doubt that I loved Jamie. I could see myself with him for the rest of our lives, raising a family, growing old.
But ever since she brought it up, the idea had been burrowing deeper into my brain. Was that my ulterior motive? I mean, my recent behavior was crazy enough as it was. But to think that I was looking to rekindle something with one of these guys from my past instead of being ecstatic to marry Jamie…?
I laid my head on the table, groaning.
What the hell was I doing?