The subject of first loves came up this week. For some, these memories date back sixty years. From that distance, we can laugh at ourselves for the intensity of our emotion over something that was completely innocent. At the same time, we feel a sense of nostalgia for those innocent times, to be able to approach love with the same intensity, the same sense of discovery.
Perhaps it is a woman thing, but I think it is more likely an age thing. Nostalgia for a time when the world, and all who lived in it, was new.
I remember my first “love” very clearly. It was the summer of ’67, and I was a twelve year old in the hiatus between primary and high school.
Every school holidays I stayed with my Aunty in her bushland cottage. My Aunty often helped a neighbour clean her sprawling weatherboard house, and I would tag along to help out with whatever was allocated to me. I was used to seeing her three sons around the place. The middle boy, P*, was about my age and ordinary in a nice kind of way. Skinny body, sandy hair, freckles. We occasionally knocked around together when on holidays, maybe not so much as I did with the three boys who lived right next door to my Aunty, and yet regularly enough that we were used to each other.
At least, it seemed we knew each other until that summer of 1967. Gradually we seemed to want to be in each other’s company more and more, even though we didn’t say or do anything much different from other holidays. In fact, an element of shyness had crept into our friendship. P* fell into the habit of accompanying his mother on her visits to us, or I would look out for him when we went over to clean, and between us we found ways to drag out the adults’ get-togethers so that morning tea became lunch – and yet we let the grown-ups do all the talking, just stealing glances at each other when we thought the other wasn’t looking.
We went blackberry picking amongst the scraggly wild bushes hugging the railway line, briar scraping on our brown bare legs and uncovered arms. Oblivious to the pain, hours passing in innocent and almost silent companionship, until we were forced by the size of the haul to turn for home.
We discovered an interest in board games, and implored our folks to join up again in the evenings, so that we could elongate the time in each other’s presence. We had no idea what this was all about, we just seemed to want to be together, even though when we were, we suddenly became tongue-tied and had nothing much to say to each other.
January and the long weeks of the summer holiday were drawing to a close. At day’s end P* and I were sitting on the cement patio at the front of Aunty’s house, watching the twilight draw in around us. We were balanced precariously on the unprotected edge about two metres above ground level, idly swinging our legs back and forth, occasionally swishing against the other by mistake. The touch of our bare flesh sent a tingle up my spine. As we braced our arms behind us to keep our balance, I noticed our hands were so close that we could just stretch out our fingers for a touch – but we didn’t reach out.
Nor did we move our hands away.
The tension was intense. We looked at our feet or straight ahead, saying nothing. The awareness of the other’s body so near, the anticipation that maybe, just maybe, we might touch hands. The knowledge that this was the last time we would be together for these holidays. If we had anything to share with each other, it had to be now or never. It was agonising, it was exciting, it was excruciating, it was exhilarating. It was electrifying!
“Gwen,” P*’s quiet, tentative, hesitant voice broke the silence.
“Yes?” I chirped – too quickly bouncing to turn to him with eager anticipation, meeting him eye to eye.
Panic and alarm stole across his face. He dropped his eyes, confused, flustered, overcome with shyness.
“Nothing,” he spluttered, gathering up his lanky body to stand over me. “I’ve gotta’ go now,” it came out in a gulp as he looked down at me. “See you next holiday.”
I never shook off the feeling that something odd had happened that summer.
And I stopped belting guys across the face whenever they came too close.
I didn’t understand it at the time, but I had discovered luuurve 🙂