Do you remember your first love?
I don't remember the exact age I was when I started having feelings for him in "that way," but I must have been about eleven. His name was Rafael Perez. He lived on the block behind mine, in the neighborhood I moved into when I was eight. He went to the same Catholic private school I went to, Immaculate Conception Elementary. He was in a grade above mine. He had brown hair, crinkly brown eyes. I remember his voice sounded like sandpaper would, if sandpaper had a voice. It was that rough and scratchy on the ears.
I used to love his voice. I remember I would call just to hear his barely baritone "Hello?" then I would hang up, stifling my breathless giggles. (Ah, those halcyon days before Caller ID...)
Rafael, or Ralphy, as he liked to be called, was rough around the edges himself, too. A rebel without a cause with braces and a light spattering of freckles across his nose that mesmerized me. He was on the baseball team and always had at least a dozen girls chasing him. He used to change girlfriends like he changed shirts. One for another, without a thought for anything except his own convenience.
Despite this, I still dreamed I had a chance with him. I remember the pattern to my sleepless nights. I used to switch on my Walkman and play "World in My Eyes" by Depeche Mode with my eyes closed, imagining the perfect scenario: me confessing my feelings to Ralphy, he of course reciprocating.
I invented different versions of our first kiss before it even happened. How he would duck his head carefully, tenderly. How he would cup my face in his hands. I wondered if he would close his eyes. If I would close my eyes.
I prayed and prayed for it to happen. Most of the time though he acted as though I was his annoying little sister. He'd ruffle my hair and I'd secretly thrill at the touch, then bristle when he'd playfully insult me or challenge me to an arm wrestling match. The only time he gave me hope that he might reciprocate my feelings was one summer, the summer that the song "Unchained Melody" had its great resurgence. I don't remember the year -- it must have been the early to mid-1990's.
One sultry summer afternoon, perhaps in July, perhaps in August, I heard a sandpapery voice outside my bedroom window. I looked outside and saw Ralphy riding his bicycle in the middle of the street in front of my house. He was alone, and he was singing "Unchained Melody" at the top of his lungs.
Oh, my love
I've hungered for your touch
a long lonely time
and time goes by so slowly
and time can do so much
are you still mine ... ?
I still get butterflies, remembering that afternoon. How his voice resembled more a cat being skinned alive than the Righteous Brothers. How fast my pulse raced, threatening to jump clean out of my veins.
"It doesn't mean anything," I told my mom, voice shaky, when she came into my room to laugh with me at his antics. "Oh, it means something," she replied, smiling.
Unfortunately for my eleven-year-old self, nothing ever happened. Ralphy was not fated to be my first kiss. Despite the fact that we wound up going to the same Catholic private high school, too, we moved in different social circles. I joined the Drama Club and the Debate Club. I got good grades. He didn't. He hung out with the bad kids and got a girl pregnant right after he graduated, marrying young.
My family moved out of that neighborhood my senior year of high school. By that time, I had developed other crushes, and even had my first kiss. I graduated from high school and went to college and there I met my first serious boyfriend.
Nine years of happily committed bliss later, and I realize now that the feelings I had for Ralphy all those sticky-sweet summers ago were as evanescent as the morning dew. Fleeting as rain in August and sugar-sweet as cotton candy, but ultimately insubstantial. What I knew about love back then could have fit inside of the eye of a needle.
But the memory of that sultry summer afternoon is still clear as a newly developed photograph even after all these years.
Oh, my love
my darling ...
I still remember my first love.