A Nice Guy’s First Lesson

Jamie was my first real relationship of any kind.  It started off really childish, when we were probably 12 or so.  I spent my summers with a sitter until I was 13 years old, and her grandmother lived next door to the sitter.  I remember looking at her and feeling smitten, feeling stirrings that weren’t entirely familiar to me.  Flirting juust that little bit, you know, when boys and girls don’t really hang around each other, so you’re not actually doing things with her or near her, you’re just showing off and looking to see if she’s watching.  And she’s trying desperately to watch without letting on that she’s watching.

Just as my family was leaving on vacation, I got the word through the grapevine that “Jamie likes you!”  Electric words that gave me a flutter in my stomach.  Great, too late to do anything about it.  Before I was to get home, she was to leave her grandparents to go back home, about 50 miles away.

So, the next year, we kind of avoided each other for much of the summer.  I wasn’t at the sitter that year, so it wasn’t hard.  But my brother was.  And so, eventually, she worked up the nerve to start to talk to my brother about me.  And to get my brother to call me at home, and relay messages back and forth.  Through my little brother.  Man, we were smooth.  But cut us a break, we were 13.

So finally I agreed to actually go to the sitter’s one day to be with her.  I put on my coolest-looking PCH shirt and jam-shorts.  (It was the late 80s, after all.)  We pretty much spent the day trying to avoid the other kids and making out – sometimes even when we couldn’t avoid the other kids.  It was strange and exhilarating.  My mother took a Polaroid of us when she came to pick us up.  The Polaroid is long since gone, but I can see it in my mind right now.  She’s curled up next to me on a swing, her knees turned toward me, one arm over my shoulders.  She looks older, and even a little sophisticated.  Me?  I’m half-reclined on the swing, bony legs stuck out, with a huge goofy grin plastered all over my face.  Yeah, I’m cool.

So what happened then?  Basically, nothing.  We never really got together after that, because that day came near the end of the summer and she went back home again.  I didn’t get her phone number, and wouldn’t have needed it.  My 13-year-old ass calling her long distance?  Uh, no.  I did get her address, though.  Well, almost.  I got her other grandmother’s address.  Couldn’t write her at home, her dad would blow a gasket!

Romeo and Juliet, even.  Wow.  Way cool.  Or, at least, so I thought.

I didn’t know shit about love.  I was in it, though.  And, I think, so was she.  That is, we were as in love as 13-year-olds could be.  Partially smitten, partially exploring ourselves emotionally (and yes, a little bit physically – I’d never had a REAL kiss before, and wow, I was hooked!  That’s the first time my lips were bruised, too), and partially just in love with the euphoria of being in love.

You see, for years I’d groomed myself in heroic/romantic fantasies.  Robin Hood and Maid Marian, whom not all the ruffians in Nottingham could keep apart.  Aragorn and Arwen, who endured the deepest of trials, the disapproval of her father, and decades(!) of separation before they finally were wed.  To me, that was my ideal sort of love.  The lovers meet, they’re smitten, they confess their undying love to each other.  And, of course, they are separated by circumstances largely outside their own control and put through trials.  But their hearts never waver, not for a second, though all the legions of Mordor stand between them, nor all the attentions of others be cast at their feet.

That’s not how it goes.  And that’s a hard, hard lesson for anyone to learn.  Particularly an overly idealistic adolescent.

I wrote her often.  Once a week or more.  And I heard back from her – perfumed letters with lipstick prints on them.  Drawings in magic marker, for God’s sake.  But for me they were better than sonnets…or diamond-encrusted motorcycles.  I was in love.  And I was loved.

But then the letters came fewer and farther between.  And, before Thanksgiving, they stopped.  I wrote, I pleaded, but nothing.

Clearly, I told myself, the Evil Father had interceded.  He knoweth not that my intentions were purely (well, almost purely) honorable.    It wasn’t her fault.  She lieth in her tower, wrist to forehead, sobbing inconsolably for lack of word from me.  It was a test of our love!  A test that, like any true hero, I was determined not to fail.  I persevered.  I kept hope in my heart when all else seemed dark

And, next summer, she returned.  Briefly, this time.  She was 14 and too old to be spending all summer with her grandma.  I was occasionally laboring in the tobacco fields.  Oh, yes, and her Evil Father had found out about me, and hath proclaimed that she was Too Young to be Dating!  Which I didn’t understand.  Dude, I was riding my bicycle three miles to meet her at a sitter’s house full of kids.  What kind of trouble did he think she was in?

Anyway, we picked up where we left off.  Even more ardently, even.  A little more, err, roaming hands, perhaps?  Ok, guilty.  (But she was too.)  And we parted, again with promises to write often.  She took with her a mix tape I made her, and one of my dog tags.  And left me with a blue-and-purple friendship bracelet that I treasured – until I lost my wallet.  (Which isn’t a huge deal for a 14-year-old…I didn’t exactly have cash, credit cards, or my drivers license in it, did I?  But that bracelet was in there, and I mourned its loss.)

Again, the letters got shorter, and slower, and then they stopped.  One of them included a mention of advances by another suitor – advances that she clearly rebuffed, as she was Mine!  That made me feel better.  But as the letters dwindled away, I began to wonder.  Hope was harder to maintain.

Amazingly, somehow I found it within myself to take a stand this time.  (This was an unusual occurrence for me.)  I wrote to her and said if I didn’t hear back from her, I’d have to consider us broken up.  I didn’t, so I did.  I went out with a local girl for a month or two.  I wasn’t really all that interested in her, but she was in me, and I had to take what I could get, right?  Eventually, as winter drew on, she dropped me for another guy.  With no other prospects, I spent my time alone and trying to figure out why.

Spring came and went.  Summer returned.  And so did Jamie.

More radiantly beautiful than ever.  Still glad to see me, eager to reclaim our relationship.

Unlike yours truly, no longer a virgin.

Ack.

Well, she said, it just happened.  She hadn’t heard from me in a long time.  (Probably a lie, but at the time, I bought it.)  She started seeing a boy from the neighborhood, blah blah blah.

I was stunned.  This never happened to Robin Hood.

But I was still smitten with her.  For damn sure nobody else had given me any romantic attention.  And she was, to any unbiased observer, fuckin’ HOT.  So, yeah, I was a little hurt, but we rekindled the romance.

We went Out.  On a Date.  My mom dropped us off, and we were out in public together for hours at the local skating rink.  The lights went down, and things were goooood.  Even when the guy in the DJ booth said over the PA system, “Hey, you two in the corner have GOT to come up for air SOMEtime.”

She.  Was with.  Me.  Wow.

She looked stunning.  I was only sorry that none of my friends were there to see us together.

A few days later, we were at the local swimming pool.  This guy I knew a bit, but didn’t particularly like very much, showed up.  I’ll call him Jim.

Jamie’s jaw hit the floor.  Bang.

Jim, sensing blood in the water, came over and started macking on my girlfriend.  It worked.  She started flirting right back, all the way up to flashing us both – but mostly him.  Finally, and I don’t remember exactly the words or how it all came about, but one way or another she more or less asked me if I’d mind going away so she could make out with Jim.

So I walked about 50 yards away underneath the picnic shelter and sat there, feeling absolutely gutshot, while she made out with him.  My world was spinning around me.  I felt like I needed to vomit.

Jim’s older brother came by.  “Hey man, isn’t that your girlfriend over there with my brother?”  “Yeah.”  “Well fuck that, man, go kick his ass!”  I shook my head and answered, correctly, “What good will that do any of us?”

I was right, but being right didn’t do me any good, either.

Eventually Jim left.  I went back to Jamie, and she, preening, started hanging all over me.  And, shellshocked, I let her.  She was still beautiful.  She still wanted me, in some way, right?  In the past several years, that was more interest in me than anyone else had shown.

So I went right back to making out with her, and even though my head was still reeling and my guts felt like they had turned to water, I tried to pretend it never happened.  I still loved her, right?  And she said she still loved me.  But I remember what she said that day.  The words are burned into my mind; I can even see the scene in my mind as she said them:  “I dunno, I love you, but Jim has just got it.”

By clear implication, I was a sufficiently Nice Guy, but I clearly lacked it.

A few days later she was gone again.  With the same promises as before.  We wrote a time or two, and that was it.

I didn’t date at all the year following that.  I (unsuccessfully, in the end) pursued a slightly older girl toward the end of the school year and beginning of the summer.  As the summer approached, I thought more about Jamie.  I hoped that she’d come back and find me with the older girl.  It would have served her right.

I never saw her again.  That was nineteen years ago.

It’s staggering in retrospect to see the length of the shadow that Jamie cast over my life.  When you add it all up, all we really had was a few weeks of heated romance.  Nothing else.  Everything else was what I was carrying around in my head.  I had a mental image of what love and romance were supposed to be, and with this being my first shot at it, my mind was convinced that this relationship was going to be everything I had ever dreamed of.

Occasionally, my mind is a fucking idiot.

I think that, in retrospect, no matter how painful it was in many respects, that long-distance relationship with Jamie worked for me in a few ways.  It allowed me the ability to tell myself “I am loved, so I am worth something.”  That to me was a big deal, because I had zero self-worth, and I didn’t believe anybody else felt I was worth shit, either.

It allowed me an opportunity to pour my romantic feelings into someone without reservation.  At the other end of a letter, I couldn’t tell if she was disinterested, if I wasn’t creating the swept-away effect my flowery words were supposed to elicit.  And she also didn’t have to see me in my everyday drudgery.  Yeah, she might have read letters from me in weak moments of despair, but it was romantic despair, the I-love-you-and-miss-you-so-much-I-might-die sort of low moments.  Not the I’m-so-fucking-dorky moments.  I could work myself up into that romantic state to pour my over-romanced adolescent soul into a letter, and then go back to being my worthless fucking self every other minute of the day.  I didn’t have to hide my self-loathing as much as I did in my regular relationships.

And lastly, having her as a “safety valve” let me persist in that behavior.  I didn’t need to push myself outside my comfort zone by having a girlfriend that I actually saw more than once every month or two.  I already had a girlfriend!  See, let me show you her pictures.  I didn’t push myself to GROW as a person, because that would have involved taking lots of chances, and having balls.  And I was a pussy.

I don’t necessarily think in hindsight that she was the kind of girl I could have been friends with over any sort of long haul.  I couldn’t tell you what sort of interests we had in common.  I couldn’t even tell you what her favorite color was, for God’s sake.  At bottom, she was an experiment in my own emotions, one that blew up quite spectacularly in my face and left me heavily scarred.  So heavily, in fact, that looking back on it I’m amazed at how it affected me both in breadth and depth.  It caused ripples through every relationship I had – hell, I think it’s a major reason that there were tons that I didn’t have – for ten or fifteen years.  Those scars didn’t even really heal when I got married.  Those ripples ran through my marriage, too, until other events caused me to drag those feelings to the surface and deal with them anew, this time with the benefit of distance in time and (hopefully) wisdom and experience gained.

The hard part to remember was that all that romance was not a facet of Jamie – which is what I thought.  On some level, I thought she created those feelings.  Nope, the feelings were in me – all I needed was a vessel to pour them into, and a remote person at the other end of an LDR provided a perfect one – one too remote (and probably in some ways equally as needy as I was) to be critical.  Tie it to a beautiful teenaged girl with a gorgeous smile, and my goofy ass was done.  I set the stage for my own downfall.

What she did in the end was wrong, and horrendously destructive.  But after all these years, I don’t and can’t hate her for it.  She, like me, was a stupid kid.  She didn’t know what she was doing to me any more than I could have.  I told myself once or twice that she never really loved me.  I don’t think now that that’s true.  I think she did love me, at first.  As best she knew how.  Later, she didn’t.  I was there, I was fun.  If I’d known and accepted that, we could have been cool.  I didn’t know or accept, and I wasn’t prepared at 15 for a friends-with-benefits situation.  All I knew of love was what I saw in the epics, when the virtuous hero was never betrayed by his true love.  (I never really understood the whole Guinevere/Lancelot thing.  I didn’t hate either of ‘em for it, but I never really understood it, either.)  That did NOT prepare me for what was to come, and so I was devastated.

That day by the pool was probably the most horrifying day of my life.  Do I wish I had it back?  I don’t know.  Sometimes.  Although in the cosmic sense I’m glad of where I am and I understand that any change would probably have resulted in me not being where I am, I do sometimes wish I’d had the guts and self-esteem to stand up for myself.  Not to jack Jim in the face, although he was an asshole and certainly deserved it, but to say to her “Bullshit, I’m worth more than that.  I’m not even going to ask you to choose him or me – I’m choosing, right now, to say fuck you  See ya..

I didn’t, of course, and by doing so missed a golden opportunity to plant a flag, so to speak, and claim some dignity and self-esteem.  As it turned out, there was no real moment like that ever again in my life (so far).  So although I gradually did carve out some self-esteem along the way, it’s only been comparatively recently that I’ve really been able to come to some sort of acceptance concerning that relationship almost two decades ago, and particularly that one summer day.

If I saw her today, I think I’d say “You know, you were the first girl I ever loved with all my heart.  And you were worthy of that kind of foolish devotion – until that day when you cast me aside for Jim.  That was pretty cruel of you, and it took me entirely too long to get over it.  But that’s mostly because of my own problems, not because of you.  It’s not your fault I had no self-esteem to begin with.  But it was still pretty cruel for a beautiful girl like you to do that to a goofy kid like me.”

If she apologized, then I’d give her a hug.  If she blew me off, I’d be a little angry, but either way the story would end the same – I’d walk off, and that would be the end of it.

Since I’m probably never going to see her again (although I have and could run into her first cousins, I’ve never asked about her or said “Say hi for me”), this is me saying:  this is the end of it.  It was heartbursting, and then heartbreaking, and it was my first real lesson in love.  After almost twenty years, I think I’ve finally learned it.

So, thanks for the lesson, Jamie.  Oh, and happy birthday.

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16 Responses

  1. Wow. You know, parts of that story made me giggle because I’ve been watching my oldest go through all that. And part of it made me sad. And mad. And let me know that by being involved in my son’s life and trying to give him advice might be nice, but some lessons he’s just going to have to learn from experience.

    True. There are things that you just won’t believe – first and foremost being that the first Love of Your Life will almost certainly NOT be the last. You can love and trust your parents, but when it comes to matters of the heart, you tend to just pat them on the head and say “They just don’t understand.”

    Actually, come to think of it, I think I remember hearing the singer from Tonic saying that “If You Could Only See” was written to his mom, who thought he and his girlfriend were too young to marry – and that he admitted a few years later, after the divorce, that his mom was right.

  2. Ouch. What a bitch. My relationship experiences, barring Shawn, were okay. But then again, Shawn did to me what Jamie did to you, among other things.

    Uh, yeah. In the game of psycho exes, I’ll concede Shawn’s victory over Jamie.

  3. What a story. Isn’t it amazing the things that bring us to the places we are in our lives and how vivid the memories are to us twenty years after they happen.

    I felt right with you at the pool and my stomach tightened up as I read that part of the story.

    My pre-marriage female relationships are a part of my life that I have never come to grips with and I am not sure I could write about them without putting myself in a “place” that I don’t wish to be.

    In some ways I resent my “good guy” ways as a teen and young adult. I think it has caused me more pain that I could have had as I sat on the sidelines. All is good now, but some of those wounds take some time to heal.

    I imagine this wasn’t the easiest post to write, so I give you a ton of credit for opening yourself up and exposing your soft underbelly to the rest of us out here.

    As each day goes by, I seem more “connected” to you in life experiences.

    To be honest, the core of this post was written a few years ago, and so the feelings were a lot more raw then than now. I think that helped me be able to polish it a bit and do some of the “this is what I learned” stuff this time around with even more perspective.

    I look back at a lot of the “nice guy” stuff in my past and say, “GAWD I was so stupid.” But though I can’t say I never did anything wrong, I can say that I never did anything deliberately cruel to anyone like that. In some ways I draw some small pride from that.

    As for the connected experiences, well, there’s that whole military thing that we do NOT share. Except for my week in the police academy while I was in high school…damn 6am PT.

  4. Jamie’s a skank. A no good low down skank.

    You are better off without that little minx, my friend.

    LOL.

    I dunno if she’s actually a skank now – but I definitely agree that I’m better off without her.

  5. Wow. That was a gut-wrencher, but a lesson obviously well learned.

    I look at really young couples walking around and so in love and I remember what it was like. Then I channel my Mom and think “they can’t even imagine how much things are probably going to hurt in a just a little while”.

    I’d never want to go back and go through all that again. Hell, for me, it hasn’t gotten any better now that I’m old!

    Nope. Nope. Nope.

    Agreed – when some people say they wish they could do it all over again, I say HELL NO, NO THANKS.

  6. Great post. The kind of thing that everyone can relate to.

    Which is unfortunate, but I suppose it helps plant the seeds of wisdom. At least that’s how I’m going to choose to look at it.

  7. That was awesome! The end was an great kicker. Really enjoyed that. Thanks for sharing that.

  8. What a fascinating and touching story. I loved it. I think all of us can relate in some way to your story- there’s one particular boyfriend in my past who treated me in a very similar way and totally broke my heart, the little shit! 😀

    I bet Jamie isn’t half as hot these days, and if karma has kicked in yet, I bet she isn’t so pleased with herself now!

    Hope your ex-boyfriend is fat and bald. 😀

  9. Fantastic story– thanks for sharing!

    I had to chuckle when I read the part about the dad intervening. You questioned what kind of trouble he thought she could get in, and then mentioned that you had the privacy to engage in handplay.

    Hmm. That was actually after the intervening, but good point. We had the privacy, but barely.

    I agree with Honey, everybody can probably relate to some aspect of this story. All of my teenage relationships had an effect of my later relationships in one form or another. I was both the victim and perpetrator of betrayal and hurt at times…I don’t hold it against the guys who hurt me, and I hope the guy that I hurt has forgiven me. I too blame the “stupid kid” in me/them for letting things happen and causing them as well.

    Agreed. That’s why I really don’t hold it against her anymore (although I did for a while) – I don’t think she was intentionally cruel, she was just trying to figure things out for herself.

    The Jamie/Jim thing must have hurt like the dickens. I could feel pain oozing out of that paragraph.

    Uh, yeah. It sucked. I invoke the Mythbusters intro of “Don’t try anything you see us do at home.” “Ever!”

  10. There’s just nothing worse than being a teenager. Ugh. This has got me thinking about those days…I’m so glad its over.

    Me too!

  11. We can be such jerks when we’re kids. Sadly, we don’t know what we’re really doing or how much it hurts someone… OR that it could scar someone. I know that I still carry around a few battle wounds from back in the day and they affect the way I behave in certain relationships. I’m in my mid-30s… you’d think I could say, “That was 1992. He was an ass and a tool and totally not worth your time. Don’t let the way he treated you then change the person you are today.”

    But Jamie… oh man. She KNEW what she was doing in the pool with Jim. She got off making you feel that way and that is just wrong. Here’s hoping she’s fat, lives in a trailer, and works at Wal-Mart.

    Given where we grew up, all three of those are distinct possibilities…

  12. […] next *counts on fingers* onetwothreefourfive nine years.  Part of it comes from having one of the most horrifying experiences of my life  involve a rather negative comparison of my skinny ass with another guy.  And a bunch of it comes […]

  13. […] many of you probably know a few of my stories that explain how I got that way.  (Here’s a big one.)  But contrary to the typical, I can and occasionally do ride on crests of positive self-image, […]

  14. […] go back to the day of the infamous Jamie incident, wake myself up first thing that morning, and convince the younger me to tell her, “Fuck you, […]

  15. oh, how fascinating to remember our younger romantic selves and see how much has changed. i can tell you for damn sure that a lot of the reason i’m a badass who won’t put up with a lick of bullshit because of my first boyfriend who slowly chipped away at my confidence so thoroughly i don’t know how my parents could stand to watch it (they are of the ‘you have to learn your own lessons the hard way’ variety, which is painfully effective i might add).

    when i called mom to tell her i had finally dumped his ass, she said “congratulations, honey. you have learned a lesson that people my age still haven’t learned about relationships.” she was right.

    since then, every one of my boyfriends has been a classic nice guy. nice guys don’t bullshit, jerk you around, or break you into pieces. and every nice guy i’ve dated, i’m sorry to say, has a story similar to yours, TB.

    but hey, it could be worse. we could have married that first unworthy love.

    Wow, your mom is awesome. And I have to say there’s something slightly intimidating about the way she held her peace and then gave you a benediction at the end. Whoa.

    I saw sometime a graph which laid it out in a big circular pattern in which Nice Guy meets Bitch who turns him into Asshole who meets Nice Girl and turns her into Bitch. (And you could start at any point on the cycle.) It is incredibly fucked up and very largely true. I may not be a perfect Nice Guy anymore, but I still refuse to be a true Asshole, either.

    And HOLY CRAP am I glad I never ended up married to Jamie! YE GODS what a nightmare!

  16. […] get me wrong, there is still a LONG LONG way to go – fuck, it took me 5 weeks to even get to the infamous Jamie story).  It was only when she said, “No, really, they call it a support group but it’s over […]

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