First boyfriend

I was 6 when I met my first boyfriend. A tow haired neighbor boy, with such a cute smile, complete with dimples and perfect white teeth. We were in the same first grade class, and most days our blonde heads could be seen walking the few blocks home from school together.

We were best friends. For three years we adventured around the neighborhood together. We’d ride our bikes a few blocks to the convenience store and buy icees, gum, and garbage pail kids. He was a collector.

There was a big farm with acreage on the edge of our neighborhood and we’d go running in the tall grass and catch frogs and crawdads in the creek until the owner chased us off.

He had a pool, so we spent many long hours swimming, or sitting poolside, our blonde hair green from the chlorine.

We played baseball. We watched MTV. I saw my first horror movie at his house - Friday the 13th - and thought it comical.

A girl our age lived between us, and I’d often ride past her, playing dolls in her driveway, on my way to his house. She’d glare at me. I never knew why. One time she called me “generic” which hurt my feelings despite not understanding what she meant. He comforted me when I arrived.

He was my best friend. Once when we were riding around the block he said, “I’m your boyfriend.”

"Pssh! No you’re not!"

"Yes I am. I’m a boy and I’m your friend. That makes me your boyfriend."

His grin was triumphant and I was secretly pleased.

When I was 9 we moved away, and I never saw him again. I cried for weeks. Wrote him letters that never got mailed. And throughout the years I wondered whatever became of him.

After my marriage dissolved, I found him on Facebook. Waiting for him to accept my friend request, I entertained romantic fantasies - childhood best friends, reunited, fall in love…

Then he accepted my friend request and I discovered that he’s grown into a gorgeous, professional, intelligent, clever, gay man.

Loss

I was 21, seven months pregnant, alone, and terrified. He was 34, a recovering drug addict who was living with a mutual friend. We became friends.

I quickly grew to rely on him, on his presence and emotional support. His kindness soothed my fears. His confidence was reassuring. I trusted him. He made me feel safe. He took control.

By the time my baby was due, we were together. He sat up with me in the delivery room all that long night, and when my daughter was born he refused to let her out of his sight for a second. The first pictures of my daughter include his smiling face, filled with pride and joy at her tiny perfection.

The birth was not smooth and my recovery was slow. He cooked for me, cleaned up, served me, and brought the baby to me for changing and nursing. He was a born father.

One night, reminding me to take my pain medicine, he brought me a glass of water, oddly serving it to me in a wine glass. At the bottom of the glass shone a ring, Black hills gold leaves and tiny diamonds. We were poor, but it was a lovely ring. I cried.

We made plans. So many plans. Of moving out of my mother’s house. Of what we would tell my daughter of her origins. I met his family, so kind and welcoming.

Then he went to jail, for what he said was am old warrant. For sixty days I wrote him a daily letter, filled with whatever I had done, the baby had done, how much I missed him, and things I would do to him when he returned home.

And then he returned. Combative. He fought with my mother. He criticized me. We fought frequently. He left me, and then immediately returned. But our reconciliation was short. I was young, and knew nothing of working things out. I always quit when things got hard. I didn’t understand love, or healthy relationships.

I broke up with him and he moved out. Then little things started happening. He showed up places I was at just to glare at me. The tires on my friends car were slashed outside my house. When driving, I’d see his car in the distance behind me. Nasty phone calls in the middle of the night. Threats.

The last time I laid eyes on him, my daughter was 8 months old, and I was arriving for my first day at community college. He stopped me in the parking lot, having followed me there. His eyes filled with tears. His face pleaded with me. His desperation was evident.

"I’m so sorry. I’m sorry. I’ll never bother you again. Just, please forgive me."

But I was bitter. It was too fresh. To soon.

"No. I don’t forgive you. Please leave me the fuck alone."

I turned my back on him and walked away.

He committed suicide shortly afterwards. Hung himself. His brother found his body, dangling, lifeless. He left a note. I was mentioned in it.

A friend told me the news as a juicy rumor, but the blow struck me hard, knocked the wind from me. I went through the stages, slowly, as a zombie might. Going through the motions. Denial battling with grief battling with guilt and shame.

For a year I saw him everywhere. So many people seemed to wear his face. I sat at his grave and cried my eyes out, apologizing, feeling my sanity flicker under the harsh light, the crushing weight, of my guilt.

Until one night I dreamed of him.

There was a knock on the door. I opened it, and there he stood. His orange construction shirt, jeans, and face dirty. I invited him in. He drew me into a hug. I smelled the familiar smells of dirt, cologne, sweat, gasoline; the way he smelled when he arrived home every evening.

"It’s not your fault."

He pushed me back and looked into my eyes.

"It’s not your fault."

Fragment of bliss

It was midsummer, hot and dry, as California summers are. The road that wound down the canyon to the river was dusty and pitted, with large rocks and washed out portions. We were piled in my little car. All six of us, teenagers, hot and sweaty. Open windows affording no respite from the late afternoon heat.

We parked outside the locked gate and walked down the dune to the water. Some of us immediately dunked ourselves in the cool water. Beers were popped out of the ice chest. A fire ring was arranged, and driftwood was gathered.

As the sun went down, shadows lengthening across the step canyon walls, we each ate our tiny pill. Orange. Micro dot. Dissolving in our mouths.

We drank more beer, and built up a fire as shadows turned into stars.

We undressed in the firelight and stepped into the water. It felt warmer as the night air grew crisp. The water glittered in the moonlight. The firelight made warm orange patterns on our glistening skin.

We held hands, and gathered in a circle in the water, swimming, spinning the circle, sinking our feet into the sandy riverbed. The water caressed our naked bodies. My friends’ eyes shone blackly in their glowing faces. In that moment we were one with each other, connected with all of life.

I saw her step from the water. Her body sparkled with starlight. Her heavy breasts illuminated in firelight. She threw her hands skyward and began singing a Zulu chant.

"Thula Klizeo
Thula klizeo, nala pase kaya.
Thula klizeo, nala pase kaya.
Hey kaya, nala pase kaya.
Hey kaya, nala pase kaya.”

We stepped out of the water, and those of us who knew the chant added our voices. Our bodies dried and we danced, kicking our feet up, stamping, throwing our arms to the sky, circling the crackling fire. Our wet hair hung in ropes down our smooth tan backs. Her beautiful face was illumined, gorgeous, shining with youth and joy and the purity of the moment.

He sat in the sand, watching us. He told us later that he saw us as medicine women, the power of our words racing through time.

The fire was dying down and the drugs wearing off as the property owners arrived, angry, asking us to leave. Their intensity and authority felt alien. We climbed back into the still-warm car and began our journey back out of the canyon and into normalcy.

Him and him and him

I was 24 when I met the man I was to spend the next ten years of my life with. We were drunk, in a bar, on New Years Eve. I saw him across the bar, so handsome. He had long dreadlocks with the ends dyed blonde. His pants were handmade, all patches sewn together from random fabrics. I could tell from the way his clothes rested on his frame that he had a nice body. His smile was the warmest, kindest thing I’d seen in forever.

Despite the circle of people surrounding him, I approached, alcohol making me brazen.

"Hi. I’ve had a terrible night. All I wanted this evening was to be kissed at midnight and I didn’t get it. So let’s pretend it’s still midnight. Kiss me."

He paused a moment, startled. Then leaned down and kissed me, a quick and chaste peck on the lips.

"More. " I smiled.

He leaned in and kissed me, long and slow; his lips so firm, so juicy, his tongue tentatively flicking against my parted lips.

An hour later the bar was closing.

"Let me walk you home."

We were twined together, sitting on the low wall outside the bar, our faces radiant with the pleasure and excitement of each other.

"Ok, but you’re not coming in."

"No, I just want to be sure you’re safe. "

We walked the three blocks, our bodies pressed together, our steps synchronized, until we arrived at the foot of the stairs leading to my apartment.

"Can I come in? "

My mouth met his.

"No."

"I won’t try to have sex with you."

"Sure you won’t. "

"No, really. I just want to make out and cuddle."

Eventually I led him down the stairs and into my apartment. We kissed, cuddled, and talked until the wee hours of the morning, falling asleep entangled in each other’s arms as the light of the first day of a new year filtered through the windows.

A light rain fell as we walked the few blocks back down to our cars, but our pace was unhurried. Our fingers wrapped around each other. Our eyes glued to the other’s grinning faces. In that moment, our realities shifted, ever so slightly, to align our paths.