When I was four, my family and I went on holiday to northern Germany, quite close to the Danish border. Two days into the holiday I went missing. I had woken up early on what was, if I recall, a beautiful sunny day and I had decided to go for a walk as I left my family sleeping. I considered leaving a note, but decided that I wasn’t to be that long and it probably wasn’t worth worrying about. It was unlikely that my family would even notice. Anyway, after walking for some time I met Peter, a beautiful blonde haired boy playing in his garden. We spent many hours together. He showed me nests in his garden, shared a biscuit and we played by the river chasing sticks and building dams. My parents, distraught with worry, eventually found me later on that afternoon. Peter and I fell for each other that day. We have been best friends ever since. Here is a photograph of his house.
I’d had crushes on boys at school, but my first love was my best friend’s next door neighbour. He was very beautiful, with blue eyes and blond hair, and we used to say he looked like Paul Newman. It was 1984. An image of him smoking at the back of the coach on a trip to Blackpool, wearing the Harrington jacket and stay press uniform of an eighties mod. I kept his empty Embassy packet as a souvenir. Years passed and by 1990 I’d moved to London. Someone stopped me in the street near Angel to ask the time. It was him. He asked me out, to see the Paul Weller Movement at the Town & Country Club. Weller was getting back into his stride (literally with amazing brogues). Dee C Lee and Mick Talbot appeared out of the crowd and onto the stage. It was our first date.
When I was 6 years old I fell in love with David Cassidy. He is an actor and singer, who appeared in a TV show called The Partridge Family in the early 70’s. I loved the show and watched it religiously. I thought that David Cassidy was wonderful. He sang beautifully and had lovely hair. Actually he looked a lot like a girl.
One day, for reasons I don’t remember, I decided to run away from home to be with David. I lived in New York City on the Upper West Side, on 103rd Street. I went to school on my own to P.S.75, which was on 96th Street and West End Avenue, seven blocks away. While I went to school and back on my own, that was the only time I ever went out on my own and it was only those seven blocks that I ever walked on my own (as I said, I was six).
So, the day that I decided to run away to be with David I left school at the end of the day, said goodbye to my friends (as I thought I would never see them again) and walked one block in the opposite direction (down to 95th Street). I really thought that if I went in the opposite direction than I would to go home that I would just appear in California (miraculously knowing the way) several thousand miles away!
In any case, after one block I chickened out and went home. Years later I was invited to have lunch with David to interview him as a piece of work. The wait was worth it.
This love. It comes sniffing at my shoes cautiously. Bright eyed, doughy and gullible, pouncing on me when I least expect it. All slobbery jowl, silly and insane; this thing we call love. God, how my mind becomes consumed with thoughts of being smothered by this adorable mass of lovable flesh. Or the scent of love on my pillow that causes me to ache when you are gone.
What a stupid, intangible fairytale of bliss we weave. How did we think it could last forever? I see her in the corner of my eye wherever we go. Her laugh magnified and personified by the dark parts of my mind. I think of how quaintly she could fit in your pocket, how eloquently this pint-sized poppet would fit snugly under your shoulder, peering up at you with big, brown sweaty eyes. Panting softly. Bitch.
I still remember the moment your billowy lips lingered just for a second over my mouth, as I waited resolutely for my kiss that day. Only for you to miss quite purposefully, and breath those hot words of halitosis in my ear.
“I have met someone else.”
I felt sick. A cruel sickness in my stomach. My snake-like innards convulsing and writhing in panic until it is suddenly still. Dead.
I liken love to the changing of seasons. The sweetness of some delicious fruit: dripping, tempestuous, red, soft, pungent aroma bathed in sunlight. Then dropping to the ground as the coldness sets in. So too does the intensity of grief, loss and bitterness of the fruit on my tongue.
Spring is almost here now. The dew has lifted and that sense of renewal is upon us. I am in love again. This time it is real and not like some silly, sloppy, obsessive mongrel at my doorstep; but pure and real and here to stay.
I think your first love is like wearing a beautiful outfit that fits you perfectly to a party where they play song after song of your favourite tunes and you dance all night in frenzied unbridled fits of joy. Or maybe it’s more like when you’re a wee child and you find a lollypop on the ground still in it’s wrapper and you eat it because nobodies taught you yet about the demons of our fault filled world that could eventually take you down. Or maybe it’s a bit like riding a dirt bike really fast along a gravel road with nothing but shorts and a singlet on while you hold on ever tighter around the corners. Or maybe it’s like eating a salad and really totally enjoying every mouthful. Or maybe it’s like buying a house that’s too big and discovering that just when you’ve finished maintenance on it, you realise you have to start it all over again. Or maybe it’s like having a favourite t-shirt that you lose and then six months later you see it on your housemate who had discreetly taken it, yet you decide rather disgruntaldly that it does look better on them. Or maybe it’s like peanut butter you buy from the shop and you didn’t realise until you get it home that it is the smooth peanut butter and you wanted crunchy… and you either have to change your whole philosophy on why crunchy peanut butter is better than smooth peanut butter or go back to the shop. Or maybe it’s just like bright flowers that bloom perfectly when treated to water and the right amount of sunlight.
You were endless sunshine and beaming smiles, daytime conversations about all that we would become and the places we would explore in the future that lay long before us. You were nights that went on forever in which we talked about nothing and everything, huddled under your coat, listening to the waves lapping on the shore below as it was too dark to actually see, except when for a few odd moments the moon would come out from under a cloud and illuminate us squashed together on a cold sandy dune in a kind of silvery eerie light, which we both pretended was romantic but of which we were both secretly afraid, remnants of spooky movies playing with our nerves and causing us to hold onto one another so tightly. The first instant I saw you I felt complete. We looked in each other’s eyes and smiled and both later admitted that we just instinctively knew we’d be together. Strangers we met that weekend kept stopping us, convinced that they knew us as a couple from somewhere else. It felt as if the universe was confirming for us that we were indeed a fated couple and it was my fate to have you as my first and eternal love. Sweet and innocent in such a way that no other would ever again reach that mark and although we have never set eyes on each other since that weekend you remain in my heart and sense-fill my memories with the sound-beats of a certain song, overwhelming swirling emotions, laughter, smiles, fresh smells, bright colours, hope and forever love.
I remember when you first told me you loved me. My phone gave a little buzz and I saw the three words on the screen that made me nauseous. You were only a few feet away from me in your dorm room and you said that one day you would have the courage to tell me those words in person. I didn’t believe you and I thought you were crazy. It had only been a month and what did you know about love? What did you know about me?
Over the next few months all I did was try to run away from you. There would be another guy, another fight, another reason to push you as far away as possible. Finally, I ended things and you reluctantly let me go with anger burning in your heart. You spent the entire summer full of resentment, but once the fall semester began, the first thing you did when you saw me was wrap your arms around me tighter than anyone has before. I still remember that exact moment. I was sitting at my desk and typing away on my laptop. Suddenly I heard the sound of your feet running and your strong arms hugged me from behind and I just knew…I just knew it was you and a feeling of comfort and familiarity washed over me. I was home.
I’m not sure why I let you go in the very end. It wasn’t easy for me and I was always teetering at the edge. I think you were tired of the fight, of my indecisiveness, so you gave me that little nudge that pushed me over.
To this day I’ve never felt a love as strong as the love I felt for you. I guess I just never knew what to do with it until now. You’re my biggest regret and my most passionate love. Like you once told me, “It’s just things never feel so right as they do when I’m with you. Just you.”
I still remember the day you stood before me, even though it’s been years now, clutching my still beating heart between your blood stained palms. You looked down at it in utter confusion. It was like you didn’t know what to do with it, like you just wanted to throw it away or better, stuff it back where it belonged. I don’t blame you for being so horrified—for the first time you realised you’d been holding it like so all along. I wanted you to devour it, but it had already devoured us and it was too late, no matter how much you cried or how much I pleaded. Maybe we loved each other too much (is that even possible?) Could we have had too much love? So much love that we just didn’t know what to do with it? And in the prolonged melee of being intertwined in each other’s every breath, could we have forgotten entirely what it really was we were really gambling with? Now I know what we did - how we destroyed what we fought so zealously for so long to protect. I know what we broke and how we broke it. I know that it will always be broken. I love you more every day. And your ghost still follows me, blood dripping from his full hands; a cavity echoing in my chest.
I wouldn’t change a thing about you, Not after everything we’ve been through. I don’t regret anything we did together, Yet my emotions bind you by a tether. My inner child still wants your presence, Shower you with gifts, buy you presents. I know deep down I have to move on, Grow independant and stay strong. Your face in my head as an etch a sketch, Turning the knobs turns me to a wretch. Shake away the image and start again, But draw a new picture, my fingers refrain. Sitting up late, became so very lonesome, My own thoughts becoming so loathsome. Whoever I meet, they’re never the same, But you nor they are to take any blame. It’s my fault they will never be you, Or experience things we went through. Just promise me this, however strange, Never change, never change, never change.
It’s that password reminder question that always brings you back. You know the one - what was the name of your first boyfriend/girlfriend? Suddenly it’s the year 2000 and you’re 15 again, a junior in high school, late blooming like a sunflower. That first boyfriend - the first real one, the first actual knowledge of what a relationship was like - was a hipster before people used the term, tall and skinny and sarcastic. An artist. The desperation of that first real love is so sweet. What feels so unique is in actuality so universal, all those teenage rituals… staying up late writing letters to each other to exchange before first period, agonizing over mixtape tracklists, clandestine and fervent makeout sessions set to the Smashing Pumpkins behind closed doors, hearing the movement of parents downstairs and wondering if they know about these tentative, exploratory moments happening in childhood bedrooms. The complication of college searches, the bittersweet senior prom that foretells the end that will come after graduation. All things teenage and naive.
Seven years ago I was fifteen years old, in my last year of school and totally unsure on what I wanted to do with my life. I had no plans for after school, no passion or flare for anything in particular, so my inital ideas were to continue with the family trade or do something with my hands vocationally. Then suddenly, everything changed. I began to get to know a girl from school, her name was Hayley.
She was a friend of a friend so I did what everyone did back then - add them on MSN. It turns out she knew that I was a skateboarder, and she wanted to start learning how to ride. I thought this would be a bit of fun, so I agreed. It seemed like nothing at the time, we spoke about school, the guy in school that she fancied, and friends etc.
A few months down the line and we were both still single, though just good friends. However, things began to change after a while, and she told one of her friends that she fancied me. I found out, and after various nervous/red in the face moments, we both started seeing each other a little more. It didn’t take many extra days together for me to realise that I really did like her too.
There were, however, a few minor problems. Her best friend had a crush on me, and apparently for some time now. This meant that we both had to postpone any chance of a relationship, despite feeling strongly for one another.
As there was a long waiting period before I could show any kind of public affection, I began to express myself in another way. One evening, when the sky was a beautiful orange colour, I was walking home with my at the time wing-man, Tom.
We both had the stupidly cheesy idea that I should picture message Hayley a photo of this sunset, with the message “Saw this and thought of you”.
To cut a long series of events short, I got hooked. I continued sending these sunset images until eventually I had A) Won the girl, and B) Become really obsessed with taking pictures.
I’m a firm believer that all things happen for a reason, and I honestly don’t think that I’d be taking pictures now if it wasn’t for Hayley. Nearly 7 years down the line and we’re still together, and she’s now the subject for most of my personal work.
You want to hear about first love? Let me tell you about first love. First love is a scalding bath hissing before your eager, naked body. You should ease in to it but you are so cold and it’s been so long: longer than you could ever now imagine. Your toes are numb. You do not ease; you skip one slender, teenage calf after the other. You present yourself like a mother taking a bullet for her children, but there are no mother and no children here; it is you taking the bullet for yourself. In you go, toe foot ankle calf knee ass belly tits, and yeow! It is hot. You discover there are nerve endings everywhere and just because they’ve never spoken doesn’t mean they don’t know how to scream. You are pink and raw and your fringe clings to the sweat of your forehead; your eyes sparkle like a seam of fool’s gold mining all the way to Mexico. When you and him walk through the club (through the school, through the backstreets of your wee town), clouds of steam billow from your skin. There are piranhas nipping around this bathtub, worrying their teeth into your flesh, but still you beam and you splash. Dunk your head, girl. Let yourself submerge. But then also, sometimes, it is not a bath at all. How crazy to suggest it! First love could never be so small and so contained in that lockable room upstairs. First love is a magic carpet surfing the aurora borealis and winking at Sweden. First love is the tigers beneath the bed with their growling, beckoning, orangeness; first love is your heart hitched to a dozen ponies and dragged over the cobblestones while the townspeople bellow with glee. First love lashes you to the pirate’s post and sails upon an ocean broiling with krakens. First love tastes of scotch bonnets and nam pla and tangfastics and candyfloss. First love has sharp teeth.
I miss first love. I’m glad it’s still out there burbling in all the hyperbolic hearts.
I am in love with the most kind and beautiful woman in the world at present, you see. And it makes all former “loves” seem like mere pretenders. I cannot really ever imagine not being with my present love, but in order to fully test my theory I will attempt to - because it raises the question: would I feel that she too were a pretender if we ever split up and I found someone new? Or even worse to imagine - if she passed on - would any subsequent love relegate her to another pretender too?
But for me so far, at any rate, it took a few mistaken loves to get to first love. And I hope and believe that it shall be my last, and that it shall last forever.
For me, there was equal length in the time it took me to first fall in love and first fall out of love.
In high school, I developed crushes. Certainly nothing remarkable and certainly nothing real – ‘love’ was based on a friendly conversation or a sneakily given daffodil thrust into my hand between classes. No one loved me – not really – and I didn’t love anyone else.
But then I turned seventeen. I took a weekend trip to New York City with my aunt and my ever-supportive grandma to embark on a photography project. Whilst I was busy taking photos of strangers, I found the first real love of my life.
‘You’ll want the greasy spoon down the street,’ the hotel receptionist said when I protested against a fancy French breakfast. I’m not entirely sure what pulled me towards orange juice and fried eggs and smeared-lipstick Spanish waitresses, but I nonetheless ended up there. Within five minutes of tucking into a bite of omelette I saw my next stranger – and my future boyfriend.
He was tall and dark-haired, definitely English, and certainly at least half Spanish. And I was seventeen and nervous, shaking a little bit, but decidedly less red in the face than he. I handed him my contact card and by the time I returned home (and he returned to England) I had a new Flickr contact and a new reason to log onto my computer every morning.
Over the next few months my feelings grew and grew – half out of lust and half out of genuine unashamed, frightening emotions. I wasn’t entirely sure that I was prepared to do what I wanted to do, and I floundered for a little and almost ruined it entirely. But within about nine months, I was standing in an airport lobby meeting him physically for the second time.
On the ride home I sat in the back seat with him, in the dark, next to this person I knew I loved but had never touched. He put his hand over mine and I may have flinched – just slightly, of course, for fear he wouldn’t be real. I kissed him for the first time that night. I had a bubble of emotions ready to burst at nearly any second. And the day he left me to return home, I cried because being next to him made it impossible to not be next to him.
And within about a year, I was moving across the Atlantic and I was moving in and I was in love and even more swiftly I was feeling like something was very wrong and even sooner after that, I was feeling the greatest sort of loss I had ever felt. One year and five months after he told me he loved me, I stood in his bedroom clutching the wall and slipping and saying I wasn’t ready and realising it was the end, definitively.
The funny thing about love is that it makes you a little bit crazy, a little bit childlike, a little bit spontaneous, a little bit more adventurous, a little bit more interesting. But it also makes things very, very hard. Suddenly you’re tied to this one person so entirely and completely that when (or if) it falls apart you are never quite sure how to replace the missing bits. But the best thing about love is it always comes back.
I like the feeling of first love, of the first kiss and the first time your hands intertwine and those ridiculous, enormous, outrageous thumps you have in your chest every time. I like that you can never anticipate or plan or make love happen. And I like that every new love is a first love all over again.
I’ve been trying to capture the moment that love occurs since I was about 12 years old. You might be saying to yourself “Emily, you can’t possibly even comprehend what actual love feels like at that age, let alone experience it. Your brain can’t make the necessary synapses.” And you’d be correct, but that didn’t stop me.
My first attempt at experiencing and cataloging love was with a boy named Jack I met at the roller skating rink. He didn’t go to my middle school, and therefore his puckish ways and tacky gold chain were exotic to me. He teased me about my soda choice and I giggled, and later as I whipped around the rink, Jack skated next to me, always grinning at me. When the DJ announced it was time for a couple skate (where two people skate hand-in-hand to a romantic song), Jack asked if I wanted to skate with him. I agreed, and when he took my hand, my heart fluttered and my “Narrator” kicked in. That was the moment, my brain said, that I realized what it meant to really care for another human being. Now, did I actually think that I had met my soul mate at the skating rink? No. But did I want to pretend that I did? Sure. I spent all that weekend learning to skate backwards for future couple skates, but by the time I saw Jack again, we both decided to ignore each other.
And so it went. Shannon was the first boy I went to the movies with alone, and when he paid for my ticket and asked me where I wanted to sit in the theater, my Narrator was back- Shannon’s selflessness showed the nature of his character, and Emily saw a beautiful future in his eyes. Two weeks later, Shannon’s clingy behavior freaked me out and I stopped talking to him.
In high school, the relationships got longer, but the Narrator never lost an ounce of her melodramatics. When I snuck out of the house on Christmas Eve to eat at Waffle House with Ryan, my longtime boyfriend, I was too excited about the idea that it was he and I against the world, making holiday memories for ourselves, to realize that he was not even slightly life partner material, let alone high school boyfriend material. It’s not just a form of putting the cart before the horse- really, I was putting the love story before the like. I couldn’t shut my brain and its storytelling up long enough to actually get to know the guy.
In college, when Frankie gave his 8-week old kitten medicine before we left for our date, I had to fight not to propose to him right then. His good heart made for a charming love story in my head, but my heart just wasn’t in it.
It wasn’t until I met Kumail that I began to grasp it even slightly. We met and started hanging out as friends, as I was on a “no relationships” phase in my life. We talked endlessly, had fun, told each other our stories, and discovered that we thought about things in the same way. I felt like myself around him, Narrator-less, silly, and more than a little vulnerable. He showed up one day to meet me after a dance class, and when I saw him in the window, my heart leapt. I was somewhat surprised to find that I’d missed the moment when I fell in love with him, but my heart still leaps the same way when he walks into the home we share after a long day of work. And I guess, the Narrator adds, that’s what love is.
Ill always be that girl Whispering I love you, Whist kissing you. It wasn’t momentary It was sincere, pure and true But I didn’t see it coming It took me by surprise- So I had to make a choice Love in fear Or live in lies..
I think that I chose wrongly, I saw the truth and yet I ran But I don’t think you just love once You should love as much as you can. Then you try to fly Hoping that they’ll catch you, When you fall for the love that’s true. So I guess ill keep on flying Until I fall back to you.