Eric Price was my first real boyfriend, and I consider him a great first real boyfriend, although his taste in music was questionable. He favored bands like Color Me Bad and, on his first mixed tape for me, there were several songs by The Party–the Mickey Mouse Club Band of the time. He was a Pisces, so in many ways, this mawkish sentimentality made sense; all of my Piscean friends can cry on a dime. Though it came out at least 15 years after we dated, I would not hesitate to lay money on a bet that he liked The Notebook. Extremely romantic, Eric was the kind of boyfriend who bought you a dozen roses “just because,” though I can only imagine the number of hours he’d had to work washing cars at the dealership to make the money. He made an attempt to dress up in a town where a man marked “difference” only by the state university supported on his sweatshirt. He liked his mom, had some sense of manners, and didn’t plan on staying in Leoti. Though I’d never really noticed him before (in a high school of 120 students?), when we fell in love, it made sense.
Moreover, Eric didn’t fear my difference. This may seem like a cliche, but it can never be meaningless to those of us used to mockery and antagonism from the opposite sex in our teen years. When friends who grew up in cities try to understand my experiences then, they can’t: they had drama class, dance studios, other friends who wore black. I was a cheerleader, the lead in the one musical a year our school did. I wasn’t not liked. But I was smart, and I was not amused by the low-ball humor, the disdain for education and for school, the anti-feminist attitude of most boys I encountered. The most common exchange between me and a boy was a taunting comment from him, followed by a haughty silence or a cutting retort from me.
So when this blonde boy, a Ducky-like figure straight from Pretty in Pink, with his mouse-like face and a confidence I’d never noticed, pursued me one night at a lock-in, it wasn’t just a flirtation. It was a rare sense of being recognized and, moreover, appreciated. Desired. Eric later told me his mom was delighted when he’d told her he was going to ask me out. “Oh, I’ve always thought she seemed neat!” she said. I was used to that from moms–but not from their sons.
He was, however, like all Pisceans, two fish swimming in opposite directions: different but conventional, open but full of secrets, committed but prone to wandering. I think now of my favorite Beatle, George Harrison, another Pisces, the spiritual one, the one most committed to meditation, the man who wrote “Something,” the song Frank Sinatra called the “most romantic song in English.” It’s written about Patti Boyd, his first wife, with whom he fell in love on the set of A Hard Day’s Night–she is one of the schoolgirls on the train. Patti will later leave him for Eric Clapton, who writes yet another great love song for her: “Layla,” the passionate antidote to the reflective, if poetic uncertainty of “Something.”
Patti also inspires “Wonderful Tonight,” which appears on that same first mixed tape from Eric. Eric Price would eventually cheat on me with a girl from Methodist Leadership Camp, so you’d think, loving George Harrison as I do, that “Clapton” brings up “cheating,” that the song would be ruined for me. Instead, it reminds me of that George-like, Piscean gentleness, of that first sense of romantic approval, that sense of being a woman who, like Patti, inspired both tenderness and searing passion. George Harrison forgave Eric Clapton for the sake of greater music, which Clapton honored by directing the Concert for George. Eric Price and I broke up and never did anything together again, ever. But once, when I was home visiting from college, I attended a high school event in which he wore a slinky red dress, doing a perfect lip sync to En Vogue. It was exactly the kind of thing I had liked about him, the kind of difference that has, eventually, settled into something wonderful, tonight and in the other nights I think of love shared and lost.
Here’s my poem for Patti:
“Patti of the World’s Two Greatest Love Songs”
In the movie where you’ll meet him,
you are a silent, doll-eyed nobody,
smiling sweetly in the dining car,
the only jumpered schoolgirl to make it past
to the Beatles and the baggage.
He just smiles at you once.
I watch this part again and over,
looking for the something
in the way you move,
how you would ease a worried mind.
Each time, I only see your eyes,
the lashes that were surely fake,
stuck on at a time when Twiggy was queen
and you were on her runway;
silence moving next to stars, you were
a comet’s path or an astroid.
Is it your own destruction
or the way that you destroy?
The one, my idol, never one for begging,
just asked you to stay, his only human mystery
amid concerts and sitars, groggy fame, detachment,
the song Sinatra called the most romantic song in English–
not enough to keep you there, the Something
only powerful to those who didn’t know you.
Maybe you wanted more —the quiet one
Mumbling his mantras—soulful, yes, but
inarticulate and mute about
what it was you were to him,
other than merely Something.
the sight of someone begging
on their knees,
no pride, ethics crumbling like
beneath your tangled lashes,
or whatever else it is that
I can’t see in the dining car,
is the better measure of love,
the love that lets you know
it’s You he wants—even if he calls you Layla—
that he will not be at peace if he cannot have you,
that you are not like all things, which must pass,
that you he will struggle for,
that desire is not to be denied,
that sometimes, Something
isn’t better than nothing.