These Arms Were Mine: First Love is a Slow Dance that Goes On Forever

First love looks like so many things. For my niece, right now, it looks like a tall, silent guy being forced to make Smores and endure the incessant, quick-paced, ludicrous banter / badgering of her mother and aunt with him. For my sister, it looked like a 19 year-old girl driving across the state of Kansas every weekend to see the guy she started dating the summer before her first year of college, the guy she would become engaged to at the end of that year. I don’t know if I really saw my first love as my first love until years passed, and I realized he is still the one I think of, when I think of young love.

For one thing, he was too young for me. At an age when half a year develops the brain substantially, he was four years younger, though I wouldn’t know that at first. We met at musical theatre camp (true story), and he followed me around a lot. New to kissing, I was not averse to doing more of it, even if I wasn’t sure about this kid who liked to talk about horror movies and was definitely in charge of finding out how to get marijuana from the college-age stage hands. After that first week of making out behind the sets, he only called me once, and that pattern continued: once a year. Because, like some fabled creature reborn under magical conditions, or a plant that blooms only when two blue moons follow each other, this attraction renewed itself every year. For 6 years. We made out behind sets, found unused rooms with broken pianos in the fine arts center, until I graduated from high school–and then I was a counselor, attending the college where the camp was held, which meant I knew more unused rooms, more places dark and intimate. Old enough to question everything, I accepted, without question, that while everything else was up for intellectual grabs, this was fate. Even if he never wrote me, never called me, I was going to suffer and wait it out. Until he was . . . old enough?

Real relationships in college came and went.  Once, I hurt a friend who’d come to love me, after a week of camp counseling with me.  At the camp dance, after a week of me trying to push down my feelings, push the love away, “These Arms of Mine” came on, and the boy walked across the room, took my hand, and pulled me into a slow dance.  The other campers, the counselors, looked on confused, disturbed.  I suppose.  I was so deep inside that moment that the edges beyond our locked eyes are barely there.  Afterwards, my friend sat with me outside the campers’ dorms, my young love somewhere inside, and we stared at the moon, unable to look at each other.  “You NEVER look at me the way you look at that kid,” he spat.  I looked on at the moon, wishing it could speak.

Its highest point was followed, quickly, by its lowest point, when he sat me down with the fact that there was no future for this strange, passionate thing that seemed like fate, or maybe love. And so, I set myself to the task of undoing my naive beliefs about love and fate and, for awhile, the meaning of life. It took a few years.

We finally did reconnect, after 11 years, and while we still aren’t actively close, I find his presence in my life adds a depth and richness akin to that of a childhood friend, a cherished family member who lives far away. He’s still never made me a CD or tape, never writes me a letter, and the only picture I have of him is the double another counselor gave me of him with another girl.

That is why this song, a slow dance I can still feel 22 years later, holds a weight in my heart so heavy that if my heart was an ocean, which I sometimes believe it is, this love would be anchored to its very floor. It’s the only thing I feel like I really have from him. He even goes by a different name these days, but he, too, has said when he hears this song come on in a bar, he is lost in that moment with me, once again that boy I know now I really loved.

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