"Well, what are you waiting for? We're going to dance."
His smile was so genuine and young, shining at me through the dark from the driver's side of his car. He turned up the John Mayer cover of Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'" that we listened to on repeat, and opened the door. We were parked on the side of the hilly roads that overlooked our hometown. The town lights looked like fireflies in the brisk air. He took my hand. My face pressed up against his cheek as he whispered the lyrics in that silly tone that could make me laugh in even the darkest of moments. We swayed to those familiar sounds. He told me that he loved me, over and over, and put my name in the song like he always did. I smiled and pulled in closer to him, hoping I never had to let go.
Every time he did this, I would remember the first time we danced. We didn't even have any music, other than the noisiness of our nervous heartbeats and the sounds of my giggles he would inspire every couple seconds. We were in my parent's driveway, and in that silent routine he kissed me for the first time. He then followed me around the backyard, dancing and listening until I would pause long enough for him to get another kiss. Ever since then, he knew how much I loved it. So at any moment, we could stop to dance. I swear I fell in love with him all over again every time he did that.
A first love is electrifying. It rushes through your veins like fire. It causes your heart to feel like it's on the brink of explosion at any time. It makes you crazy. You have no idea how to contain that craziness. You don't know how to function without it. You don't know how to function with it. There is either an incredible ending to the story, or a heartbreaking one.
You see, the other immensely difficult aspect of a first love, is that you have absolutely no clue what the hell you are doing. You're young. You're probably a little selfish too. And if you're like me, you have little control over your emotions and behavior. You don't know what you want. You lose your mind trying to find yourself and still find your way into the arms of the person you grew up with. We fall in love with someone else before we have the chance to know what it means to truly love ourselves. We were just blind-folded little humans running around with our hearts laying openly in our hands for the taking. We were doomed from the start, as much as it felt like we could have changed something.
What can we learn from a first love? I never wanted to lose him. I never wanted to burn the bridge as deeply as I did. I lit the wood aflame and watched it all turn to ash right in front of my eyes. By the time I realized what I had done, all I could do was kneel down and grasp at those pitiful little ashes. Grab after grab, I would watch the black pieces fall through my fingers, and float painfully to the ground beneath me. I made my best friend hate me. I never wanted that ending to the story, but it's the one I needed. It's one that many of us needed. Without it, I would have never grown up.
Through the tragedy and madness of my first heartbreak, something phenomenal happened. I learned. I learned to let go of petty jealousy and genuinely want the best for the people I love. I found that loving others meant putting their passions, beliefs, and happiness before my own at times. I discovered that independence and ambition were better suited in a woman who knew she could stand alone. I wanted to be that woman. I realized that compromise was essential to relationships, and that there was no shame in swallowing my pride. I learned that even those who are in love have to be reasonable adults, and handle difficult situations with respect and dignity. I vowed to never take a person like him for granted ever again. It took time. It took years, but I learned. I accepted. I grew.
I share this story because I know too many have a story of their own. I know too many are reading this thinking about the first little human that stole their heart away, and wondering how it helped to formulate the person they are today. I know many people remember those first kisses, quiet confessions, silly stories, and boundless moments of love. For a long time I was ashamed to talk about my mistakes. I was afraid that embracing my past meant I had to become a slave to it, as I once was. I was afraid it would only make me weak, but it has in fact made me stronger, and it can for you too. I share this story because I want to illustrate that sometimes we all need to cherish the messy heartbreaks that made us who we are. I share this story because it's OK to remember your mistakes. Life's most profound lessons often come from the moments we gain, and lose the most precious of love.
So, no, I will probably never dance with that boy ever again. I will probably never place my cheek on his and listen to him whisper those lyrics I heard so many times and for many years. I will probably never be able to salvage those ashes. I will probably never have that friendship again. What I can do is learn. I can be thankful. I can grow, and continue to grow. I can teach others to do the same. I can advocate and radiate the understanding and love I was unable to possess when I was younger. I can be better. I can love better. We all can, and that's a remarkable opportunity.
That, is a dance that never has to end.