My First Love

The First One

If you're going to check your old boyfriend's Facebook page, you'd better be prepared for what you might find

I stalk old lovers on social media. Long happily married, it's not out of any desire to imagine what might have been. I have no interest in what might have been. But I am a profoundly curious person, and so I wonder what has become of the handful of men I spent months and even years of my life with. The economics major, now a pharmacist in Florida, who was so kind; the MBA at George Washington, now a Manhattan IT director, who was not. The first one, a high school scholar-athlete, now an executive in upstate New York, our hometown.

The first one.

According to Ellen McCarthy's Washington Post article on first love, our "first," "maintain[s] some power over us, a haunting, bittersweet hold on our psyches." Yes. Thirty years on, his Facebook page was the one I checked most often, once or twice a year maybe, when curiosity struck. After all, we were together for almost four years, in a relationship that began with the headiness and confusion of first everythings, survived the angst-suffused negotiations of teenage and adult expectations and mellowed into its own kind of love.

There seemed no harm in looking in on him occasionally. In the past ten years, he'd married and had a son. With two sons of my own, I was happy for him. It all seemed very innocent.

Until it wasn't. Until the moment, a few months ago, late at night, when I was scrolling through my feed and decided to see if there was there was anything new in his life.

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At first, the page looked the same as always. The wedding portrait that was his profile photo, him in his gray morning coat, standing tall, broad, with a little less hair, his darkly beautiful Indonesian wife seated and smiling beatifically at the camera in a stiffly beaded white gown. The banner photo of his oddly somber preschooler under the carnival lights of a merry go-round.

No new posts. I should have stopped there. But I didn't.

I pressed the link to his "likes." The Celtics, "A Fish Called Wanda," "Excalibur"—which we'd watched on video, curled together on my parent's sofa, back when VCRs were new. "The Last Samurai." "Battlestar Gallactica." And then, my fingers stiffened over the keyboard.

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Donald J. Trump for President.

Perhaps it was a joke site. I squinted, brought the screen closer.

It wasn't.

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I stared for several minutes in disbelief, my eyes stinging. Later, when I laid beside my husband, who breathed peacefully in sleep, the tears would run sideways into my hair. My ears.

Donald J. Trump for President.

In the Post article, Jefferson Singer, a psychology professor at Connecticut College (coincidentally my ex's alma mater and also my own) says the first relationship is important because it is the one we will measure every relationship that follows against.

For years after we parted ways, I sat in movie theaters dramas or romantic comedies silently amazed that I had allowed myself to stay for so long with someone who would only watch Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson or Chuck Norris movies. Who regularly lost entire weekends to college football or basketball, while I sat beside him idly paging through Glamour or Mademoiselle, one game blurring into the next. Who believed the only fiction worth reading was the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, while I had begun to wander haphazardly from Fitzgerald to Anne Beattie, Hemingway to Chaim Potok.

And still I never would have prophesied: Donald J. Trump for President.

I was only 15. Easily led. Then 16. 17. 18. Almost 19. He could be gentle, my first love. He could be tender. In spite of the physical intensity of those years, he never forced himself on me. Not once. He was tall, muscular, and I always felt safe in his arms at a time in my life when I wanted nothing more than to feel safe in someone's arms.

Long after we had broken up, my mother told me that during those years together he had sent my father, who chain-smoked Salems, a package containing a smoking cessation program he'd ordered from TV, along with a letter begging him to quit. To see my father die of lung cancer, he implored, with the sweet, brash audacity of youth, would surely break my heart.

My father never did quit, not then at least, though he would go on to break my heart in other ways.

How do you reconcile such a gesture—my Michael Furey moment—with: Donald J. Trump for President.

Singer again, who has also written a great deal about the psychology of autobiographical memory, says too of first love, "It's not just about the other person. It's about who we were at the time."

Finally, I was someone who walked away, when I was 19 and he was 21, because his world, the world he defended so ardently, as if shielding a fragile army of war game tiles painstakingly laid upon a board, was too narrow and dark.

So narrow. So dark. I could not broaden it and I could not stay, those first steps leading me to fall in love forever one day, five years later, in front of Frederick Edwin Church's "Rio de la Luz" in the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art. Upper-level. December 18, 1989.

A room flooded with light.

And yet. Right or wrong, I could not have foretold this. Any of this.

Round-ups. Bloody rallies. Women on their knees.

Donald J. Trump for President.

Still I return to the page, hopeful the link might be gone one day, deleted in a fit of sanity. Instead my heart rends more ragged each time, memory growing more faint. Like the photo of a couple on the sticky leaves of an old album, we vanish to a yellow nimbus, the acid steadily erasing us.

Tags: friendship