My first love was a boy named Alejandro. He was a senior and I was a sophomore at the Albuquerque Academy. I thought Alejandro was beautiful and mysterious. He was half-Mexican and half-Russian and had a halo of dark curly hair, slightly slanted dark eyes, and a very prominent nose. He reminded me of what an angel would look like if there existed a diversity program for celestial beings like the one in place at our private high school to ensure the students weren't all white and rich.
We played together in the jazz band, Alejandro rocking the guitar and me trying desperately to sight read and keep up on the piano. I learned to play the piano when I was 3 years old using the Suzuki method, where students are taught to play by ear and by memory instead of being tied to a sheet of notes. The Suzuki method worked wonders for my technique in general, but I was never a good sight reader and struggled to play along with the other students in the jazz band until one day our director, Mr. Truitt, told me that I could improvise on the piano instead of trying to read the notes. That was a great day. Not only did my playing improve, I was free to sneak glances at Alejandro over the top of the piano as he jammed out on his guitar during band practice.
I developed a huge crush on Jandro (as everyone called him), but never imagined that he would like me back. In my eyes he was on another level - he was a senior, he had his driver's license and a blue Honda Civic, he was a snowboarder, he was applying to college, he listened to bands I'd never heard of, and he was an amazing musician. Even though I was somewhat in awe of Jandro, I was also a ballsy old-soul of a 15-year-old and I flirted with him just the same. I went out of my way to have intelligent conversations with him after jazz band rehearsal, smiled at him in passing while walking to class, and in general put on a very cool front to give the impression that I wasn't phased at all by the fact that he was gorgeous and 18.
I guess my efforts worked. One day Jandro invited me to go to a party with him. I could have squealed in delight and jumped around the room, but I played it smooth. "Sure, that's cool." I acted like I received invitations to senior parties all the time. "What time do you want to pick me up?" We made all the arrangements for the following Saturday and I walked away feeling butterflies in my stomach and my palms sweat. "Oh my God, he likes me!!!!!"
To be honest I don't remember any details about the party other than that I was the only sophomore and that Jandro put his arm around me at one point. When it was time to go home, he gave me a gentle kiss before unlocking the car door and said that he'd had a great time. I don't know how I didn't faint.
Thus began my first real relationship. Jandro and I hung out all the time after that first party. I'd go over to his house and he'd play the guitar for me and tell me about his musical inspirations: Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, Led Zeppelin, and Eric Clapton. We'd eat green chile freshly roasted by his mom and drink beer with his cousin and friends from school.
For my birthday, Jandro gave me a beautiful silver necklace and a big bunch of flowers. I still have the necklace, and still remember the card attached to the bouquet. On the front was a photo of a field of California poppies, and on the inside Jandro had written a sweet birthday message. I read the card over and over, tracing Jandro's strange and messy handwriting, memorizing his words, wishing he had written "I love you" instead of simply "Love" at the end of the card. A small difference, but one that meant so much to my sensitive little heart.
After a few months, I could sense our relationship fizzling out. The idea of losing this mysterious older boy made me feel desperate. I began scheming as to how I could make Jandro want to stay with me. I'd make lists of topics to talk about when we were on the phone so that I'd always seem interesting and intelligent. I'd invent new and dissonant chord progressions to play for him on the piano. I'd buy CDs of his favorite music and memorize the lyrics so that I could drop subtle references to the songs during our conversations. I tried and tried, but the relationship was near the end. I just knew it.
One afternoon Jandro sat down with me and we had "the talk." Again, I don't remember the details or the justifications for the breakup, I just remember how much it hurt. He dropped me off at home and I locked myself in my bedroom and cried and cried, listening to all of his favorite songs and mine at full volume with the lights turned off. I was sad for months.
Looking back, my breakup with Jandro came at the perfect time. For as depressed as I was, not having him in my life made the decision to do a student exchange the following year effortless. I filled out the paperwork, ranked my countries of choice, and submitted my application without a hint of doubt. Sometimes I wonder whether or not I'd have had the courage to leave behind my first love and go abroad had the relationship lasted... Would I have stayed put just to enjoy another year of puppy love? Would I have gone to prom and graduated high school just like the rest of my peers? Would I have gone to an ivy league school instead of making the practical decision to stay in New Mexico and go to university for free? Would I have ever traveled to Brasil???
Somehow I don't think so. For as independent and headstrong as I've always been, I think the idea of leaving behind my relationship with Alejandro at that point in my life would have been too difficult...
Eight years later Jandro and I reconnected through the internet. We sent a couple of e-mails and soon were talking regularly online. He was working in Colorado as an engineer with some top-secret aerospace program, spinning records and making house music in his spare time. He was still a musician and still mysterious. And he still had a hold on my heart.
For Valentine's Day, Jandro made me a beautiful digital card of a woman with long, flowy hair holding a bunch of calla lillies in front of a stained glass window. He wrote on top of the image, "Will you be my Valentine? Love, Alejandro." My heart fluttered just like it did back in high school. "Yes!" I thought, "Yes I'll be your Valentine!" and I quickly accepted his invitation to fly out to Colorado for a long weekend the next month.
It's amazing how we fall back into the same patterns over and over again until we learn our lessons. It didn't seem to matter that I was a college graduate with a promising career and a life of my own, I slipped right into how-can-I-impress-Jandro-and-win-him-over mode, just like I was an insecure 15-year-old all over again. I carefully crafted e-mails to him, short and witty and designed to leave Alejandro with a feeling of longing for that gorgeous, intelligent girl he broke up with back in high school. I sent him photos that I knew would impress. And in the weeks before my trip to Colorado, I worked furiously each evening at my lampworking blowtorch to craft handmade blue and green and yellow glass beads that I then strung together to make a beautiful windchime as a gift.
The day of my trip finally came around and I caught the first flight of the morning out to Denver. I recognized Alejandro immediately in the crowd of people waiting outside the baggage claim. He looked slightly older, slightly heavier, and his nose stuck out slightly more than I remembered, but I was still smitten. We hugged and he handed me a thermos of tea, a special blend of peppermint and white tea and mate that he'd mixed at home with me in mind.
We spent the day hiking and drinking tea and reminiscing in general. In the evening, Jandro and I went to the natural foods market and bought ingredients for dinner. I made fish with a lemon butter sauce, and he made a vegetarian green chile stew with butternut squash and mangoes thrown in for an exotic twist. Jandro spun records on the turntable in his living room while we cooked, and things felt so comfortable, so unlike high school. We ate by candlelight and after our meal Jandro reached over, took my face in his hands, and kissed me. "This is so special," he whispered. My heart fluttered and glowed.
The next day I woke up early, looking forward to a day of holding hands and walking in the snow and enjoying Jandro's company. But over our breakfast tea I knew things were off. There was a strained silence in the air, and I found myself searching for something to talk about just like I would do back in high school. I became hyper-aware of our body language. Jandro was closed, always turning away from me, avoiding that our eyes should meet or our skin should touch.
I hoped that things would improve over the course of the weekend, but they didn't. Jandro remained distant, never talked about what had happened, and to my great disappointment didn't kiss me again. It was like I was hanging out with a completely different person compared to the night before. Did he regret kissing me? Did he not want to have me as his Valentine anymore? Didn't Jandro think I was good enough, or pretty enough, or interesting enough for him?
The rest of my trip was unbelievably awkward. As much as I wanted to, I never mustered up the courage to ask Alejandro what had happened between us, both in high school and on my trip to Colorado. My visit ended with a forced hug in the airport, and me stammering out something like, "You're such a bastard. You can't do something like this and not explain!" I laughed a nervous laugh, embarrassed about my outburst, then turned around and walked towards the securty checkpoint.
I felt like such a fool, like the same desperate and insecure girl I'd been back in the 10th grade. Crying, I called up my mom and explained everything that had happened. Sometimes the only thing that makes the hurt start to go away is to hear my mom's voice and listen to her wise advice to love myself, trust myself, not let anybody else suck away at my self-worth. I cried until I boarded the plane to go back home, then fell promptly asleep.
I haven't talked to Alejandro since that day, and I doubt I ever will again... Not out of hate or resentment, but out of a desire to be good to myself. I don't want to give Jandro - or anyone else for that matter - the power ever again to make me feel small and insignificant.
My first love taught me that some things are best left in the past.