Saturday, October 22, 2005
First Love Blues
While compiling last week's i-Pod playlist, I came across a tune I hadn't heard in years, a few bars into the song I felt a quivering but familiar rush, suddenly I was transported to the past, you know, like when you can smell the same smells and feel the same pains sort of thing, remembering that era like something that happened a long, long time ago, as opposed to remembering "like it was yesterday". Time has a peculiar knack for covering old pictures with a heavy coat of bittersweet varnish, sometimes I think it's my brain attempting to re-write history, to re-create a more nostalgic, fonder memory, a more idyllic snapshot of an inconsequential situation. This time however, my recollection was true and dead-on accurate, it really was a blissful time.
By my 13th birthday, my mom had ordered me to attend a strict naval academy (there are a few of these military style high schools where I grew up, they are all ran by retired navy officers) due to my poor academic performance and lack of discipline at a very expensive, and very private catholic school the previous year.
I had just finished my first year at my new school in good standing and my mom was extremely happy with my grades, I had aced every subject (easy for me, I flunked the year before so I was repeating the grade) as it was, my vacation that year was the best I'd had in many moons; I had had a great time at the academy because every other parent with a "problem child" thought the same way as my mother did, they figured "the military discipline might just make a man out of my son", I often joke about "La Isla de los hombres solos", as this place was aptly nicknamed, because of its isolation from civilization and its lack of female population, the military promised to "make a man out of you" while the inmates wanted to "make a woman out of you". For 3 years I shared classrooms and adventures with the most corrupted and damaged kids in the city, it was a very crazy, fun-filled freshman year, so much for my mom's plans to reform me into a model citizen.
Now, free from school dictators and strict rules, I was making the best of my summer vacation, (actually, winter vacation down in Guayaquil, where the school year begins in May and ends in January), I woke up early each day and stayed up real late, roaming the streets from dawn to dusk, my pals and I put a street soccer team together and traveled to distant neighborhoods in search of a pick up game; we would challenge any group of kids we would encounter walking down Quito avenue. "La Avenida Quito" stretched the length of the entire city, Starting at the cemetery and running from north to south to the piers, we always traveled south towards the maritime port with an old soccer ball, like a horde of vagrants, which we were. Sometimes we would win and sometimes our asses were kicked beyond recognition, but it was all lots of fun.
We found our match in a team just like ours -hyperactive, scrawny kids with little or no parental supervision- in a neighborhood 40 minutes (walking distance) from where we used to live, those kids and us had lots in common so we became best of friends and since I also knew some of those guys from the academy, that was the place we visited the most.
Everyday for the next 3 months of winter vacation we made the pilgrimage from our neighborhood to theirs. That's were I met Monica, we were both 14 at the time, I was riding a friend's bicycle around the newly built complex where she lived, these were very modern 5 story apartment buildings surrounded by manicured lawns, walking and bicycle paths and other urban niceties such as neat playgrounds and plenty of well-lit parking lots (soccer fields to us), where we could play well into the night without worrying about vehicular traffic, quite a departure from our meager surroundings. Back in my neighborhood we played the dangerous game of street soccer "a todo rigor" (everything goes), I remember the captains of the teams flipping a coin to determine whether we would play "con carro" or "sin carro"; the "sin carro" option would mean we would stop play if a vehicle was approaching, a goal scored under this rule would not be valid, I need not tell you what "con carro" meant. I only now realize how hazardous this practice was, back in the day we couldn't have cared less, in the U.S. concerned mothers want to implement helmets for soccer players in high school, that would make us look like Kamikaze pilots by comparison.
I saw this girl on her bike pedaling awkwardly, she almost fell and got off her bike to fix the jammed chain, I walked up to her and offered my help; common sense tells us all, there is no such thing as love at first sight but I beg to differ, we gazed into each other's eyes and that was all it took, after I finished with the chain we both walked for a bit, we exchanged such pertinent info as our names, schools we attended and hobbies, we played the mandatory "how old do you think I am?" game and guessed each other's astrological signs and other silly, romantic stuff. I went home early that night and stared at the ceiling for hours, listening to the radio and thinking of her.
Soon afterwards I shunned my friends and the street soccer matches and befriended her younger brother to gain access to her house, her parents weren't that strict but she wasn't allowed much time outside. I did all kinds of crazy things to get to see my new found love every chance possible, I walked 40 minutes each way to meet her, everyday for the duration of my vacation in the most terrible weather conditions (in the coastal region of Ecuador, winter time is the tropical rainy season, El Niño was particularly violent that year) , I remember asking her to be my girlfriend while completely drenched and shivering from having walked in the torrential rain and 30 mile an hour winds for what it seemed like an hour, we spent the entire evening holding hands, listening to top 40 radio and watching the rain fall from under the safety of her building's "inside" balcony, my buddies in return taunted me and gave my girl hurtful nicknames in hopes that I would rejoin the gang, of course all that hurt me the most because I loved her but did nothing to discourage my affection, such was life at 14.
School started, vacation was gone and with it, went my first true love, my first official girlfriend slowly vanished from my life and eventually from my memory. School and geography conspired to hinder our puppy love, it became increasingly difficult for me to see her, once back in the academy. At one point during the summer, her sister gave me a book to use as reference for a drawing she wanted me to do for her, carelessly I left the book unattended around the house and it got damaged beyond repair, I felt so bad for having ruined it and offered all kinds of excuses to stall while I tried to find a way to replace the book, that of course, never happened, remorseful weekend visits became monthly visits, our encounters more and more sporadic until they stopped altogether. My life took a different turn and my romantic interests found a new home in my old neighborhood. The passage of time didn't turn a mundane occurrence into a fantastic tale of young love, quite the contrary, all these years since I last saw Monica, my mind downplayed the significance of a truly bucolic and unspoiled romance.