They say no one ever quite forgets their first love. Maybe because long after it ends, our first love holds some type of power over us. A haunting, bittersweet grip on our psyches, pulling us back to what was —what could never be again. But why? Why should this one lodge in our brains be any different than the others? Even when the others were longer, better, more right? Probably because nothing is quite as intense as our first. For me, it was Friday, October 20, 2006. I was 17 years-old about to meet mine. Close to everyone I knew had a boyfriend. Except for me. I always felt like a permanent third wheel. But all of that was about to change. At the time, my high school best friend, Hannah was dating this guy, Lee. Technically, he was a freshman at some local community college. Formally, a high school senior, Lee was always a year ahead. But now that his grade was out, mine was officially in. I couldn't believe it was finally my last year at Cherry Hill East. It's like, I knew we'd eventually get here. But it always felt so far away. I didn't think the time would actually come. It's weird thinking about that now. And rather hard to explain. I'm sure you know what I mean. Anyway, Lee and I were friends. All of us were. My group —about eight gal pals and I used to hang out together on random drunken-fun school nights —basically, all of my junior year. Weekends too, of course. Lee had been trying to set me up with one of his friends. But so far, none were up to par. I wouldn’t call myself picky. It's just, back then, I was still a virgin —something most girls weren't. It was senior year, after all. And a lot of people I knew had lost it years ago. I guess I've always been a late bloomer. Because I had just started getting boobs —something I longed for as long as I can remember. Now, I was not by any means a prude. But as non-traditional as I've always been, I kind of wanted my first time to be with someone special. And it seemed like that someone was also very far away. There was this one guy. But he was only nice to me behind closed doors. I knew my first could not be with him. He was from the other side of town. An innate bad boy. A player for sure. But for some reason, he seemed to like me. Because we had been on and off for the past three years. And since you know I was still a virgin, you also know we clearly never slept together. That made me think he liked me for me. But you'll later learn, it wasn't so black and white. Nothing ever is. And at the time, I hadn't heard from Troy (his name) in a few weeks. And so, Lee promised he'd find me, someone, better. Thus far, he wasn't having much luck. He kept saying I was too pretty for most of the guys he knew. But he wasn't about to give up and I was more determined than ever. So one night, a week before Halloween, Hannah and I are at Lee's parent's house. That's when this guy, Lee's friend Zander comes by. Apparently, this kid had his license taken away (too many DUI's). Lee also said he had to get a new cell phone —basically every other week because he'd get rage drunk and throw it against a wall. So yeah, keep that in mind. Because Lee didn't think I'd want another bad boy. Except at the time, I didn't know what I wanted. I remember saying, "I'll know when I know." And this is how it goes.
It was February 2012. And my roommate just evicted me. I had 24 hours to get the fuck out. What was I going to do? There was only one thing. I'd have to beg my sister to let me stay with her. At least until I figured out a more permanent solution. Because I couldn't live with her, in the state I was in, for too long. I could keep up appearances but only for a little while. I mean, she knew what I looked like at my best. And I was anything but that this time around. Like when I first moved to Boca, I stayed with her. But that was when I was functioning. You know —like a functioning addict. It's just now, I was a GOD damn mess. I didn't even recognize myself anymore. I wasn't the happy girl I used to be. I hadn't been in years. My skin, pale. Face, sunken. Eyes, blank. The mere thought of who I had become filled my insides with terror. But no one knew that. I made sure of it. Because whenever I'd get high, which was most of the time, I was on top of the world. I could do anything I wanted. I certainly didn't need anyone either. These drugs became my best friend (my only friend) and my worst enemy. It's confusing, I know. Because if I wasn't fucked up, I couldn't do anything at all. Or, at least that's how it felt. Because once that feeling faded (it always does), I'd feel more alone than ever, which is why I became willing to do just about anything to make sure that didn't happen. And that's how I found myself at rock bottom for the very first time.
Oh, if I could go back in time. Oh, the things I'd tell my younger self. Only recently have I really come into my own. I used to be this wet blanket. A people-pleaser with no voice. I'd apologize for everything. I'd say sorry for saying sorry. I'd agree —even if I didn't for fear of rejection. Not anymore though. I don't know when it all clicked. But when it did, it did. And now, I want to share some things I've learned over the last decade. About myself. About life. About everything. Because nothing is what it seems. Nothing really goes according to plan. I had this picture in my head of who I thought I was. Who I thought I'd be. Of what life would turn out like. Why do we put such high expectations on ourselves? And why can't we be content with what we have instead of spending the precious moments we do being sad about something we made up in our heads that we thought we needed? Most of the time, the universe has a way of straightening things out far better than we ever could. So, from 20-something to nearly 30, this is what I've learned.