Emotional Memory Series

Emotional Memory – Case Study: First Love

 I don’t need to tell you, as a fellow living and breathing human being, that there are different types of love and, therein, differing nuances.

In this series, I wish to prod about my own personal experiences of emotion and examine what those experiences can do to help me as a writer.

This study is going to be on my ‘first love’ and all the little bits of feelings that orbit it.

Now, I have to be very careful here. The other individual involved is of course, a fellow living and breathing person too and may stumble across this post. So I have to essentially write as though they were going to read it. Not that he will, but you get me. I have to be respectful and frankly, like all of these studies, not get too emotional in my recollection of them. They are more stories of how I became a feeling creature and then how that stuff got into or influenced my work.

I don’t want this or any other to be a stage for me to vent spleen or shove over my ten-penneths worth. Actually, I’m looking back at a lot of this stuff with wizened old worldly eyes, so I hope none of it comes across that way.

Right, down to business:

19th October 1998 – 15 Years Old

I remember the very moment I loved him.

It was like BAM!!! – “Congratulations Cat, you’re now in love for the first time in your life, well done”.

He stood in the doorway to the kitchen at a mutual friend’s birthday party, wearing the most hideous green suit you could imagine, with non-matching dark blue shirt. And he was the most drop dead gorgeous, stunning, beautiful man I had ever seen in my life.

Oh yes, I fell instantly and very, very hard.

He did nothing, said nothing, but I knew right there and then, he was the thing that made my heart beat and soul scream for joy.

Now, there’s a bit of back story to this.

This lad, I had known my entire life. Well, apart from a four year gap when we had gone to different schools. We’d known each other since babyhood and grew up together. Our parents knew each other before our births, our grandparents knew each and even our great grandparents had known one another. There were foundations here that went all the way down to Hades.

Yet, in those intervening four years, he’d changed. Gone was the quiet, rosy-cheeked little boy with green eyes and short black hair. Now, in his stead, was this stunning-looking six-foot bloke with long black hair, a tan and the most gorgeous smile in the universe.

Let’s step aside and examine this for a moment. The experience here is a heady mixture of hormones, inexperience and the kick-starting of my adult romantic-life. All these observations I have just recounted to you, took, in reality, a matter of seconds. In the world of writing, we can take pages to describe the simple physical attraction and instant sense of emotional change.

Back to the story.

I had been off school that day sick, so looked a mess. I had waist long blonde hair, snatched back into a loose pony tail as well as a jumper and pair of my brother’s old jogging pants (don’t ask). I looked hideous, but decided that this may be my one and only chance at spending any time with this lad. So, I found courage – from somewhere – and spent the evening ignoring my poor friend and trying to speak to this boy.

We even did the most ridiculous flirting you can imagine. You know that whole sort of cringe-inducing ‘play fight’ thing you do when you are teenaged and really trying to let someone know you fancy them, so you play fight so you have an opportunity to touch them and let them touch you?

Yeah. I totally smashed that.

I walked away that evening, my heart absolutely singing with utter joy and delight. I was convinced he liked me… and for the first time in my almost sixteen years of life, I felt like I was worth something, as though I wasn’t as hideously ugly as people had told me I was.

You took my hand You showed me how, You promised me you’d be around – Pink, ‘Who Knew’

He was my first thought in the morning and last one at night. I drifted from day to day, smiling about this lad from ear to ear, telling all my friends at school about how deliriously in love I was. I hadn’t even entertained the possibility at that point that he might not feel the same. In those initial, heady days, I didn’t care. I was madly in love and everything was right with the world.

I was at my Dad’s house about three or four days after that party and I phoned my Mum up, just to say hi. She told me that she had had a phone call from HIM, asking if I wanted to go hang out round the mutual friends house with him.

My mouth hung open, my heart raced, my breathing stopped. For a moment, I was utterly speechless. He wanted me to be with him? I couldn’t get round that mutual friends house quickly enough. I think I sprinted there.

After a long day of essentially flirting my backside off (who knew I could be so shameless?) with this lad in a haze of joy, I had to go home.

When we were left alone for a moment, he came up behind me and put his arms around me, begging me to stay with him at this friend’s house. Now, our parents (and the mutual friends) were never going to allow that in a million years, but he whispered in my ear how much he wanted me to stay and how much he liked me.

I took your words And I believed In everything You said to me – Pink, ‘Who Knew’

I think I could have died with how much love I had for him in those precious moments.

I put my arms up by my head and sort of held him in a bit of an embrace.

As we conceded defeat, he offered to walk me home (or did I volunteer him?). It was dark and nearing the end of October. The street lights cast everything in this hideous organgey hue. But it didn’t matter. He still looked beautiful to me no matter what.

We walked by a big Victorian church and its sprawling, dark grave yard and, desperate to make our walk to my house longer, we decided to go inside.

As a thirty-something woman now recounting this, none of this would make sense. I have daughters myself now and if they did that with a boy, I’d be concerned. However, I didn’t have the eyes of a worldly adult at the time. I had sixteen year old ones and the world was not remotely scary to me then. That is another fact we have to take into account when writing – the point of view of the character.

In the grave yard, the lad decided to do an impression of the killer from the movie ‘Scream’ that was de rigeur at the time.

I thought it was odd-ball, off the wall, funny. Very much like my own effervescent sixteen year old self of the day. I pretended to run – he pretended to catch me. You see the plan there already don’t you?

Then, whilst he sat on some poor sods headstone, we kissed.

My first kiss.

When Alice asked the White Rabbit how long forever was, he replied: “Sometimes, just one second”

I remember it was freezing cold and a wind whipped about us, but I distinctly remember not feeling it. Or rather feeling it brush against my skin, but simply not feeling cold at all.

We made out, he walked me home and I think he worked out then that he pretty much had me wrapped around his little finger.

I was dancing on air. He phoned me up, asking me out, pleading to see me. I of course, obliged.

I had been made to feel my whole life, like I was ugly and worthless and yet, along comes this guy who tells me I’m not. Seriously – along comes this drop dead gorgeous guy, with the most fun, spirited personality, like my own, who wanted to be with me.

All the bullies had failed. I wasn’t worthless or disgusting, I was beautiful to this magnificent boy and frankly, he was all that mattered.

I skipped to school everyday, pure unadulterated love just beaming from every molecule in my body. I was in love for the first time in my life and I was so, so, so happy. The world could go to hell.

If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger. – Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte

Now, let’s step aside once more and look at this. What are the motives for elicitation of such fervent emotion? I’m young, completely inexperienced in both life and certainly love and experiencing something for the first time. So I’m an emotionally receptive sponge, I’m unguarded in my regard as I have not suffered heartbreak (at this point). This means that I am leaving myself wide open to quite intense heartbreak, if this does go wrong. There is no mental furniture by which I can rely on as a coping mechanism to get me through anything that could go wrong. I am fixated with the love I have instantly developed for someone based on a physical and personal attraction.

So, loves young dream carried on. Yet the enthusiasm for me began to wane for him very quickly. He stopped phoning me, began standing me up and was abrupt and dismissive to me. I could not honestly work out why on earth he would be wonderful and ‘in love’ with me one moment and then hurtful and disinterested the next

Here, we develop other side-emotions. There is no doubt of the love at all from me which flowed unconditionally – but there is another big zinger creeping in: fear. I became terrified of losing him. That he’d (heaven forbid!) lied to me all along to get what he wanted before scuttling off.

The fear grew quite immeasurably and culminated in me getting unceremoniously dumped.

Yep, my dreams were over. Yep, it frigging hurt like hell.

The break up was horrendous; I remember just being in a blur of horror and pain. The problem was, he had brought out love in me and then bunged it to one side after taking advantage of that fact.

Listen, I’m not being disparaging to the young man in question (like I said earlier, I have to be careful here). Actually, I spoke to him a bit afterwards and asked him why he’d dumped me despite how much in love with him I was. He said it was because he was being picked on at school for having a girlfriend. Go figure.

So it is safe to say he didn’t love me in the slightest! Oh, the folly of youth.

I don’t wish to sound dismissive of the dumping and the heart ache it caused me, more that I wanted to deal with the more unique type of love you get when you initially fall so young, right in the bloom of inexperienced youth. I feel as though that love is so very intense and special that it should never be forgotten.

Anecdotally, there is far more to this particular story.

The love I experienced here didn’t end there. It carried on. Despite the fact we were no longer together, I still had all this love for this guy and simply no where to put it. I couldn’t just throw a switch and off it went like a light, I had to do something with it.

So, I tried my best to get rid of it. When I left school, I tried dating other people. It didn’t work. No matter how hard I tried, I was still hopelessly in love with him. He’d become every other thought – the cuckoo in the nest of my life if you will.

Even though I knew he didn’t like, let alone love me to begin with, I still felt like I should be worried about him and concerned over him. Every time mutual friends would tell me he’d been dumped by a girl, or he was in trouble, or hurting in some way – it hurt me. I felt like I had to guard him and keep him safe, albeit, from afar. And I hated myself for it. It meant I was chained to someone who didn’t remember I even existed and I was impatient to enjoy being young and dating other people.

There is of course an end to this story, which isn’t great to get into, because it reads like a novel and my personal life isn’t really up for great analysis, just my experience of the emotion with some background to give it a touch of grounding.

I did eventually get back with him and no, it wasn’t great. I remained completely in love with him until the first year of my twenties when it fell apart in a rather dramatic and destructive manner, which left me absolutely devastated and him… meh. A bit taxed I suppose by the fact he’d caused and actively encouraged a girl to love him and found he was reasonably annoyed by the inconvenience of all that.

Knew the signs wasn’t right, I was stupid for a while. Swept away by you and now I feel like a fool. So confused, my hearts bruised, was I ever loved by you? – Gabrielle, ‘Out of Reach’

I think that is a fair interpretation. I loved someone who, ultimately, did not love me back in any way, shape or form. This is important, as it was this fact that helped me get over him double-double quick. The realisation, epiphany if you will, that despite knowing him forever and being through quite a bit with him, it – and me – had meant absolutely nothing to him at all. Not a bean. When I realised that I had been in a completely one-sided love, it acted as an antidote. Genuinely, it did.

It made me get up, dust myself down and get the hell on with my life. For the first time in five years, I was free.

So how did that emotion fade? The antidote couldn’t have worked immediately, surely? There had to be an end to it.

Yes, of course there was. The end of the relationship was, as I said, horrendous for me. The love was of course snuffed pretty quickly in one fell swoop with the aforementioned epiphany though. What I was left with, was the pain but also the courage to rebuild and try again, with someone who deserved my love.

If you can love the wrong person that much, imagine how much you can love the right person?

So what about the evolution of that pain and the memory of that love – what is its legacy today?

That is a great question. If I think about it, it still makes me sad and even hurts a bit. It’s like my heart has this microscopic little bruise and thinking about that (or, to be fair, as is anything that has hurt me in the past, this is no different) is like pressing on it until it does hurt. But that is the realisation that I am a human being capable of warmth, love and emotion and have a long legacy of it.

Love that was that sharp, bright, full-on and intense does not go unremembered. But I honestly have to properly sit there and think about it. It is not something that I sit around thinking about all the time, I have to make a concerted effort to remember. As you will see from other entries in this series, hugely more important things have happened and dramatically affected me than this entire affair.

It’s a bit like remembering being told off as a kid or your pet goldfish dying – both unpleasant past experiences that you have to properly sit there and reminisce about (and the opportunities are very scant in normal day-to-day life, which can be a massive source of writers block when you are trying to empathise with a character).

As for the boy in question? I wish him nothing but the very best of everything life has to offer and all the happiness in the world. I loved him once upon a time and it wasn’t his fault he never loved me. I couldn’t make him do it and that simply isn’t his fault. I can’t blame him for not feeling anything for me at any point during the five years I was in love with him for, it is simply human nature. Sure, he isn’t precisely innocent of other things that went on, but even then, I completely and utterly forgive him and wish him all the very best nonetheless. Life is too short to harbour ill-will towards anyone, especially during a point in your life when you were just some dumb, inexperienced kid and so was the other party.

Remember when we were such fools And so convinced and just too cool – Pink, ‘Who Knew’

In a lot of ways, I am very grateful to him for hurling me on a journey that made me feel so positively happy and even for making me so devastatingly sad. It was a journey I needed to go on until our paths split and certainly that was for the better for me.

I thought I would honestly die with the pain I experienced when I lost him, especially the second time, yet time has softened the memory of it all. With years of life experience and knowing what true love, real love is, I can look back at myself – and him – with kind and sympathetic eyes. I just now feel sorry for myself from when I was a lost, broken girl in the depths of horrible, horrible heart break.

In the depths of the embers of the fire, are the basic nuggets of the base material that caused it all in the first place – the memory of that love. I’ve popped it in a box in my mind as a keepsake, so that as a writer I can plunder those feelings for my crafting purposes and as a good point of empathy for when my own daughters get older and I can nurse them through broken hearts they may receive.

It’s a fantastic tool in my emotional, metaphysical armoury and I wouldn’t be without it at all. It’s weird to be thankful for a love that could never be and a broken heart – but I really am!

You should never regret loving someone. Never regret someone or something that made you happy, that’s what I say.

This is the sort of full-on, wild, mad, illogical feverish love that makes you understand Cathy and Heathcliffe in a way that you never thought you could. In that you get to see where writers had used (possibly) their own personal experience of this emotion.

There genuinely aren’t words to describe how much I loved him. I just remember feeling as though every atom in my being belonged to him and I would have followed him to hell and back on my hands and knees over broken glass. There are many a cliche here to describe the enormity of the love, which when you are a writer and trying to capture that, can cause some serious writers block.

In terms of its long-standing emotional legacy, it is fair to say I will never love anyone else in the same way I loved him. And that is what makes this so unique and so special. It is a once in a lifetime deal. A priceless gift that I got to give to one boy, once.

Did he deserve such a precious gift? Did he deserve the no-holds barred fullness of my heart and soul served up to him on a platter? At the time, I felt he did. In the fall-out afterwards, I don’t think I agreed at all.

However it is not the individual’s reciprocation or persona under the microscope – it is mine. Literature has analysed the personal experience of love countless times. The other party is simply gravy.

In Summary…

I have identified an emotional memory of first love – that burning, intoxicating and all-consuming fire that robs you of, nay, discombobulates your senses altogether .

I have identified unrequited love – the angry sucker punch in the gut from reality that is unpalatable, but the realisation and acceptance of it is completely necessary and so important.

Then there are sub-headers of feelings bubbling to the surface: hurt, misery, courage, betrayal, endurance, loss, joy, pain, heartache, determination, happiness, worthlessness, self-worth, fear and patience.

What we can learn here is very important. Love, especially the all-out fire of first love, brings with it a host of complicated feelings. Love is almost a side effect. The other emotional experiences are so important and help define this experience as a whole.

One cannot write that their characters were ‘in love’. You have to be the smarter, wiser writer and note that there are many other factors and emotions to take into account. Everything is heightened and everything is intense.

Love is not the sort of emotion that one can easily forsake and the first love is certainly a deep cut (there’s a song in there somewhere). It didn’t fade after the boy who I’d fallen for had dumped me when I was a green teen. I continued to love him. I tried very hard to dislike him, ignore him and feign indifference, but it didn’t work. Instead, I resigned myself to loving him from afar and wishing him happiness.

If you are ever fortunate enough to meet your Cathy or Heathcliffe, don’t treat them badly. Don’t take it for granted and don’t hurt them. Don’t assume that they will always be there or they’ll wait for you if you cast them aside. Do not abuse them. Cherish them and every beautiful moment together, it might be your only chance to. This type of love is as delicate as moonlight and just as difficult and rare to hold in your hand.

I wish I were a girl again, half-savage and hardy, and free. –Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte

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