A couple of days ago, a Facebook friend posted a old picture of himself on a football team from (my best guess) either middle school or sometime early in high school. It really surprised me that one of his sisters asked which number he was in a comment, only because it was so obvious to me and I haven't seen him in person since 1988. Some people you just don't forget, and he's one of those for me...I'll call him Mike.
He was my first boyfriend, the one from my freshman year of high school. That was his only year there, unfortunately--like every other guy I dated in high school, he moved at the end of the year. His situation was a little different from the others', though.
We met at a party held by a mutual friend. Mike was 17, a junior, a big guy with dark hair and blue eyes. He'd just moved to town from New Jersey, and had the kind of tan and muscles that you get when you've worked a lot as a lifeguard--in his case, at the beach in a town somewhere near Atlantic City. I was only 14 at the time, and my mother was not at all happy about the age difference until she met him and realized that he was one of the good guys. I still remember that our first 'date' was a walk to the McDonald's that was near our school campus, and how nervous I was!
Mike was dealing with some tough stuff that year. He's the youngest in a big family, and his mother had died a few years before I met him. Both of his parents were alcoholics, and his dad left the family after his mom died. Shortly after that, their house burned down (I never got the full story on that, or wanted to) and the older kids took care of the younger kids from then on. As the youngest, Mike was shuffled from sibling to sibling a lot--the year he attended my school, he was living with one of his brothers. He had a lot of venting he needed to do, and I'd often end up crying as I listened--I was way too sheltered and naive to even begin to process that kind of pain, let alone find words to help him. There wasn't anything I could do but listen.
He went back to the States at the end of the year, finished high school, and got a scholarship to Rutgers. We'd lose touch for extended periods, but then one of us would pick up the phone and find the other to catch up, and it would be like there'd been no intervening time at all. I talked to him most recently a couple of years ago, and am hoping to be able to catch up with him again in person over a cup of coffee one of these summers.
He's happily married to a lovely woman and has good relationships with his remaining siblings (two have died of cancer.) He has three beautiful children and a good job. And I am happier for him than I can even begin to express. Thinking about where he came from and how far from there he ended up, and what that says about him.
I'm proud to know you, my friend. And I think the kid in the football picture would be, too.