Facebook should not allow first loves
“I can’t jump!” I said. “Not difficult. I will catch you.”
He slouched beside me on the bench, while my feet in scuffed Mary Janes moved restlessly. He was, well, beautiful. His face, carefully constructed, like angles had been calibrated, moulds made and recast before arriving at this prototype. I, on the other hand, was in the process of shedding an awkward phase. This entailed an uneasy parting from the coconut oil I used liberally, learning to use a lip balm that came with a roll-on applicator and the discovery of a dent that could almost be mistaken for a waist.
Our arms were folded over a wooden desk. They rested on a multitude of scratched initials, fresh declarations and obituaries, scattered in hearts of differing sizes. There was bright chatter from my side and gentle affirmations from him.
I didn’t hear the school bell ring but it must have. Demanding the evacuation of all the nerds from the library, the geeks from the chemistry labs and the love-struck from solitary corners.
We continued sitting in the abandoned classroom.
The sunlight, all this while slanting into the room like a giant hunching to get inside, finally receded.
Alone in the dark, the smell of chalk merging with his minty chewing gum, I finally asked, “What time is it? I don’t want to miss dinner.”
“Yes, Even I don’t want to. Today there is pink custard for dessert.”
He said it without a trace of irony. He was earnest and unlike me, grateful, in his approach toward people and even vats of custard, the colour and flavour of antibiotic syrups, unmitigated by the occasional chunk of banana or a sliver of apple.
I didn’t ask him if he ever compared this custard to the Sohan of his childhood, a delicacy made with egg, rose water, sugar, butter, and cardamom. Was he plagued by the memories of his mother handing him a piece of chewy Gaz, filled with almond and walnut? Fleeing Iran and persecution during Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime, he had found refuge in our Baha’i boarding school. There were many like him in our classrooms, a legion of young people longing for Iran but settling for American passports.
I should have asked him many questions. Where were his parents? How did he cross the border? What is it like being all of seventeen, in an alien country with no means of going back home? I didn’t have to ask him if he was lonely. We all were. The degrees between us though, incalculable. Waiting outside the school reception on Sunday, hoping to hear that your family had called, was not comparable to the contractions in his life.
We hurried out of the classroom. Scuttling down the staircase till we reached the main door. The building had been locked for the night. Calling out to passers-by meant not just disclosure but detention.
“We can jump out from the rear first floor windows,” he said.
I was afraid. My journey towards a life filled with fragile bones and torn ligaments had already begun. Perhaps that is why I find myself gravitating towards a particular type, not just him, but the ones that came along after. Men, all built in the manner of a Frank Lloyd Wright house. Formidably strong, seemingly unbreakable.
He climbed out of the window and with a small leap he was standing on the muddy floor.
“I can’t jump!” I said.
“Not difficult. I will catch you.”
Love — old, young and in-between — arranged by well-meaning parents or found in unexpected quarters, has always been about a leap. The dichotomy between knowing that eventually we will come crashing down, but not quite believing it. A grand delusion that his arms will never tire and we will not get weary of having to rely on someone else, on his strengths and eventually, on his weaknesses.
All that would come later. At that point, there was only one thing to do as he stood below, his arms outstretched, damp patches of nervous excitement visible on his cream shirt.
I sat on the window ledge. My legs dangling down were crisscrossed by nicks and bruises. A testament to my inordinate clumsiness. I lowered my hips tentatively, an inch at a time, till he had his arms wrapped around my thighs.
I let go. I slid till our foreheads were aligned and he gripped my waist. His straight nose against my slightly crooked one. My feet still six inches above the ground. It was, perhaps, falling in love in the most literal way possible.
There have been other relationships, deeper, more meaningful, but I don’t remember them with the same clarity. There is a scientific explanation for this phenomenon. Jefferson Singer whose research focuses on memory, states that most people recall what happened to them between the ages of 15 and 26 not only because we experience so many ‘firsts’ during this period, but also because, we have more chances to reimagine it, re-experience it. A beauty filter on the freckled version of events.
We missed dinner that night and he scrounged up a box of strawberries instead. A month later, he gave me a pair of scarlet boots acquired on a school trip to Pune. Those boots were not meant for walking. Not the colour, nor the heels.
I held on to them for a long period. Taking them out occasionally from the back of my closet, gazing at their unsullied contours. An embodiment of a lost past, in pristine condition, because they had never been worn, tested, dragged through mud or pulled off and thrown on the floor after a night filled with tequila shots.
I looked him up a few years ago. There was a softness to the edge of his chin, the line of his shoulders. His hairline had receded. Since I hadn’t seen it occurring incrementally, it seemed more an effect of the moon than time. Robust waves pulled back to reveal vast stretches during low tide.
He looked prosperous and content as he stood with a brood of children, all with their mother’s blond hair.
I would not have recognised him if we had crossed each other on the street. I am certain he would feel the same way if he saw me today as well. Facebook should not allow first loves on to their platform.