Dear Aunt M,
We were asked, during my lecture course today, to think about our first time falling in love. And I thought of you. Well, not you, but the time I spent with you, the summer that I turned 14. I fell in love for the first time that year. I spent the summer at your house. I had never even spent a night away from my siblings before and I felt so grown up and special; packing my bag with a new unmarred journal and my Judy Blume books, my hypercolor tee-shirts, and my new bikini. That first night we arrived in town, we went straight to your favorite Mexican restaurant after our six-hour car trip. You ordered me a virgin Bloody Mary and I pretended I liked it for the sake of ordering another – “a vah-gin Marrrry, please”, trying to emulate your way of saying it. You and Uncle M got progressively more wasted and laughed uproariously at your own jokes, as I slowly wilted in the corner and eventually laid my head on my hands and dozed. By the time we arrived at your house, I was too exhausted to pay attention to the tour of the house and the introduction of your housemates, the woman and her nephew who were renting the front half. It wasn’t until the next morning, when I emerged blinking into the bright July sun to discover him sitting poolside, that I realized we would be sharing the house with a Leonardo Dicaprio look-alike. At least, that’s the attributes my memory have awarded him in the years since we last met. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure he was a ginger and heavily freckled.
His name was Kenny. He was probably 15 or 16 and was so kind to the awkward plain 13-year-old that I was, mooning over him with unabashed adoration. He played cards with me and we spent hours sitting poolside with our feet dangling over, talking about absolutely nothing all summer long. We’d sneak beers and sip them with giggled rebellious glee as the adults argued over the barbecue grill or planned ostentatious dinners that always burned, fizzled, or flopped. Sure, it wasn’t real “love” but it was my first real experience with a crush and there was so much anticipation and joy to those first loves. Sexuality was almost void in our interactions because it was so foreign to us. We didn’t acknowledge sex and yet…it was there in the tingling of fingers that accidentally brushed, play fighting that ended with shaking knees and burning red faces and mutual avoidance for days after. I was in love with his clumsy guitar strumming and his chortles of laughter when I told carefully purloined dirty jokes (usually, though, I’d screw them up or forget the punchline).
I confessed my crush to you, Aunt M, late one night as you were dressing to go out for dinner. You were trying on pearls from your jewelry box as I told you, it struck me as unbelievably elegant. You, too, were kind and only smiled your knowledge of my schoolgirl crush and chose not to tease me for it. “How can I tell if he likes me? How can I get him to like me?” I asked, with all of the earnestness I could muster. As it turns out, a teenager in the first throes of love, can muster quite a bit.
You immediately cancelled your dinner plans, plopped yourself down beside me on the bed, and taught me about feminine wiles. Oh, not the swishing of skirts and fluttering of lashes type of wiles. These were the mechanizations of my mother and women like my mother – good-looking, sexual women that didn’t have to try to gain attention but for some reason did try, too hard almost. You taught me your ways – the flirtations of the long brown-haired older sister that met her husband when my mother stood him up for a date. You taught me the importance of laughter. You tapped my head, hard, with your index finger with its nail chewed to a stub, and advised, “Use your brain, Betty”. You taught me about all of the secret conversations that can occur between a man and a woman that can mean so much and say so little. You taught me about holding on, fighting for what you want, and being strong and proud of that strength.
Maybe I’ve forgotten everything you taught me. Or, maybe I never really learned it. I never did confess my feelings to Kenny that summer and I guess, in a way, I’m glad I didn’t. As it was, I packed my bag in August and left my address for him with the faint fluttering in my stomach that assured me that he just MIGHT write (he didn’t). I never met my “Uncle M”, with whom I could hop on the back of his bike and ride off into the sunset with. And I never really became the type of woman that you were….nor have I become my mother’s type. I’m still figuring out just what type of woman I am. I haven’t, however, forgotten your smile, your warm hand on mine, your earthy smell and long brown bare feet under your cocktail dress. I haven’t forgotten you, Aunt M. I miss you.