Eric Jones
The First Time…

Love is one of the most confusing aspects of our lives. Some say it’s all you need. Others may tell you it doesn’t even exist. But the question I often find myself pondering is if love is the most important thing, why is it so hard to find?
When I think of the term “love,” I always have to think about my first love, Carrie. I met her a long time ago. I was about thirteen or fourteen and had just started high school. Now I know what you’re probably thinking, thirteen is too young to be in love. He doesn’t know any better. But there are exceptions to every rule and this story is to that one. I met Carrie on the first day of school in my third period Health class. I walked in after getting lost about three times and carrying what felt like a ton of books because I couldn’t figure out how to work my locker. I sat across from this girl and I had noticed she was looking at me with sort of a mocking smile on her face.


“What? What are you looking at?” I asked nervously.


“Oh nothing. Just by the tower of books, your dorky clothes and the look of sheer terror in your eyes, you must be a freshman,” she replied.


“Yeah, you guessed it.”


“Just relax kid. You got four more years of this crap to get through. I’m Carrie,” she said as she extended her hand towards me.


“Keith.” I replied as I shook her hand.


The rest of the day rode itself out and I was glad to be on my way home. I finally got my locker open, after I paid the kid next to me five dollars to do it for me. And at lunch someone stole my sandwich and juice as I got up to grab some napkins. I boarded the jam-packed bus and searched diligently for a seat that wouldn’t get me engulfed in the adolescent turmoil of papers flying and loud, shrill voices that had been muffled by teachers for the past six hours. Barely, above the shenanigans, I thought I heard someone calling my name. I turned nervously in the aisle, wary of smacking someone with my oversized backpack, and saw a hand beckoning me. It was Carrie. She had saved me a seat. I breathed a sigh of relief. I sat beside her, trying not to sit too close.


“Glad to see you made it through your first day,” she said.


“Oh it was hell. I’m glad it’s over and I can go home,” I responded.


“Where’s home?”


“Just down the road on Park Street.”


“I live across town on Route 13, but I’m moving into that old gray house on Park Street.”


“You can’t be serious.”


“Why not?”


“I live three houses down from that house. That just seems really weird.”


“I think it’s pretty cool. I can come by your house everyday and bug you after school.”


For some strange reason, that didn’t seem too bad to me. Normally I’d cringe if a girl knew where I lived, forget coming to the house. But I had this feeling boring in the back of my head that I wanted her to be there. We talked for the rest of the ride. My house, which usually seemed like days to find, today only took about fifteen minutes.


“Well, this is my stop. I’ll see you tomorrow right?” I asked as I grabbed my bag. While I was getting up, she tugged at my arm and pulled me back. She wrapped her arms around me and gave me a hug.


“Yeah, I’ll see ya tomorrow. I’ll save you a seat.”


I jumped off the bus and walked toward my house. I tried hard to wipe off the ear-to-ear grin that had sort of magically grown on my face.


My mom was reading a magazine in the living room. She couldn’t let me get three feet in the house until she called out for me. “Keith! Keith is that you?”


“Yeah Mom, it’s me.”


“So how’d it go on your first day, Mr. High School?”


“It was fine. My locker doesn’t open. I have about eighty pounds worth of books. My lunch tasted like refried vomit because someone stole my lunch and the school lunch was I think left over from last year. And I already have homework to do. So all in all I’m fine.”


“Are you in any classes with any of your friends?”


“No, we all got split up. I didn’t have time to look for them at lunch, and that’s if I have the same lunch period as any of them. So now I have to start from scratch.”


“Have you met any possible new friends today?”


“Yeah, maybe one.”


“What’s his name?”


“Carrie.”


“I’ve never known any boys named Carrie.”


“That’s because Carrie’s a girl.”


“A girl?” My mother seemed puzzled. “I knew this was going to happen, just not so soon.”


“What?”


“You’ve met a girl.”


“What ‘met?’ OK, I talked to her in class and on the bus. There’s nothing there at all.”


“You say that now, but we’ll see.”


“Yeah OK Mom.” I headed into my room, threw off my backpack and kicked off my shoes. I flopped onto my bed and turned on the TV. I had to unwind from the hectic day. I laid back and stared at the ceiling for a while. Before I knew it, I was thinking of her. I couldn’t figure out why. I had this strange feeling, similar to the one I had on the bus. Only this time it was a bit stronger. I had never felt it before that day. My mother’s words echoed through me and I did my best to ignore them. But, could it be? Maybe this was gonna be more than friendship between us.


Anyway, back to school I went. Today I fared better than the day before. I asked my dad to drop me off a few minutes early. I was determined to work that locker and I wasn’t going to class until I opened it. It turned out I was turning it the wrong way. Lunch went better too. I had packed my own napkins and I clenched my bag tight. I wasn’t taking any chances this time. I looked around for a familiar face and I finally saw one. It was my good friend Derek. I waved to him and he acknowledged, so I sat down.


“Good God man, it’s good to see you. Can you believe this place?” he asked.


“I know, man, it’s a zoo! I’m just glad to see a familiar face,” I responded.


“Oh there you are,” said a voice. I turned to see who it was. It was Carrie. That feeling had come back.


“Hey, how you doin’ today?” I asked her.


“Pretty good, now I guess. Well, I’ll see you in class later.”


“OK, see you.”


“Who was that?” Derek asked.


“Her name’s Carrie. She’s in my Health class,” I answered.


We resumed eating our lunches and talked some more. I asked him how he liked his classes and he told me so far so good. Then, the topic suddenly changed.


“Let me ask you something Keith. Why you keep lookin’ over at that girl?”


“What do you mean?”


“Every three seconds you’re looking at her.”


“I am not. Why don’t you calm down about it a bit?”


“Fine, but what I find even more odd is that she keeps looking back at you.” I couldn’t believe it. She couldn’t be looking at me, that never happens. I thought this was pretty one-sided. But maybe there’s a chance she likes me too. My heart was beginning to race. I didn’t know why I cared so much.


“I don’t even know what the big deal is,” Derek added. “She’s not even that cute.”


“Shut the hell up!” I couldn’t believe that just came out of my mouth. I never said anything like that to Derek in my life. As we finished lunch, I got up to throw out my trash. As I stared at the wall the garbage cans were leaning against, I saw something. Almost an invisible message that only I was meant to see. That’s when I realized I was in love. It sounds corny, I know. But there was something about her that I just knew right away. However, I had no idea how she felt about me. And I wouldn’t for a long time.


The weeks and months went on and before I had known it, a year had gone by. Carrie and I grew real close. We sat with each other in class and worked together on everything. In the middle of October she finally moved in on my street. She met my folks and was well received. Although my dad was still suspicious because he thought all teenage girls were evil. We hung out every day after school. Some days at her house, some days at mine. But it really didn’t matter, because when I was with her, we were in our own little world.


Some days were rough though. I often found myself at odds. I didn’t know if there was a way to tell her how I felt without ruining everything. These types of days came around at least twice a month. But the more I thought about it, I would always decide against it. I loved her too much to risk losing her, because she didn’t feel the same way. Although I did contemplate going the other way from time to time, it just never felt right. Oh sure, it would’ve been great to be with her, in not just a friendly sense. Her parents were all for it. I could tell by the way they treated me that that was what they wanted. But Carrie never got the hint. So I did my best to just shove it all inside.


Two more years passed. I was going into my senior year. Carrie had already graduated, but she stayed close to home. She went to the community college so we still saw each other all the time. As life goes on, we all have our share of dates and things like that. I had a girlfriend or two, and Carrie dated a few guys herself. But during those awkward teenage years where everything changes, we were the constant in our lives. We were always there for each other. But as I was about to learn, life can deal you some heavy blows, and I was about to get clobbered.


I got home from school I had a message waiting for me on my desk. It was from Carrie telling me she needed to talk to me and it was real important. I picked up the phone and called her.


“Hello?” Carrie asked.


“Hey it’s me. What’s up?”


“Hey, can you come over? I need to talk to you.”


“Sure, I’ll be right there.”


I headed over to her house. Her mother answered the door and let me in with a smile. She hugged me and passed me over to her husband and he gave me a hearty handshake. Hell, I was practically family. They told me Carrie was in her room. I knocked on the door and she told me to come in and shut the door behind me.


“So what’s going on? What do you need to talk to me about?” I asked.


“Well, it’s about me and Mark.” Mark was her current boyfriend. They had been going out for most of the summer. He seemed nice enough, but I still didn’t trust him.


“What about you and Mark?”


“Well when he and I went out the other night….”
I was about to hear the shock of my short lifetime.
“….Mark proposed to me.”


“And….?”


“I said yes!”


Holy shit! Now I don’t say that out loud. That’s what I say inside. Right now I don’t know what to think. I wanted to tell her she was out of her damn mind, and I knew deep down that she shouldn’t go through with it. But she had never looked happier. I told myself that I loved her enough to let her do what makes her happy, so I smiled, gave her a hug and said congrats. This was a test unlike any that had been presented to me for the past three years we had been friends. The lingering hope that had been floating around my head that she and I could ever be together was finally starting to leave. I didn’t know what to feel. I couldn’t tell if it was pain, or confusion or something else. But there was a lot of emptiness.


“I can’t wait!” she exclaimed. “I’m so excited, and I’m so happy you’re going to be there with me.”
I contemplated what I should do next. I had seen it the movies an hundred times. Do I tell her everything and then wait for her to fall in love with me and realize how much of a fool she was for even looking at another guy? Life had told me many times before that this was no movie, so rather than complicate things, I once again kept my mouth shut. I knew for a fact that her parents didn’t know, and wouldn’t be pleased when they found out. I knew she’d need someone by her side, and like always I would be there. I’d be the only one hurting if I didn’t say anything, and that was enough.


They set the date for Christmas of the year next. Weddings do take a long time to plan. So I ended up graduating and she was there to cheer me on just she had always been there before. The summer came and as I slaved my butt off at a local retailer pushing carts, Carrie left to visit her grandparents down south for the month of July. While she was down there, I was hit with the second blow of the combination. The phone rang, so I naturally picked up.


“Hello,” I answered.


“Keith?” asked the voice.


“Yep, you got him.”


“Oh good it is you. It’s so good to hear your voice.”


“I missed you too, Carrie. So how are things going?”


“Great. Guess what. I have news for you.”


“Well it must be important if you called me long distance. You are still out of town right?”


“No, I’m not back yet, otherwise I’d be at your house by now.”


“So what is it already?”


“OK, here goes it. I’m not getting married anymore.”


God had given me a second chance. All I had to do was wait for her return, which I knew, would be soon. Then, as I quickly as it was given, the chance was taken away.


“Why aren’t you getting married anymore?”


“Because I’m gonna have a baby! I just found out.”


All right. Things certainly have gotten a lot more complicated. I knew that if I really had to, I could compete with another guy. But this was something I don’t know if I could ever be ready for. I knew that if we were ever to be together, it would be three, not just two. Once again, I was at a loss.


“Oh my God. Congratulations. That’s so great,” I told her.


“Thank you so much. I’ve never needed you so much as I do right now.”


“Why?”


“Because I’m kinda scared, but I’m never scared when I’m with you. Not even Mark could give me that.”


“That explains why he doesn’t like me then.”


“I told him that if anybody was gonna be an important part of my life that he would have to accept that you were gonna be an important part too.”


“Well thanks so much.”


“Ah, you’re welcome, hun. But I gotta go, I have a few more calls to make. But I’ll see you soon, I’ll be back in a couple of weeks.”


“OK, I’ll see you soon. Bye.”


I hung up the phone and I walked around a bit. I had to process what I just heard. Not only did this make things a bit more serious, but it also made me realize that we weren’t gonna stay kids forever. We were growing up. Some of us were growing faster than others, but still. I told my mom, and she was happy. She was even happier once I convinced her it wasn’t mine.


I was with Carrie throughout the whole thing. I watched her 25-inch waist swell to a 36 and then magically shrink back down when she gave birth to the most beautiful baby girl anyone had ever seen. They named her Rachel. My father was relieved when he saw that she didn’t look anything like me. A few months later, things took a turn for the worse. I walked in Carrie’s door and I heard this sobbing. I turned to see her on the couch. I approached her and sat down. I wrapped my arms around her and asked her what was wrong.


“Oh Keith, it’s just awful.” She spoke through the tears.


“What happened?”


“Mark and I broke up.”


“Why?”


“He told me he couldn’t handle this anymore, ‘being a father.’ I told him that if he can’t deal with it and be a father to Rachel, then he should just leave, because I don’t want her to have a half-assed father. So now he’s gone.”


“That bastard.”


“I don’t know what I’m gonna do, but my parents are supporting me now and I’m lucky for that.”


Somehow I knew this was going to happen. She was all of 20 and now in a short year she has to deal with the harsh reality of being a single mom. I didn’t know what I could do, if anything to help her. I put all the blame on myself. If I had just said one thing, then maybe it wouldn’t be like this. When I told my parents what had happened, all my father could tell me was “Son, just be her friend, because that’s what she needs you to be right now.” But being just her friend got her in this mess, because I should’ve been something more.


Two years have gone by. I started school and was doing well. I had gone away for school though, so I didn’t get to see Carrie as much as I would have liked. Carrie was doing everything she could to get on her own two feet, and Rachel was growing like a weed. Things were finally coming together in some sort of normalcy. But wouldn’t you know it, life wants to throw more curve balls. So here we go again…


I had come home for a weekend visit. Of course stopping by Carrie’s was on the agenda so when I called her to see what she was doing I have to hear the old ‘we need to talk’ routine. And like usual, I’m clueless as to what is going to happen next.


“So what’s up now that we need to talk about it?” I inquired.


“I’m not sure how to say this,” she admitted.


“Oh just spit it out. You know you can tell me anything. We’ve only been best friends, what some five years now.”


“OK then. Keith, I’ve met someone. His name is Darryl. He wants me to marry him.”


My eyes are rolling back in disbelief. I’m thinking this is going to work out just like the other one did, so I really didn’t pay much mind to it. So even though I think she’s making another mistake, I shrug a little and almost emotionlessly I tell her congratulations.


“So what do your parents think?”


“They’re pissed. Darryl’s in the Navy so they think it’s a bad idea.”


Oh great, a God-damn squid.


“Well maybe they’re right,” I responded. “How long have you two been going out?”


“A little over a month.”


Oh sweet Jesus. A month. I give you five years and he only needs a month. I’m really not liking this at all.


“Well, you guys aren’t gonna get married for a while so maybe he’ll grow on them.”


“I hope a week is long enough.”


“Huh?”


“We’re getting married in a week.”


Oh my God! This is starting to get out of hand.
“Why so quickly?” I asked.


“Because he gets restationed in a few weeks.”


“Meaning what?”


“I’m moving.”


“What do you mean, moving?”


“I have to move out west to California.”


“When?”


“The first weekend of June.”


I started to feel tense all over now. It’s getting difficult to breathe. The two of us had been through some hairy stuff together. But now she was leaving, and there was nothing I could do about it. She asked me to be there at the wedding. I knew I didn’t want to go, but I also knew she needed me there. I loved her enough to let her go. I always told her that if she was happy, then I was happy. However, her happiness would often come at the expense of mine. The ceremony was lovely, very small though. I was one of only six or seven guests. Not even her parents were there. She looked beautiful in her dress. She wore white. I couldn’t really complain.


I rode out the rest of the semester and was back home for the summer. I was happy that school was over, but knew what was soon to come. Her last weekend here we spent packing. We started Saturday morning and were hoping to be done by the afternoon. The mood was very somber. I had to do what I could to lighten things up. It wasn’t easy though. It was hard on me, packing clothes, pictures, memories, feelings all in boxes and sealing them. It was even harder on Carrie though. She was leaving everything behind, not just me. It was getting late in the day, and we wanted to have it all ready so they could head out early Sunday morning. We were all starting to get hungry, so Carrie and Darryl decided to go get some dinner for us while we kept packing. While they were gone, Carrie’s mother pulled me aside to have a few words.


“Keith, I just wanted to tell you something. I wanted to tell you thank you,” said Carrie’s mom.


“Thank you for what?” I asked her.


“Thank you so much for being her friend. You are so good to her. Her happiest times were always when she was with you. I can’t thank you enough for that. You are the best friend anyone could ask for.”


I was speechless. I didn’t now how to react. All I could say was, “You’re welcome.”


“I’ll be honest with you, there are times I wish that it was you that she married. I would look at the men she had brought over and think that none of them could hold a candle to you.”


“Well, you’re not the only one.”


“What do you mean?”


“Oh, nothing. Well, I’m gonna get back to work. I’ll see you inside in a little while.”


I went back to packing, thinking about what Carrie’s mom had just told me. I thought long and hard about the chances I had missed. My eye began to well. I wiped it vigorously and picked up another box. Soon they were back with the food.
We packed into the evening hours. We called it quits around ten and then I went home. The next morning I headed back over to finish up. The last of the boxes were packed away in the truck and it was time for our good-byes. My face went numb as everybody began to hug and begin to cry. I hoped if my face had no feeling, then it couldn’t express any either. She came over to me, hugged me and kissed me on the cheek. Then we had our final words.


“So this is it huh?” I asked.


“Yeah, I guess so,” she replied.


“I never thought the day would come.”


“Neither did I, but here we are I guess.”


“You know I don’t need to tell you that I love you, right?”


“I’ve known for a long time. I love you too.”


“I will always be with you. Never forget that.”


“I won’t. You truly are my best friend. I knew you would be from the day I met you. You were that dorky looking kid with all those books.”


“So kind of you to remember.”


I was ready to cry, but I couldn’t. I knew if I did, she would start and wouldn’t stop until they reached the Pacific. I had to be strong for her, for the both of us.


“Well, Carrie, I guess there’s not much more to say is there?”


“Keith, I miss you already. I’ll call you from the road. Darryl, we better head out. Rachel, wave bye-bye.”


I, with her parents, watched Carrie pull out of the driveway. I suddenly felt cold. It had actually happened. She was gone. I couldn’t take it anymore. I told her folks good-bye and went home. I told my mother she had left and went into my room. I cried, for the first time in almost six years. That day I learned something.

Unconditional love. I learned what it really means. It means that the only thing you need from that person is knowing that they are there for you, and they feel the same.


As I look back on it all, I’ll admit there were a lot of things I could’ve done differently. I would’ve stepped up and made the move. So now I’m left with some regrets. But that’s what love can do. It will leave you defenseless and in pain. I still talk to Carrie every now and then, and not a day goes by that I don’t think about her. She still remembers me and wishes I were with her to see every day. If life has taught me anything, it’s taught me this: If there’s ever a moment where you think you’ve found love, don’t ever pass it up. Or else, you’re always gonna wonder. I missed my chance, and I know I will never love another the way I love her.