In the spring and summer of 2004, the removal of my tonsils sent unexpected shockwaves through the world as I knew it.
The night after my surgery, I phoned a group of female friends who'd mentioned coming over to check on me. For long-lost reasons I cannot rouse, I decided not to call the girl I had a crush on. I called the other one.
The first question I got on Monday morning from my crush was a curious "So why did you call her instead of me?" I didn't have a good answer; nor did I need one. A seed had been inadvertently planted. I did not realize it could be that easy. Up until then, it hadn't been.
The next weekend, I went to the other one's house to watch a movie. We sat in her living room, petted her dog, engaged in idle chatter. If a transcript of my end of the conversation existed, I'd pay hundreds of dollars to have it destroyed.
Her parents came home around 10 PM; her dad, quoting an awful television commercial of that era, asked if my big red pickup truck "had a hemi." I laughed awkwardly; they went to bed.
We put on another movie; she snuggled up next to me; the movie ended. On my way out the door, I pulled her close and kissed her. She told me years later that, by that point, she'd given up hope. I was a lost cause, until I wasn't.
Smash cut to: One week later. She's lying with her head in my lap as the DVD menu for Big Fat Liar loops endlessly. She's looking directly into my eyes, practically begging me to kiss her again. My courage is nonexistent.
Smash cut to: Six months later. We're in that same living room; I'm silently breaking down in tears at the end of What Women Want because I know our relationship is falling apart but I'm too terrified to admit it out loud. My courage is nonexistent.
Gradual fade to: Nine years later. I'm sitting on the sofa in my underwear writing a blog post about the past. I am still not courageous, but I am moderately self-aware. This is progress.
Those particular sad times have drifted into nothingness. The mistakes I made were inevitable; my fears were understandable. I have learned what I can from both and tossed them aside, even if they still occasionally haunt me in my weaker moments.
There's a movie called The Way, Way Back that was just released; you should not see it, unless you're overly susceptible to cinematic depictions of young romance. Which I occasionally am.
Your first kiss. The first time you really felt special: that someone out there wanted you, maybe even wanted to understand you. That kinda stuff. It also stars Sam Rockwell, who is just great.
I enjoy remembering those moments; even more so, I enjoy placing 2004 me and 2013 me side-by-side, as if to measure their heights against the wall, and assessing my progress as a functional human being.
My first romance was not my best, nor was it my most memorable. But it'll always be one of the more prominent markers on the map of my life, the catalyst for so many of my choices of today. And as I compare the person I am now to who I was back then, I see that the seed sprouted in more directions than I could've fathomed.
There's hope for us all; you just need a little recovery time.