The first love of my life, my high school crush and my college boyfriend was from my local town. It was the ‘90s and we were one another’s firsts. It started as distracted infatuation and matured into a real thing. It’s fun when you still live at home with your parents and real life hasn’t happened yet.
But growing from college to real life is hard. Fun nights at clubs and days at the beach turns to getting jobs. At least that’s what’s supposed to happen. My boyfriend didn’t have a job. His family was pretty fortunate. He enjoyed skiing and windsurfing and riding around in his Jeep with the top off. Life was good, I’d get to fly down to hang with his family on the beaches of Cali. We’d ride his motorcycle without helmets along the canyons. I blame all my sun damage on those years.
Eventually, he moved to another state to become a pilot. I stayed home. We spent several years on again and off again. It was a challenge to have a long-distance boyfriend in the days of no internet.
My best friend went on a trip to California and saw my boyfriend while she was there. Upon her return, I asked her what I should know about him before we get married and she started to cry. I was all like, “what, did you make out with him?” and she was all like, “no” and I’m like, ha, ha, “what, did you sleep with him?” and she was all like, “yes”. The rest is a dramatic blur that played out like a soap opera. I lost my best friend and my boyfriend in one day.
Cue all Alanis Morissette songs now and make it a montage scene of sorrow. I moped around for months trying to find myself. So I went back home and moved in with my mother.
I moved on and had many life experiences with other boyfriends but somehow that tether with your first love never goes away, does it? It’s romanticized. I eventually became friends with my ex-best friend again. She got engaged to someone else. Not to say I didn’t continually side-eye her forever. But we were buddies.
Then my first love accidentally called and I answered. He was shocked and flummoxed, his mom’s breast cancer came back and he was heart broken, we talked and talked and we met up and we reconciled.
This was it. We were going to start things slow but find a way to heal, move forward and become the couple we really wanted to be. We learned about each other as adults. Grown up clothes, grown up friends and jobs.
He still didn’t have a job, but he had a pilot’s license and DAMN he looked good in his Tom Cruise leather bomber jacket booting around in his topless Jeep. Highway to the Danger Zone! But I had a job now. A real one. Sometimes I even got to wear a construction hat and safety gear and stand in front of a board of old people and tell them what I thought about things.
I wanted to be this grown up, wear heels to work, I mean pumps, practical pumps. I wanted to expand my knowledge further and try and be classier and shit. You know, like REFINE myself. ENTER WINE. Wine! Wine matures, I’ve matured, it’s symbolic.
I’d moved beyond Zima’s and California Coolers. I bought a bunch of Martha Stewart magazines and Wine Weekly and started cutting out a mood board. I studied wines. THIS WAS GOING TO BE MY COMING OUT CLASSY PARTY. I was going to show everyone, including my boyfriend, I had grown, matured, become a highfalutin chick.
The invitation list would be all the people I care about and then all the people I want to impress. It would be the first time my best friend and boyfriend would be in the same room together since…you know. Being shifty in the sheets. But we were adults now. Full on grown ups with jobs…except, of course, my boyfriend. But you know what I mean. We’re mature.
So I rotary dialed my boyfriend to tell him my grand plans. His response? “I’m not that into wine. And besides, it will be uncomfortable… I think it’s best I pass on this one.” I was not mad, I was hurt. My heart dropped to the floor and kept going. His discomfort was more important than my party.
We all want the man we love to support us. But the party goes on. Guests arrived. My heart was heavy but my hands were full of wine and cheese. And then… ENTER TALL MAN. He was an off the cuff invite when he came to tour my facilities at work.
He was nervous, beaming. He was this blue collar boy from the wrong side of the tracks he came bearing a gift. A beautiful glass candle holder. All night he was in my peripheral. He wanted to learn about wine, meet my friends, engage, he made me laugh, he was ego-less, kind, humble and zero awareness of how charismatic he was. And he had a job.
The night went on and everyone was intoxicated with the ambience and the wine and one by one they all left until it was just him and me. We talked for hours. Ok, so that’s not true but is this a G-rated or R-rated show? We made out all over the apartment until l eventually pushed him out the door. He called when he got home. He called the next morning. We went for breakfast, hung for lunch, found a place for dinner. We were inseparable. We stayed at my father’s farmhouse that weekend and got snowed in with only potatoes to eat and a VHS tape of Yanni to watch. We fell in love.
I sat in my office with my new man across from me, and together we dialed the phone to call my boyfriend. That sounds weird, right? I told him I met someone else at my wine tasting and fell in love. He was quiet for a long time and said, “If I asked you to marry me now, would you say yes?” A million emotions overtook my body. My first love was sort of, kind of asking me to marry him. The years flashed before my eyes. I loved that man, I’d never stop loving him, he needs a job, but damn, he was my first…everything.
I looked across at my new love and thought, I can bolt. I’m making a mistake, too fast, this is ridiculous, who do I think I am. But the word that came out was: “NO.” There was a long pause. And then, he said: “this will be my cross to bear for the rest of my life.” It hung there. I knew he meant it. I hung up and seven weeks later I was engaged.
Montage of life with my new man… he has a name, Scott. We married and something enigmatic happened when we were together: we elevated ourselves, we strived to be good at everything. We found good jobs, we moved to New York City and for a decade and a half we moved on up in our careers, we started at the first floor of our apartment, to the ninth floor and by the end we lived on the top floor.
We were living the metropolitan dream. The high life of fashion, restaurants, and red carpet events. I embraced it. Fancy restaurants and I fancied myself a knowledgeable wino. We’d go to Michelin star restaurants and pow-wowed with the Sommeliers in Nappa Valley. I took online courses, I read all the books, attended all the events. I wrote for design magazines and boutique hotels, I’d review their restaurants and touch on their wines.
Scott became Vice President of a global company. I continued to host some of the best upper crust wine tasting parties every year. They topped each other. One year we dressed like ’50s Mad Men characters, hired a wine specialist and had my party ride in vans to a wine cellar and be taught by one of the best in the biz, when we returned to my home we started a blind wine tasting while a Frank Sinatra impersonator crooned by my two story high Christmas tree. There was an ice sculpture with vodka and caviar in it and specialty gifts of candle holders when people left.
A decade went by in a flash. I was counting the years based on the bonuses we were getting. We transformed into people the old me wouldn’t recognize, we went on a private plane to the tropics where friends had homes, we travelled the world, I had all things electronic now — to computerized lights at home that had a 2,000 color spectrum. I was fully automated with a team to go with it. I had an orchid person, a trainer, a cleaner, a naturopath, a chiropractor, a therapist, a hypnotist, a food coach, at one point I had a pet psychic. Jesus, Helene. WHO ARE YOU?
Then the call. My mother’s breast cancer came back. She was dying. On the night of the 2016 election I flew back to my home town in Canada on a one way ticket to take care of her. The day of my mother’s funeral, Scott was pushed out of his executive position to make way for the CEO’s son. Fired. Our world collapsed in twenty-four hours.
We sat at that funeral flailing. Humbled. In pain. I saw all my old friends who I’d lost touch with after moving, they made the effort to come. In that moment, I felt like I had let my mum down. Would she still like me? Did I like myself? My neighbor slipped next to me and whispered, “You know your ex works at a wine store now, right? Since you left.” I quietly reeled at this. Wasn’t he trying to be a pilot? Didn’t he poo-poo jobs? How did he even get a job at a wine store? WAS THIS HIS CROSS TO BEAR?
Scott and I moved back home. I gave away all my high tech shit to my cleaner. I scrubbed myself clean of all my fancy clothes, said goodbye to my fancy friends and we left New York jobless, back to my hometown.
I bought a little house that looks like the house I grew up in, same yellow door. I even put the door knocker up from my childhood home. Scott and I clean our own house, make our own dinners (sometimes), we bought a tiny electric car, we stopped drinking wine, we stopped drinking completely.
We cocooned. Re-evaluated. We wear fleece and sweats as an ensemble. We sit in our backyard and watch hummingbirds and bumble bees and listen to non-traffic. We celebrated our 20th anniversary. I became a writer of what I want to write. Not design, or hotels or fancy wine. I write stories for film and tv and stage. Poetry for posterity. I just write.
One day I went to buy wine for a friend at a lovely liquor store with a great selection of local wines. An alarming choice for a store so far away from wine country. I was impressed. If it was back in the day of my wine parties, I’d probably talk to the Manager about setting us up because whoever they are sure knew their stuff. As it turns out, it was my ex’s store.
You want the great ending. Where I bump into him at the wine store and it’s awkward and electric and we have a conversation and he tells me how he regrets not going to that wine tasting and how since then he’s spent his time learning about wine and tending to a wine store as his cross to bear.
It hasn’t happened. Not to say on a really great hair day after a fight with my spouse I didn’t go into the store and buy some liquor, hands sweating, heart rate skyrocketed. But he wasn’t there. Because he shouldn’t be there to satisfy my need to feel better about the life choices I made.
And Scott? After that incident, he’s gone in to buy a few things here and there…usually after a heavy workout at the gym. I’m sure my ex is living his best life tasting a whole variety of wines…but really I hope maybe he’s found one perfect vintage reserve (with great body). And maybe this story isn’t over.
Regrets are weird. We ponder them, sometimes we look straight down at them, hold them up to the light, give them a tilt and swirl them around looking for flaws, hoping for perfection. Sometimes the aroma of regret is bitter, other times sweet. But ultimately it helps us build a body of moments, that turn into years, and decades until we age enough to see it for what it is. Like aging changes wine, but doesn’t categorically improve it or worsen it. I believe that for life as well.