Wednesday, February 8, 2012

5 Loves: The Boy Next Door


I was born a lover. Something about me falls easily for other people. I love to love. As a tribute to the holiday of romance (coming up next week!) I am writing about the five great loves of my life--for better or for worse--after all what's romance without the heart break?

My first kiss was gorgeous. I was twelve, a very young age to be kissing, yes, but it was paired with such blissful innocence and excitement I can hardly blame myself. It was sunset, the party was held on the back lawn of the hillside estate. We were celebrating our release from elementary school, in three short months all of us over-grown sixth graders would be initiated into fast times at middle school. Soon there would be more than just our neighborhood grouping of friends bound by desk assignments, school carnivals and mandatory dance programs. We were all moving on.
So this was a farewell, of sorts.
The view was phenomenal, behind us was a cropping of gigantic mountains paved with a golden, dying sun. Stretched out in front of us was the entire valley, like a map of purple and blue roads and homes. Out west was the lake, silver like tinfoil spilling over to the south and to the north the majestic snow-tipped Mount Timpanogos, with its legend of lovers and death. 
Then there was Matthew. He stood close to me with his tall frame, always one of the tallest in our class, his broad shoulders and soccer-toned legs. His hair was the color of the foothills--a wavy warm blond. I didn't know what was going to happen in my life after I graduated from my childhood, but I knew I would always love Matthew.
It started in the second grade when he wore his swampy green Hawaiian shirt on the first day of class. Mrs. Nelson slid his desk next to mine and my ears went hot. He quickly realized my tendency to laugh at everything he said . . . or sang. Sometimes he'd sing "Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near?" and I would  laugh and he would laugh and the world was the best place.
The thing is, Matthew was kind. I came from a ruthless den of teasing. My five brothers teased me night and day about this or that, but when I'd come to school and sit by Matthew he'd tell me sweet things like, "I like your freckles" or "I think you are funny too" and he always, always said to me, "you are a good writer" and that made me feel best of all.
He noticed my talents.
One day my grumpy black dog Chucka climbed up the street and found Matthew's cottony dog on a leash and mated. After Chucka delivered the pups my parents invited Matthew's family down to inspect the offspring. Matthew and I sat on the colonial carpet my mother picked out and let the puppies paw at us. As our parents talked about making arrangements for proper adoptions I read into the entire experience like a gypsy with a magic ball. Surely this meeting of our families with familial arrangements and playful offspring was a sign of things to come. It was that night I was certain I would someday marry Matthew.
When church was held at the old Provo Tabernacle every six months, I knew he'd be there with his family dressed in his white shirt and tan trousers. I would reserve my best dress and curl my hair for that occasion, then, I would purposely (and vaguely) plead with my family to sit exactly opposite his family on the upstairs balcony. This way I could flirt with my eyes at him while the sermons rolled on for two hours. The stained-glass windows in the higher register cast a yellow light on the congregation below and my mother would always lean over to me and say, "Isn't that Matthew cute?"
She was on to us.
My devotion for Matthew lasted throughout a very rough patch in our relationship. Middle school turned out the worst of our lives. It wasn't until our sophomore year we'd reconcile when I asked him to our very first "legal" dance-date. We were sixteen and terribly awkward. Then he started dating the long-legged, troublesome Junior, who was a prize to all the boys and I disappeared in his life.
For years after high school we'd see each other and easily fall back into complimenting one another. I wanted to know what he was thinking about in his life--college, Lds mission and romance? He always asked about my writing, which, sadly I had long forsaken thanks to college and an early-adult onset of confusion.
Then one day in our mid-twenties we found ourselves once again staring at each other across the Tabernacle balcony. And just like old times my mother whispered to me. "Isn't that Matthew cute?"
After church ended with an edifice-echoing "Amen!" he made his way over to me in his tie and tan trousers--time had made him into an smartly dressed man. We talked as we exited the tabernacle into the afternoon light, walking through early summer in downtown Provo on the way to our cars.
"I was thinking I should marry you," he said to me.
"You should," I replied.
A couple weeks later I put myself into my favorite peach dress and tried to fit a smile onto my face. My friend Anna had just been married and I was going to wish her well at a celebratory party up the street. My failed romantic relationships veiled my happiness for Anna and I tried not to think of all the people at the party who were looking at me with absolute pity.  
Here is Anna getting married, and poor Courtney shows up all alone.
Then Anna, who could keenly sense my public display of insecurity gave me her bridal bouquet so I wouldn't have to humiliate myself any further by body wrestling a group of eager girls for the superstition of catching it. Just as my confidence was entirely melted, my loneliness like a crown on my head, Matthew came in through the door. I saw him look around from guest to guest, his eyes smiling and searching for what I hoped was me. My freckled face.
Then he found me.
"Can I walk you home?" he asked as I hugged him gratefully.
I picked up the white bouquet and fluffed my peachy dress, wrapped my arm around his and paraded past the eying guests. He was always my Gilbert Blythe, my champion when I needed him. We walked home in the sunset of June, flowers and fine clothes, the beginning of a rekindled friendship.
There was a trip to the desert, an adventurous snowmobiling excursion, lots of late night discussions and finally the moment where I had to know, was this going to last in marriage like my heart always promised me?
But Matthew wasn't sure of where he was in his own path and explained this to me carefully during a midnight phone call that extended on to morning. It wasn't long after that I met someone who reminded me of all the characteristics I loved about Matthew--including his tall, strong figure--and who was equally kind. In this way I did marry Matthew, or what he represented to me.
But he never left my life. We went to our ten year high school reunion together and spent a Valentines Day  in New York City underneath a dripping, black umbrella navigating Wall Street. It was then he said to me,
"I have feeling that I should tell you to take up writing again."
And I've been writing ever since.
But before all of that there was the first kiss, you see, planted on my ample cheek as the sun said good night on our simple lives.

Tomorrow: The High School Sweetheart