Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bottom of the Second, Part I: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?

My 24-year-old niece is agonizing through the throes of her first heartbreak, and I don't know what to say to her. It's certainly not that I can't identify; I've typically suffered through profound despair when long-term relationships have ended. And at the risk of sounding too old or pedestrian by paraphrasing Rod Stewart, the first cut truly is the deepest, one that never entirely goes away. But what kind of comfort for my niece would sharing that be? Perhaps it's better to say nothing and let this painful rite of passage push her brusquely and irrevocably into adulthood. Once we experience the level of grief that accompanies first-love loss, we're never fully innocent again, are we?

Me at the tender age of 17
At 20, I was a bit younger when I kicked and screamed through my first excruciating broken heart. Three years earlier, in 1983, Sam and I had met at the lunch trucks at Temple University at the end of my first freshman semester. Actually, my four friends and I all immediately developed a big crush on him: confident, overtly sexual, and witty, Sam was a deadly flirt who looked you straight in the eye and touched your shoulder at just the right time to make your heart (and crotch) flutter.

SEPTA's Market-Frankford El
The six of us were from quasi-suburban Northeast Philadelphia, and the commute to Temple, in the wilds of North Philly, was difficult, especially since we all still lived at home. Some of us drove or occasionally had access to a car -- otherwise, we were relegated to the traumatic 90-minute ride via public transit (South Eastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority -- or SCHLEPTA, as we called it): first the 14 bus along Roosevelt Boulevard, then the El through Frankford, then the subway to Columbia Avenue (since renamed Cecil B. Moore Ave. for the African-American activist in Philly's 1960s race riots). Pretty serious stuff for sheltered, dorky Jewish white kids from quiet neighborhoods with above-ground pools and semi-detached houses.

So it was no surprise when my friends and I ended up squished into Sam's Malibu one day after classes when he so gallantly offered to take the five of us home. For him (for any 20-year-old guy, I'd think), driving a carful of passably cute, giggling freshman girls back to relative safety was a prospect too juicy and full of promise to pass up. I was the only girl who wasn't a virgin, so I was pretty good about riding gunshot and finagling to be the last one dropped off (a point of contention the whole way back).

After a quick hello to my mother (who adored Sam: Jewish, check; smart, check; handsome, check), we were off to the plywood-paneled basement, frantically kissing and dry-humping almost before we were down the steps. I knew fucking was out of the question in my house right then (my mom was seriously out of her mind when it came to sex), but as I walked Sam out to his car a little while later -- disheveled, flushed, horny -- I wondered aloud whether we would see each other again. "Are you kidding?" he laughed. "How could I turn down an animalistic blond?" I loved being called that! And as we hugged and kissed goodbye, I think I was already in love.

Coming up in Part II: More sexy stuff, a relationship develops, my over-the-top insecurities.