The First Love

His name was Rico Torres, and we were only 14 years old. I remember how I used to get in trouble when my mom would feel my face and it was warm from talking all night on a cordless, house phone. I was talking to him. It felt like we could never talk enough.

We waited for each other, always. After school, whoever got out first would wait for the other before any after school activity. When he looked at me, I felt safe, adored, curious and whole, all at once. I was seduced by his thick, curly, brown hair, the smell of cologne he would use from his older brother’s collection and his smooth olive skin that was barely starting to grow hair. He always had a sparkle in his eye, regardless of the hardships I knew he endured every day as a lower class, southern black male.

He was dating one of my girlfriends when we got close. Rico was known to be a “bad boy”, skipping school and getting into fights. I was a budding pubescent bookworm, who wore baggy pants. Our love grew steadily out of secret glances and conversations that lasted way too long. Eventually, he cut ties with my girlfriend to start a public relationship with me. Of course I lost that friend, but in turn, gained a precious new one. In that moment, he was all the friend I needed.

I used to try to talk him out of fights, then hold his coat when he decided against my better judgment. He was my fearless warrior king, and I his merciful queen. When we walked together, we walked as two parts of a whole person. He was the rambunctious part of me and I like to think I was the calm to his storm. Then one day, fate ripped us apart.

Every other night, I’d meet him out on my front porch after my mother fell asleep. One night, he told me his brother was shot and killed and that he’d be moving away to live with his father in Texas. My world was shattered. We decided to stay together in support of each other, talking on the phone every day after school. I was so concerned whether he was adjusting to his new school with ease. I wanted to know every detail: the names of his new friends, what he had for lunch that day, what he wore.

He never really felt far. Our phone calls were consistent, and there was no social media besides MySpace at the time. It wasn’t until I got a devastating phone call from his sister who still lived in Atlanta with me, that I felt like I had been left behind. She spoke to me over the phone in a shaky voice that morning to tell me how the weight of his brother’s death had led him to take his own life the night before. At first I thought it was a cruel joke, then remembered that she’d never called me personally before. Rico had truly left me.

This tragic blow to my heart, as a young girl, sent me on a spiraling path of destructive relationships for years. For a very long time, I harbored a distorted view on love. Rico’s suicide left me feeling betrayed, broken, and distrusting of other boys. I became rebellious, experimenting with drugs and alcohol, flirtatious and had a genuine lack of concern for my own safety. The counselors at school reached out, wanting to talk through the tragedy with students. I can recall sitting in counseling sessions, knowing deep down that when Rico died, a part of me died too.

In my head, I could picture us being friends forever. Even if we weren’t together as adults, he would listen to me complain about a new boyfriend or I’d give him advice on how to charm a girl he likes. Of course, now I’ll never know those things. Sometimes, I wonder what he’d look like at 26 today. I wonder who he would have grown up to become.  I wonder who I would have become without the deep-cut scar left in my soul from that experience. To this day, I still think of him.

It was the first time I ever allowed myself to feel weightless in someone’s arms, to match someone else’s needs with my own. I never understood the phrase “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” (-Alfred Lord Tennyson) until my own dalliance with love was ended. I couldn’t understand why it was better to have a lost love. Now I know and believe in my heart that a love, lost, is still love itself.