The other day in the Dr's waiting room I read a magazine article about first loves. This is mine:
It all began with a purple orchid. Or at least the promise one.
His name was Ben. He was tall, blonde, hailed from Germany and smoked so much weed he was barely coherent. He was my first love. I'd seen him around but it wasn't until I'd been roped in by my art buddies to paint a huge mural in my sixth form centre at school, that our paths began to frequently cross. So after school, in the evenings I had begun trek back across town to school and wield my small paint brush. It was a garish collage of various sporting activities - painted originally in the 70s, across an entire wall, and we were updating it - with even more hideous colours. It was spring, the school formals were just around the corner and there was sense of excitement in the stale school air.
Every evening post study (he boarded at my school) he would slouch down to the rec floor (recreation floor) and muster a few sentences through his stoned stupor. I was bewitched. His long dirty blonde fringe swept across his face, hiding one eye. He told me he planned to send a girl a purple orchid as a valentine and proceeded to ask me at length what I thought of such displays of affection. I blushed, unsure who this orchid was meant for and then muttered some inane reply. (This was the staple of our conversations - he would be direct whilst obtuse and I would stumble through the chat avoiding the grenades, barely aware what I was saying). Anyway, this night, we chatted on while the others painted, and just as the bell for boarding bed time rang, he got up announced that he wouldn't be buying ME an orchid after all. Then he was gone. I know, what a twat. But I was hooked.
Every evening I would down tools and wait for his appearance - he would saunter in, all scruffy shirts and thick boots, his silver ring gleaming in the glare of the bright school lights. It was if it pained him to speak. He was monosyllabic, with the most intense stare I have ever had bear down on me. So, I sent him a valentine card, but my promised orchid never came. I felt foolish. He stopped me as I left the local coffee house - The Mad Hatters - and thanked me for the card - I denied all knowledge of it. Annoyed at my refusal to admit being the sender, he strode off - leaving me in the lurch as always.
Then one night - March 15th 1990 - he finally, finally asked me out. It was in the days when if someone asked you on a date - it meant you were 'going out' already. He was constantly gated (kept in school over the weekend) for bad behaviour - so we only got to be together a handful of times. His A levels were looming - he was repeating them and this time could not afford to fail. He was 19 to my 17 and seemed wildly exotic compared to all the dull Belfast boys I had known all my life. We would meet at The Empire - a musty pub with a cinema on the stage. We would sit in the gallery and kiss over cheap pizza and cold beers. I could barely eat, I was so full of butterflies and excitement. We got drunk and foolish and were barred from The Empire for fooling around in the toilets together. It was worth it. Every night he would call - at the beginning of our relationship I would get 70p worth - and by the end, maybe 25p... Calling him was a nightmare - in the days before mobile phones - the line was always engaged and when someone did answer it took them ten minutes to find Ben - and often he wasn't around - getting stoned in the rafters no doubt.
We always knew there was a clock ticking - the end of term meant he would fly back to Berlin and then head off to Manchester University while I remained in Belfast, with A levels to complete. I kept a diary for every day of our last month together - an ode to those tortured days of first love.
As the weather began to warm we would lie in Botanic Gardens opposite school, smoking cigarettes, hands entwined. I was in love. I didn't even know what love meant - but every minute of every day I thought about him. My stomach flipped every morning when he would walk past my assembly room and grunt hello. He came to stay at my house - separate rooms, and breakfast with my step family. He gave me a rose and my first orgasm. We wrote letters when he had to disappear to Sri Lanka (where his Dad lived) for the Easter holidays... I still have those letters.
By June, I was on the pill and debating when, not if, I would have sex with him. I was ready. I was prepared. He wasn't a virgin - I was. I prized my virginity - thought of it as a gift to give, rather than something to be taken. But I always imagined having a daughter and her asking me how I lost my innocence - and I always wanted to tell her - that it would be through love.
His A levels finished, as did our summer exams - a sense of liberation rushed through us all. My Mum went off to visit relatives, so my house was 'free.' I drank cheap wine and worried about whether or not it would hurt. He was famed for being well endowed - just to add to my fears. And yes, those are the things you think about before you get around to having sex at 17.
Now my first time - on June 22nd 1990, wasn't great. Quick, painful and forgettable. He asked me for a number out of ten and I think I gave him a seven - when in fact I thought it was barely worth a 2 and I wasn't sure what all the fuss was about. The following night we had another go. Better, but no great shakes. But by my 4th time I'd got the hang of the whole idea and had begun to enjoy it. He taught me how to have sex, how to love and how to have a relationship - and for that I will always be grateful. My firsts in all these arenas was one of joy - and consideration and being cherished.
That summer I went to Berlin to visit him - my Dad paid for the flight after asking me of I loved this guy. I said yes. I flew to London then on to Berlin and he met me at the airport. His Mother met me in a bar, with with a rose between her teeth - she was not long out of a mental facility - that is the truth. She was vivacious, flirtatious and fun. She asked me what contraception I used and then announced that the first time she had sex she got pregnant and got VD. She said an injection cured both. I was expecting chat about school and hobbies - but with her, you always got the unexpected. She was amazing, open and a slight bit unhinged - telling us to vacate her flat as her lover was coming over and then would complain about sore nipples all evening.
We spun a line to my Mother that I was staying at his Mum's - when in fact we holed up at his Dad's empty apartment. We drank red wine, watched videos (I remember watching Rosemary's Baby in German and still loving it... and also Uncle Buck - what a combination. I read Riders and a book about sexual fantasies called 'My secret garden'). ran long baths, got stoned and made love for ten blissful days. Then I left.
At the airport I could barely see I was crying so much. That fucking Roxette song from Pretty Woman blared out from any radio I passed.... 'It must have been love, but it's over now...' Wearing his old tatty jumper and stubble rash, I said goodbye. Then a kind guy in the boarding lounge offered me a Marlboro red and asked me if I had 'thrown the apartment at him? Or getting divorced?' I couldn't even reply. I spent a lonely night at Gatwick airport, smoking endless cigarettes and pouring all my coins into phones as I sobbed to every friend who would listen.
I returned to grey skies and A levels, boring Belfast and life without Ben. I was lost. I went back to Berlin again, the following year and then to Uni... we hooked up again when I was 21 for one night... We kept in touch with letters and then emails - until he got together with a girl who had been a few years younger than us at school - and had always had a massive crush on him. I wasn't her favourite person. Then the radio silence began. I asked to be his friend on facebook and he ignored my request. It made me momentarily sad - I gave you my virginity and you can't me my facebook buddy?? But really, things are best left where they were. I will never regret loving him, learning from him and all the adventures we had. I was playing at being a grown up in Berlin and it paved the way for all my subsequent romances. The world opened up to me in 1990 and my life, and my heart, were never the same again.
Now I can I look Sproglette in the eye and tell her that I lost my virginity in love. So I kept that promise to myself. For all those memories of a wonderful angst filled first love - I thank you Ben. But I never did get that purple orchid...
If anyone wants to share their first love/losing virginity story, I'd love to hear it.