My first girlfriend was a lot like my first job; not particularly enjoyable and only obtained because of peer pressure and convenience. They also both sort of had a weird bleach smell. It probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise when I admit that she wasn’t a very good benchmark for women. There were rumors about her sleeping with one of the teachers and she definitely had some bad habits. She thrived on drama and had a weird need to occasionally try and arouse my friends. She would also routinely utter nonsense phrases and laugh hysterically or proclaim it to be poetry. Something like “the baby eyes of a sheep are your blanket” would somehow wedge its way in the middle of a conversation and you had to make up your mind on whether to laugh or not.
We had very little in common. I was a slacker with a crummy job and a desperate need to figure out the universe without much guidance. She was an obsessive over-achiever that had been given everything by her parents under the assumption that she would become a textbook case for success. Her house was the kind that required the removal of shoes and the living room was for special occasions only. The carpet and the furniture were both a blinding white and, the few times I was actually allowed in there to watch television, I had to be inspected for dirt. Even the cat wasn’t allowed and he cleaned himself habitually. Sometimes he would try to test the water and move a paw from the wooden floor onto the alabaster carpet. Everyone would gasp and tell him no. This would make him withdraw it but he always went back for one more touch and I think it was only to piss people off. I always thought it was a totally cool move on his part. I gave that cat chips all the time when nobody was around.
Even though I thought she was just great, my family and the majority of my friends didn’t care for her. My parents once found a used tampon wrapped up in the label she had ripped off an ice tea bottle sitting in the corner of a room. My father couldn’t even explain to me why he was so mad so he had to enlist my mother’s help. They both sort of stammered through angry bewilderment until I was sent to my room. It was easily the best team-parenting I have ever been witness to. They were much fonder of the girl that I actually loved. But she was currently dating a fine young gentleman and, as far as I knew, was well out of my league. So I stuck it out with the dud and even took her to the prom, despite previously swearing off ever going to such an event. We left early and I later found out that I had won a television set and mini-fridge in the raffle but that leaving early meant I couldn’t collect. A lot of things like that happened and it always seemed to be about what she wanted. She would often try to convince me to go shopping for new clothes and spend all this time at the mall instead of letting me hang out with my friends making bizarre comedy videos or going on adventures. Of course, a lot of my other friends had girlfriends too. Sometimes we would all get together so each of our girlfriends could sit around and we could watch them not have a good time. It was awful. They legitimately seemed to be making us miserable and we were doing whatever they wanted. They weren’t really our friends and, if there wasn’t some biological trickery involved, we would have never put up with them.
After a while, I just didn’t see the point and I was one of the lucky few who were actually having sex. We had waited a while because she said she was a virgin but, a few girlfriends later, evidence mounted that would substantially weaken her case. It seems like a weird thing to lie about but I’m pretty sure that’s what happened. I find it hard to believe that a virgin would be quite that sexually aggressive or adventurous. Her mood dictated how sex would play out. Some nights would be romantic while others would be an erotic hellscape where I came out bruised and scratched up. Her body was tanned and petite and her tiny hands were quizzically rough. It was almost like she had spent the majority of her teenage years cutting down trees with an axe. I always saw her applying lotion on them to spread around her arms and legs. It was perplexing how soft those legs would become yet the tiny strong hands would remain like the hide of an old baseball glove.
She entered a program where they offered college courses for credit to smug high school students during our senior year. I suddenly stopped seeing her so much and, eventually, she stopped returning my calls so I assumed we had broken up. Weeks later she reappeared and said that she wanted to work things out so we continued dating for the next month. That was the same year nobody remembered my birthday, everyone except her anyway. The gray haze of winter was overtaking fall and, as usual, I didn’t feel very good about celebrating. I relayed that to her but, right at eleven-thirty, she showed up anyway to take me out for lunch.
“Where do you want to go?” she asked.
I had no preference and explained that I didn’t even really feel like going out and wasn’t even hungry so she drove me twenty miles to my least favorite restaurant and made me pay. On the trip back she broke up with me. Apparently, she had been seeing an older guy by the name of Aaron. She liked the way Aaron tied shoe laces around his wrists and they had gone to a concert and few parties together. He had, allegedly, introduced her to his band, cocaine and convinced her to smoke marijuana- something my friends had been trying to get her to do for months.
“We’re in love.” She said.
As she pulled out of my driveway I know I must have looked heartbroken. I walked slowly back into the house with my head down, turned on the television, reclined in my dad’s La-Z-Boy, took a deep breath and laughed for roughly five full minutes. Then I watched a movie and happily finished my leftovers. She’s married now and, I believe, a successful lawyer.
Nobody ever tells you when you’re coupled with a squid until you can first realize it for yourself. I would like to say that she taught me a lot of valuable lessons but I don’t think that’s how it worked at all. There was one lesson but it took me years of sifting through bitterness, skepticism, and losing several wonderful women to get a handle on it. Love, like all vices, can only safely be enjoyed in moderation. It’s dangerous to commit fully to it because, if it doesn’t work out, you may find yourself tortured and alone going down on a sinking ship.
Then again, there is something terribly romantic about that.