I want to tell you a love story.
I am three. My family is visiting my grandparents’ home on Carlisle in Albuquerque. There are always people there…my favorite Aunt Robbi, and her friends: the man I always call by his first and last name, Roger Coe, because it’s like saying “Roger Wilcoe”, which I don’t understand, but it sounds neat; Donny Thompson, with the crazy wild hair; Bill Larsen, the nice guy; and Joe, my aunt’s best friend, the lady with the man’s name. These are the regulars, the ones I always like to play with when I go to see my grandparents. Grandma and Grandpa are far too old to play with me. My parents have nearly forgotten that children like to play. My sister is too old, and my brother too mean. But these big people, they still understand how to play with kids.
My grandparents always have someone new over. I don’t understand why, but people seem to like coming to their house, even though it smells kind of funny and my grandma’s in a wheel chair, and my grandpa’s too old to hear very well.
Then one day there’s this new guy. We play in the grass. Maybe there is someone else playing with us, but I only have eyes for this new guy. He swings me up into the air. I jump so high with his help, up and up and up. Then he plays airplane. He lies down on the grass and holds my hands while he gently lifts me into the air on his feet. I fly like an airplane. I look down at him and he sees me and we laugh and laugh. He sees me. The others, they all played with us together, and I was just one of the kids. But this guy, he sees me.
The next time we go back, I hope to see him. But he’s not there. I look for him every weekend that we visit my grandparents.
“Where’s that guy?” I ask.
“What guy?” my mom says.
“That guy who played with me,” I tell her. “You know, the one with the sunshine in his eyes. The one who played airplane.”
“What?” she says.
“The guy who plays with me…” I say impatiently.
“You mean Donny?” she asks.
“No, I know who Donny is. I mean that other guy?”
“What’s his name?” she says.
“I don’t know. The one with the sorta brownish hair. And the big nose.”
“You mean Bill Larsen?” she asks.
“NO!” I shout. “I know who he is. I mean the other guy!”
My mom gets frustrated and leaves me to myself. I pester her every time we go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. She doesn’t know who I’m talking about. Neither does my aunt, or my grandma.
When we take the hour and a half drive home on weekends, we leave after dinner. It is sunset, and the sky is dark blue at the mountains. Stars begin to poke out. It is pale above, and pink and orange and golden where the sun goes behind the mesa. I listen to the radio while I lay in the back of the station wagon. My parents want me to fall asleep on the ride home. But I love to hear them talk. I watch the moon race along with us, its reflections wiggling like a zooming lightning snake along the train tracks. I love to listen to the radio play mystery theater and love songs. I always listen for that song. Neil Diamond, my parents say. “You are the sun, I am the moon, you are the words I am the tune, play me.” I want to sing with this song, with this man. How do I know what this means? I am too young to understand, but I know this song like I know my own soul, and I want to sing this with him…him who?
And that man, the one who gave me the airplane ride, stays with me through the years. I ask my parents, my aunt, whoever I meet who knew my grandparents at the time, “Who was that guy?” No one knows who I am talking about.
It could have been anyone. My grandparents’ home had a wide open door with a “welcome” sign that everyone knew about. It was like a safe haven, a refuge for the sad, lonely and the destitute. My grandparents taught me to see strangers as friends. I grew up wanting a home like theirs, filled with people, and with laughter, and true friendship. The love was constant, like the air and the bologna sandwiches that fed the crowds. My grandparents were not rich, but they gave what they had.
As I grew older, I would help make those sandwiches. Then we would listen to Neil Diamond and Judy Collins and the BeeGees on the road back to Mountainair. And I would pretend to be asleep when we got home so my dad would carry me in. I loved being in his arms. It was the only time I could get him to hold me like a baby.
But no one else ever played airplane with me.
Who was this guy, and why was there such a connection with him? He touched a part of my soul that no one else had, or even could. He saw me, not just some kid. And I remember his brown hair, golden on the edges with the sun in it. And his smile like a warm blanket in front of a fire. I didn’t know or understand romantic love. I was three. But this was not an uncle or a brother. And I loved him, and missed him, and wanted to see him again.
But I had a life to live and I had to grow in to a woman before love like that would be all right for me. It would be many years before I sang those words, “You are the sun, I am the moon, you are the words, I am the tune, play me…” with a man, singing the same harmony I found while laying in the back of my parents’ station wagon, looking up at the billions stars of in the New Mexico sky, imagining myself flying like an airplane towards an unknown future.
Am I crazy to believe I had a connection with this man at the age of three? Do you remember your first love? Does it make you happy or sad to think of it? What songs do you associate with that time?
This is the beginning of the story. Stay tuned for the next chapter…