This post is about John. John was my first real boyfriend, my first love, my first real heartbreak, my first long distance relationship… generally my first real foray into anything romantic. The story of John and I is long and complicated, but I am going for the Sparknotes version of our relationship. The point here is to get it out in LESS than forty minutes.
I met John through a few friends of mine. And by ‘through’ I clearly mean ‘in a confusing and maybe creepy random connection to’. I had three very good friends of mine that left my hometown to go to the Marine Corps when they graduated high school. Our group, which consisted of these 3 guys and myself with 2 of my girlfriends, were really close. When the boys left, us girls made t-shirts, and necklaces, and mix tapes, and photo albums, and we made it a point to send handwritten letters as often as possible. One of my letters accidentally got left in a footlocker at a Marine base in California, and John and a friend of his came across it. He wrote me a letter and told me that my friend might not have my address anymore, and that maybe we could be pen pals?
Sounds romantic, right? At least a little romantic? No? Well, it was like my life had turned into one of those disgusting Nicholas Sparks books, in one awkwardly childlike note. I was into it. John and I started writing letters, and then gave each other our phone numbers, and after about 3-4 months, I called him my boyfriend. BOYFRIEND. It was the greatest thing ever to me. He was sweet, he thought I was beautiful, he had an accent, (Southern-ish, he was from Missouri), he loved texting me all the time, which is exactly what my self-hating mind needed. Sure, he lived states away from me. Sure, he was in the military, which involves guns and bombs and, at the time, a pretty shitty war. But this guy sent me text messages every morning! He wished he could kiss me! Does life get any better?!
John and I went through 2 deployments, to Afghanistan and Iraq. We went through my Diabetes diagnosis, his ankle injury, our confusion and fear. There were trips to see each other about every 4 months, either myself flying to his base or him coming to see where I lived. John was the only person I enjoyed talking on the phone with. And the sex. Holy cow the sex. I was not a virgin when John and I got together, but I can definitely say that he was the best sex I had up to that point. He cared how I liked it, he got turned on just talking about being with me. And when you wanted him to go hard, he did so with a PTSD-like frenzy. It seemed like all I needed. A handsome man, who was sweet to me, and screwed me like there was no tomorrow. I could die happy..
Over time, I felt the distance between John and I grow. I could feel that he didn’t want to say ‘I love you’ anymore. We fought a lot. The last straw for us was my last trip to California. When I think about it now, I still feel the shame for not realizing what was happening while it happened. It is the perfect example of how naive and stupid I was.
John was stationed at Camp Pendleton, close to the southern Cali coast. Whenever I came out, it was on my dime, so it didn’t happen often. I remember this time John paid for the hotel. Obviously, I was not allowed to stay at the base, so we always went to a Comfort Inn or Ramada and stayed in the bed for most of the trip. Being a long distance relationship, our sex lives consisted largely of inappropriate Skype video chats, texting, and vagina pulverizing sex whenever we were actually in one another’s vicinity. But back to the story. John had surprised me before with this big fancy penthouse hotel room, with 2 levels and a huge tv. Needless to say, I was hoping for the same this trip. Nope. No fancy tv, no stairs in the room. But I didn’t mind. I was with the man of my dreams. My (hopefully) future husband. It didn’t matter.
I remember this trip we had trouble finding things to do. Of course, we spent a lot of time sans clothing, and we were good at that. Over our time together, we had really found a good rhythm when it came to fornication. I don’t think it even crossed my mind that something might be different. But we also took trips to the zoo, and went out to dinner, and walked along the beach at art festivals. But not this time. In fact, I can’t remember us doing anything ‘special’. It was on the second night that the condom broke.
I was not on birth control. I was afraid of the hormones in birth control pills, and they made you gain weight, which I did not need any help with. We wore condoms every time, so I wasn’t worried about it. This time, we only realized that it had broken when John had already finished. I remember him swearing when he looked down, and I froze. I didn’t know what to do. All of a sudden, my whole future flashed before my eyes. Married to a man in the military, traveling wherever he was stationed. Spending quality time with his sisters, whom I had never met. Living in Missouri. Away from my family. I remember how much I wanted to be a wife and mother, but the thought of moving away from my family was a no go. Out. Of. The. Question. I needed my mommy. By this point, I was living with Diabetes, and the fear of not having someone watching my health all the time, reminding me to eat fruit snacks when I got loopy, taking insulin when I ate… It just wasn’t okay.
I’ve never been stupid. I know what you do when your protection breaks. I had to drag myself to the free wifi computer in the lobby to Google where I could go to get the Morning After pill. I wrote the address down, and directions how to get there from the hotel. I remember, John stayed in the room while I searched.
When I got back to the room, John was clearly angry. Not at me, but at the situation. Without realizing what I was doing, I climbed into his lap on the room chair, one of those spinny wheeled chairs. I vividly recall the chair spinning circles, and seeing myself in the big mirror and I clutched John and spun around and around.
The next day, we went to the pharmacy, and I got the pill. John offered to pay for it, but I refused to allow him. I was an adult, and I should be on the pill, and I think a part of me could sense that this trip was not going to go like the others, so I went and paid for the pill while John looked at bagged candy. The rest of the trip is almost a blur. I took the pill, and we must have gone and done something, and I remember my stomach being sick from nerves and sadness and fear of being pregnant. Then John took me to the airport to come home. I cried, and wanted to kiss, and I believe that I had John park in a lot so I could give him and i-love-you-please-love-me-back blow job. My first of many.
When John left me at the airport without saying he would miss me or asking me to stay, I called him. I called him as I waited at the gate, so desperate to talk to him that I couldn’t even wait until I got back to my own state. There was a lot of blubbering, and I finally asked him the question that scared me too much- ‘Are we breaking up?’ Yes, we were. The distance was hard, and he was going to be deployed soon, and why did he have to say I love you all the time?
I want to be absolutely fair about John. In the years since we have been together, things about us have become much clearer to me. John was a wonderful man. When he told me that he thought I was sexy, I knew he meant it. When I flew to Cali or he flew here, he was affectionate, sweet, nice to my family. All the things you hope for. Though I can’t remember who said it first, John told me he loved me, and I believed he meant it. Now, I believe he believed he meant it, but I think that neither of us at the time had any idea what love involved. We didn’t realize what love entails: sincerity, honesty, forgiveness, faithfulness, hope, a plan for a life in the future. At the time, the only thing that mattered to me was that he said ‘I love you too’ whenever we hung up the phone. John and I tried several times to get back together, but I got pretty fed up with long distance. I got fed up with not being alone, while simultaneously feeling more alone than I ever had in my life.
I don’t know that I could have asked for a better man as a first boyfriend, though. In some ways, I think I still look for bits of John in everyone I am with. That relationship taught me a lot of things: that relationships are fun, that people could like me in spite of what I looked like, that love existed, and that I was capable of feeling it. But it also taught me that love isn’t always enough, and that blow jobs were a great way to make people think you were awesome, and also worthless. That in the end, I would always be alone. I don’t regret meeting or falling in love with John. And I don’t blame him for what I felt and how I acted after we split. In all truth, I imagine that any relationship would have made me feel that way, because it was how I had always felt. My self worth had always been tied to what I had and what I did not have. Have? A nice laugh, big lips, and a set of knockers that are hard to beat. Don’t have? Confidence, self esteem, or any semblance of normality.
That relationship was my gateway drug into seeking out physical intimacy as a replacement for actual feelings. Somehow, I understand the steps to making a healthy relationship: conversation, fun, honesty, friendship, sex. I just happened to get the steps in all the wrong order. And I am still working on straightening that order out.