Friday, October 15, 2010

30 Day Blog Challenge: Day 3

Day 3: Your first love

See the handsome boy in the pink polo? That's Johnny Villano. I'm the cutie in the pink overalls. Welcome to my 8th birthday and my parent's basement; we can discuss the wood panelling later.

Johnny Villano was my first love. He told me he was going to marry me one day, and I believed him. Remember, back in the day, when elementary schools had tchotchkey vendors come to the auditorium and sell things before the holidays so you could buy your parents gifts? Well Johnny bought me a ring at one of those holiday fairs. It said LOVE in capital letters, and in the "o" was a topaz colored rhinestone. It was my promise ring.

Johnny was my best friend. He lived a few houses down from me on East 68th Street and he walked me to and from school. In the second grade, he was the one that told me about Jason on Friday the 13th. I didn't know such horror existed. I was terrified, too afraid to leave our school. He told me he'd walk me to my door. I asked if he would hold my hand, just in case. Well played Mr. Villano, well played. 

My whole life I always wanted a big family, but my mom had trouble conceiving after me. People would ask me if I had any brothers or sisters and I would reply "no, I'm a lonely child" instead of an only child (ouch, right?). When I was six years old my mom conceived my sister and in September just before my seventh birthday, Johnny's mom came and picked me up from school. She told me that my new brother or sister was on its way and that my parents had asked her to watch me until my dad got home from the hospital. 

My mom had never been in the hospital before. Again, I was terrified. Again, Johnny held my hand. After we had our snack and did our homework, he took me to the living room and laid down on the couch with me. Looking back on it now I guess we were spooning, he rubbed my back and stroked my hair and told me everything would be okay. 

The next year my family moved away to Florida. I promised Johnny I'd write. But I was 8 and he was 10 and we lived in different places. Our parents kept in touch with each other and through friends.

When I was in the 6th grade my mom told me that she heard from one of our old neighbors that Johnny was sick. Really sick. He had a brain tumor and was in and out of the hospital. I wrote him a letter and he wrote back and eventually our letters turned into a routine and I begged my mom to let me fly back to New York to visit. 

On a family trip to New Jersey my aunt and uncle brought me down to Johnny's house to see him. He looked nothing like I remembered. We were older then - 10 and 12 - but it wasn't our age that made us so different. He was swollen from the chemo, he had no hair, he was weak and connected to wires. 

My mom had warned me that he might not look the same, that he was really sick. I brushed her comments off, what could he possibly have looked like? Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. I tried not to gasp and I tried not to cry. But he knew by looking at me how bad it was. I think he knew anyway. He promised me it wasn't as bad as it seemed, but each step he took looked painful and he needed help to be able to just sit on his bed. 

We talked, we joked, we tried to catch up. But everything had changed. And so sometimes we just sat in awkward silence. When he asked me what kind of music we listened to in Florida I told him whatever I could remember. And then he handed me his headphones and asked me to listen to a song. Before I put them on he told me that if he could live forever he would take me to all of these places, confused I put the headphones on and he hit play. As the words came through the tiny, sponged speakers he grabbed my hand. 

Aruba, Jamaica ooo I wanna take you Bermuda, Bahama come on pretty mama

In the spring of my seventh grade year I got off the school bus and walked home. My mom was sitting in the kitchen. She had talked to Johnny's mom earlier that day; Johnny had passed away. I screamed at her not to lie to me. Told her jokes like that weren't funny. And when she told me she wasn't kidding, I fell into her arms and cried. 

My first love died at the age of 13, before he had even lived. He was surrounded by his parents and his younger brothers and he was finally at peace. For years I couldn't listen to the song Kokomo, now whenever it comes on the radio (which isn't that often) I think of him and I smile.

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