I met him on the first day of sixth form. We were sitting next to each other in English class when our teacher asked us to go around the classroom and introduce ourselves and say one thing we believed in. I can’t remember for the life of me what I said, but when it got to him, he introduced himself and said: I believe nothing we do on this Earth is significant.
He had been at the school for years, but this was my first day – I was nervous and unsure of myself, but in that moment, I forgot all of those things. I turned to him, an incredulous look on my face and said, “You’re kidding, right?” He laughed and cited a philosopher I’d never heard of. At that moment, I was sure of two things: one, he was obviously the most pompous arse on the planet, and two, he had the bluest eyes I’d ever seen.
Our relationship was built on bickering: we would fight about politics and the authors we liked and the music we listened to. We would argue about the most innocuous and inane things in the world, and a lot of the time it was exhausting and frustrating but it was also the most fun I had ever had in my life. I would get to class early and dawdle when it was time to leave, just so I could spend more time with him. Sometimes he made me laugh so much my stomach hurt and other times he infuriated me so much that I wanted to burst into tears with frustration. Either way, whenever I was around him, I could have sworn every atom inside me was humming with excitement.
He kissed me for the first time on the stairs outside a party. Because it was high school, I’d already seen him kiss another girl that night. I walked into a room and she was draped over his lap and they were making out like they weren’t in the middle of a room full of people at a fancy dress party. My friends ushered me into another room and called him awful names while I sat on the floor in a flamingo costume (the sexiest of all the birds) and tried not to cry.
Two hours later, he and I were sitting on the stairs at the side of the house and I was pretending it hadn’t bothered me to see him kissing another girl, that it hadn’t made my heart crumple in on itself like crappy origami. He apologised and I told him it was fine, which of course meant it absolutely wasn’t fine. He told me he didn’t know why he had done it and insisted he had feelings for me, but I was struggling to believe him. And then he recited a poem he had written for me. A poem, guys. A poem, that hand on heart, I still remember to this day because what sort of monster forgets the poem that her first love wrote for her? When he leant in and kissed me, the rest of the world fell away.
That night, when my mum came to pick me up I assured her that yes, I had had a fun night, but if she noticed the size of my smile and my inability to look up from my phone as I tried to compose the perfect message to him, she didn’t mention it. That night, he and I stayed up until the early hours of the morning texting each other incessantly, as if there would never be enough time to say all the things we wanted to say to each other.
We fell in love quickly, the way you only can that very first time, before you know just how much it hurts to have a broken heart. Every night, the home phone would ring at exactly nine o’clock and my family would know to leave it for me to answer. At the beginning, he was nervous on the phone so would just read out the flavours of tea that his dad had in his tea collection until I got bored and told him to talk to me like a normal person. I spent years of my life falling asleep with a phone clutched to my ear so that his voice was the last thing I heard just before I drifted off to sleep.
Some of the time, my first love was like a montage from a film filled with him chasing me into the ocean, fooling around in the back seats of cars, picnics in an abandoned house, sliding notes to each other in class, wearing his jumpers around school. Other times it was like a daytime soap opera full of tears and fights and betrayals.
People talk a lot about their first love, like it’s the defining love of their life – and I suppose in some ways it is; it’s impossible not to compare future partners with the first person you loved because they’re the only reference point you have. For some people their first love is the love of their life, and for others they’re the first of a series of loves. Fundamentally, it doesn’t matter who your first love is with, or how long it lasts because you’ll carry it around with you for the rest of your life. And maybe it won’t be perfect – mine certainly wasn’t. But it will be yours.