It was Summer, 1999 and, as the millennium drew its final breath, I set sights on my first love*. Let’s call him Peter. Peter played basketball and the banjo. He was multi-talented in alliterative arenas. He was perfect.
It all happened at a summer camp for nerds (and me :P) in Ireland’s cosmopolitan capital, Dublin. I found myself away from home for three heavily supervised but nonetheless glorious weeks. Exotic delights lay around every corner of the summer-vacant campus. There were coffee machines. There were Goths. There was Peter.
Having spent my teenhood thus far in an all-girls school, I set proper decorum aside and seized my chance to get my foot on the relationship ladder. I sent word to Peter with a messenger. Minutes later, she brought news back…
He would have to think about it.
A thinker. How deep. How romantic. How irritating. Oh well – tomorrow would tell.
And tell it did! It was a ‘yes’.
Our first romantic meeting was…awkward as one would imagine – a lot of mumbling, fumbling and nervous glances. We took a stroll around the sports field, swapping anecdotes and stopping intermittently to ‘shift’ as we quaint Irish called kissing back then, when conversation dried up. Afterwards, we played table tennis (not a colloquial euphemism). Let it be known that I have terrible hand-eye coordination and sporty dates are not my forte.
Despite my dextrous failings, as the days progressed, our bond grew stronger. We ignored our other summer-camp chums in favour of making the most of our tragically small window of romance. ‘Secret Smile’ by Semisonic became our anthem. The third floor common room became our love-den. On the second day, he gave me a card with a poetic inscription inside. It read ‘Dear Sarah, you’re soooo nice and you’re a ride** too’. It was Yeats. It was Byron. It was the most beautiful thing anyone had ever written of me.
For three wondrous days, we basked in the heady excitement of our new, our first relationship. But, as we slow-danced (shuffled awkwardly) at the final disco in the dance-hall/library, we knew our dog days were drawing to a close.
And all too soon, we found ourselves standing at the front gates as my taxi waited to whisk me back to mundanity, back to the endemic chastity of catholic school. Fighting tears, he took off his silver(-coated) chain and put it around my neck. We pledged to call and write frequent letters.
And then it was goodbye. Watching Peter shrink ever smaller from the back window of the taxi, I clung to my love-trinket, the (tacky) chain he had gifted me, and sobbed. Peter, you see, was from Mayo - the other side of the island entirely. We may never set eyes on each other again.
True to his word, Peter called weekly, and so did I. On the house-phone of course - these were before the days of mobile proliferation. And ‘gasp’ before the internet arrived with its time and space devouring abilities. So, we wrote letters. Mine were infused with the scent of my noxious raspberry perfume - his, with the refined, masculine aroma of Lynx Apollo.
I missed Peter with the burning passion of a smitten 15 year old. I taped Secret Smile off the radio and played it on repeat, reliving every magical moment and pining for more.
Three months passed and I was back at school. I was in Transition Year – an optional year where you get to faff about a lot. It was customary that Fourth Years took a trip somewhere in the name of mind-broadening. That year, it was Paris. Five days of educational sightseeing and a novelty trip to Disneyland.
I missed Peter desperately, of course, but Paris was a wonderland. Our whistle-stop tour brought us to all the best bits of the French capital (and some surprisingly rough ones). Montmartre at night can get a little saucy, kids.
In any case, on the final day, we visited Disneyland. All very exciting and magical etc etc. Not being a fan of G-forces, I took the opportunity to phone Peter while my friends queued for the rides. I made the decadent long-distance call from a pink Disney-decorated phone booth as the parade passed by.
He didn’t sound like his usual self. He seemed in a hurry to go, like he didn’t want to speak to me. My money ran out in any case and I was left dejected. What was wrong? I shrugged it off and bought a pencil in the shape of Mickey Mouse’s iconic head to cheer myself up.
On my return home, I was disappointed to find no new pastel-coloured envelopes. It was Peter’s turn to respond. And when it came time for him to call on Tuesday at 7pm…nothing - not a single ring to be heard in the checkered hallway of rejection…
It soon transpired that I had been dumped while in Disneyland. Cast aside by mere inaction. How easy it was to sever connections in those days…
I was crushed. Secret Smile became a dirge, a funereal march, a mocking melody of misery. I opted instead for a new anthem; Radiohead’s Exit Music, and spent perhaps double the length of Peter and I’s penpal relationship mourning the loss of my faraway love*.
Of course, my heart healed over time and the ache of rejection is long gone. All I have left of that first romance now are a pile of faintly stinky letters, and a Pavlovian association between Mickey Mouse and heartbreak.
*Love in this context to be read as an egotistical pleasure response triggered by flattery ** An attractive lady