Angela Newland was my first love. In that obscure corner of the brain devoted to such things, she looks the same as she did once upon a time: wispy blonde hair, blue eyes, slightly pointy chin, warm and confident smile. In that same corner, where alternative realities play and play out, she and I were childhood sweethearts who grew up together in the Mayberry-esque town of Morris, Illinois, where we eventually and predictably got married. Both sides of our family knew it was going to happen, and cheered us on, seeing in us the true love that signaled true success and happiness in life. In that version, I wound up as a happy guy in a factory and she worked retail. Our two children, one boy and one girl, happily looked more like her, and our cats looked more like me. Except for that one poster on the wall in that corner of my brain, it was ideal. More on that later.
Reality, of course, is like the brick through the window of dreams, so of course that scenario never played out. We met in kindergarten and it was love, or at least something pretty similar, at first sight. When it was time to play, all of the other kids would gather in small groups and put blocks on other blocks or play cowboys and indians with little plastic figures, blissfully unaware of the genocidal history that preceded our generations. In the middle of all of that bustling, giggling activity, Angela and I would hold hands and make our way through a path in the throng of five-year-olds, pretending we were walking down the aisle on our way to get married. We even said “I do” to each other, even though the “do you take this…?” inquiry from the appointed priest was missing.
What I remember most is that we were very kind to each other, even though we had extremely limited vocabulary and no ability to Snapchat the experience. I was horribly shy but her smile when she saw me would alleviate anxiety and worry and I was just happy. Is this what life is supposed to be about, I remember wondering. Sounded good to me, I concluded.
We split off into different streams rarely saw each other once we got to Center High School (which is now torn down, replaced with, I think, nothing) and its gathering of children from second to fifth grade. I had another girlfriend briefly in first grade: Sandy, who was the opposite of Angela altogether, being from one of the few African American families in Morris. However, I experienced my first feeling of wistfulness, wondering where Angela had gone and what she might be up to. I didn’t see her really again until the fourth grade.
I’ve never really been that great at keeping up with the nuances of love and how it changes over time. It was certainly the case in fourth grade.
After recess one day, I was climbing the marble stairs up to my home room on the third floor, when I looked up and there she was: Angela, in the flesh. She looked like a vision of loveliness as she descended the stairs, holding onto the rail as I held onto mine. I thought, “OK, gotta be cool, gotta be casual… but it’s Angela.” I looked up at her with the same eyes I gave her all those years ago in kindergarten.
Angela made eye contact with me. Unlike me, she had kept up with societal norms insofar as female-male relationships went. She looked at me, sneered, rolled her eyes and continued on.
In retrospect, she was doing exactly what girls did to boys at that age (and vice versa). Nobody was really nice to each other. To boys, girls were icky; to girls, boys were gross.
I remember feeling somewhat gutted immediately after our visual exchange, so much so that the experience nailed itself up to the wall in the corner of my brain, like the posters I was collecting at the time, devoted to the “what if” scenario of Angela and my holy union. It was my first heartbreak.
Over the years, I would occasionally drop in on Morris and see if I could catch up with her. I was never successful. In later years, I would search for her online, using all the cutting edge tools, like AskJeeves or Alta Vista. Eventually, I friended a childhood chum on Facebook and, of course, asked if she knew what happened to Angela. Angela got married (I think) and moved to Florida (I think) and had a tribe of kids (I think). So I gave up the search at long last, 40 years after our first walk down the aisle. However, I still used her name in two of my plays (“The Tearful Assassin” and its sequel, “Killing Angela”).
Like a first kiss, one does not forget one’s first love. And wherever she is, I hope she’s happy.