It’s been almost 10 years since it happened. For me, it was my first foray into this world of expressing my feelings of any kind. Being raised in a traditionally Asian household (well, that’s until we became pretty westernized…but more on that some other time), it was unusual to typically express emotions of any kind, such as “I miss you”, “I would like to see you later”, even much less “I love you.” Yes, I had had my “first kiss” while in camp when I was 13 years old, but that didn’t count because it was a dare. Callie, which is, of course, not her real name , was my first girlfriend, my first kiss, and my first love.
Why am I writing about this? Because this was the first time I ever really expressed such sincere feelings to someone else. Because you don’t ever really forget your first love, and I figured some people want to know a bit more about me. Because I rediscovered an old backup of my (god-awful) Xanga from that time-frame, and I thought it would make a good story.
“But, Guang Yi, you were 17/18 years old. How did you know you loved her?”
Trust me, I’ve wondered about this a great deal, and the answer is that at some point between high school Guang Yi and current Guang Yi, my definition of “being in love” with someone has changed drastically, yet it retains a few of the principles from back then. That being said, 17/18 year old Guang Yi definitely felt like he loved her.
I couldn’t honestly tell you about the first time I met Callie. As we were both violinists, we hung out in many of the same orchestral circles; we even had the same violin teacher, which is how we met in the first place (I think). Origin stories aside, here’s what you need to know: she played violin, I lived with my violin teacher, and through a combination of lots of texting, late night AIM conversations, and generally hanging out, we somehow became best friends.
Callie was only a little bit shorter than me, had beautiful long brown hair that went halfway down her back (until she cut it to just above shoulder length before graduation), large brown eyes, and a kind smile. She got to wear jeans all the time, which I was jealous of because I went to private school, had many basset hounds for pets, and extremely loud siblings. We had been best friends for about a year before I realized that I had developed feelings for her. Up to this point, we chatted every day, we hung out several times a week, and she even helped me get many of her friends to help play in the pit for my senior musical.
I guess that’s where this story sort of picks up. It was around March of 2005. She was auditioning for conservatories, I knew that I was going to be enlisting in the Singapore Armed Forces that September. Prospects of a relationship were definitively bleak – I had tried making myself get over her a few months before, but had failed miserably at it, so I had just resigned myself to possibly not saying anything to her about it, and just getting over it after graduation when I was safely back in Singapore and she was at college somewhere.
It got to the point where not seeing her or talking to her daily became weird and I started going crazy (in hindsight, I was a clingy, insecure brat, but that’s the wonderful thing about hindsight, isn’t it?). Our friends were constantly on our cases about whether we were dating or not – apparently, it was pretty obvious to everyone except us that we liked each other. Eventually, I decided that I had too much emotionally invested to simply let her go without saying anything. Carpe diem, right?
I had many chances to just tell her how I felt, and the night that we went to her friend, Kelly’s (also not her real name) production of Evita was one of them. We caught the back end of the show, and we went to a diner afterwards for a cast party of sorts. After it was all over, it was just me and Callie at her house, and since I had made a promise to her to show her some of the basic waltz we were learning at school, I stuck around and I did. You know those “textbook” moments where you lock eyes for extended periods of time and don’t say anything? It happened…but awkward high school Guang Yi walked away from that one.
Same thing happened when I snuck into a recital that she was playing piano for at an elementary school where she worked. I’m going to let 17 year old Guang Yi take over for a bit, so you can get an idea of what happened that day (apologies for the bad writing):
Haha so I cleared my evening’s plans and set out to surprise [Callie] at the [redacted] Elementary School in [redacted]…but a little detail before that.
I set out today to look for flowers. I walk into the florist’s.
Me: How I’m looking for a bouquet.
Florist: Ok…how much are you looking to spend?
I mean come on, because I’m supposed to know how much I WANT to spend on a bouquet of flowers? I’m a guy for God’s sakes! Buying FLOWERS! Help me out here!
So anyways, I get the flowers. Then it comes time to try to catch the train. I try to call the [redacted] cab. Lady picks up the phone. Know how I live on borderline [redacted]? Literally 4 blocks away.
Me: Hi can I get a cab to the LIRR from [my violin teacher’s home]?
Operator: Sorry, sir, we only do pickups in [redacted].
Ok fine. I walk to the corner of 2nd and [redacted] and try to call them again. Same operator FYI.
Me: Hi can I get a cab to the LIRR from 2nd [redacted]?
Operator: Sorry, sir, we don’t do pickups from street corners, and it’s a 45 minute wait for a cab anyways.
SCREW YOU! So I ran….ran the entire way to the train. Then I got to the train station and made it there on time.
I had to sneak in without [Callie] OR her parents noticing I had shown up. I got one of the school janitors to help me look at when they were all looking the other way. I snuck in behind a big fat guy, and after we rounded the corner, I crept in FRONT of the guy so no one would be able to see me from the way we just came in. I’m gonna kill the idiot that put the ONE ENTRANCE into the auditorium…right next to the piano. AND I had to sneak in with flowers ahha.
So I snuck up behind her after the show and her expression was worth the trip 😀 She was….very surprised to say the least. Even more so when she found out I’d been there the whole show haha. Good stuff. We went to Friendly’s after (I have your kneecap! What’re you gonna do now!) Anyways, overall, other than the letter from JHU, I would say the day was worthwhile. I can go to bed now. Good night all.
As you can see, the fates were against me that day – it was the first time I had ever bought a girl flowers in my life (but certainly not the last!), transport was a logistical nightmare…it feels a bit like it’s out of a book, sometimes. At any rate, there was another very long, heavy silence in the car (she dropped me off at home) after that night.
I’m going to skip the bits where we played in the pit for Into the Woods, she went with someone else for their junior prom and the insane jealousy, her family making weird remarks around me, and my friends giving me more crap during rehearsals for the musical and our various hangouts.
“SO, GUANG YI, WHEN DID YOU FINALLY GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER?!”
May 22nd, 2005. It’s one of those days that is almost impossible to forget about. It was a Saturday, and we had had rehearsal for most of the day and everyone had gone home. We had stuck around and just walked around the school before we got bored and went back into the gym, where we had been rehearsing all day. The place was a disaster area because that was the week we were constructing the set and we had started hanging lights. It smelled of paint and sawdust, and everything had been painted in obnoxiously bright colors except for the fake staircases, which sat on the middle of the stage. There were two sets of these steps; they had been placed side by side and we both sat on those steps.
At this point, my pulse was racing, my hands were getting really sweaty, and my lips were beginning to feel really dry. We had yet another one of those long eye-locking, awkward teenage pause moments, but this time I actually did something about it. There we were, on the stage of my school’s musical (if you’re reading this, I’m sorry, Mrs. S!), kissing for the first time and immediately after, after I said some cheesy thing that I cringe to even think about (even now), that was when I first said, “I love you” to someone for the first time, ever.
What happened after was predictable. We had the most wonderful months of being “officially” in a relationship, until graduation came and went for both of us. We decided that we had what it took to make it through the two years of long distance that I would be in the army for. A long, teary goodbye later, I went back home and I enlisted while she went off to college (to my great disappointment for her, she didn’t get into any of the conservatories she won auditions for). In that age before Skype and smartphones, the relationship subsisted on my acquiring phonecards and calling at 3 cents a minute every time I had spare time in camp and our time zones overlapped (12 or 13 hour time difference between Singapore and New York). We eventually broke up on extremely negative terms on or around Valentine’s Day, which sort of ingrained my hate for the holiday until recently. For a long time, I blamed her and hated her for everything, good and bad, until a couple of years ago, I realized that in a relationship, in most cases, everything is shared fairly equally – fallout included. I realized that I was at fault as much as she was, and I eventually found it in myself to forgive myself and to forgive her for being young and stupidly in love.
The thing is, you learn so much from your first real relationship – I was probably terrible (and still may be?) at kissing, I made so many mistakes in my actions, my thoughts, and my words. Despite everything that went wrong, an equal number of things were right. Callie made me a much better person by showing me, even if it was just for a short time, that dating your best friend can be one of the best things that could happen to you.
I haven’t said “I love you” in that way to anyone ever since. A part of me is afraid to say those words again because I know of the pain associated with them; a part of me wonders if I actually know what it’s like to actually be in love with someone. Nonetheless, I still remember what it’s like to think I was in love and to be loved by someone else, and I hope that maybe, one day, I can find that once again.
Saved in my Xanga, one of Callie’s end texts from her Livejournal a few days after we first started dating: and you make me really ridiculously happy and i love you… but you knew that already…
If you’re reading this, thank you for everything I gained and learned from that time. I hope you’re well, and I hope that you’re happy.
Photo: Pit for our musical