Chapter 61: “My First Girlfriend”
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My path was set. I was ready to make films professionally and my tools to do so were falling into place. The money from the Sunshine Foundation finally came through (a cool grand) and I used it in tandem with my credit card to fund my very own laptop.
I stuck with Dell and decked it out with state-of-the-art processing power and the best graphics card and storage money can buy (in 2005). All in all, the impressive laptop cost me around twenty-five hundred dollars.
Yet, I still felt like I was missing something even as my desired career was well underway. I had spent the past two years being comforted with the fact that I remained in the vicinity of my family and friends, but I had spent the past twenty years without a single relationship.
Sure, I’d had some little childhood flings as many kids are wont to do, such as my girlfriend, Jenn, in second grade or my other girlfriend, Danielle – of one day – also in second grade, but I never had a true relationship.
As a kid who was overweight and constantly picked on, it was easy for me to be jealous of others who had traded girlfriends like they were playing cards all the while I just played with actual playing cards. I never got to experience that side of life.
So, when I came close to death, I remember clearly thinking (as I mentioned in Chapter 32) that I didn’t want to die without experiencing a relationship or even sex. I thought of all of those children on the ‘Wall of Sadness’ that were never going to live those moments of their own or even feel the powerful yet life-changing heartache that resulted from them.
I knew that these moments would come eventually, but I didn’t know when, so I instead tried to ignore them and live my life. At least I had one recent constant in life that brought me great joy and that was the Ronald McDonald Bar Harbor Retreats.
It was our second year in a row and as a result, we felt more comfortable in that environment– more like ourselves. It’s not to say that we didn’t still hide away in our room from time to time. I remember one afternoon while waiting for a group event, Travis, Mom, and I watched the entirety of the 2004 film, Catwoman, on my laptop. Yes, that awful Halle Berry vehicle. So, needless to say, we still had to work on our social skills.
Regardless of this atrocious admittance, we attended many more events than last year, meeting new families, and reconnecting with other returning ones. Still, we surprised a lot of others who didn’t recognize us from the year before and so, it was a chance for us to press the reset button for our presence within the survivors’ community.
We met tons of people this time around but there was this one person who stood out amongst the crowd. A fellow cancer survivor and her aunt brought her friend to the retreat. I saw this friend (who shall be known as Tonya) at the first communal dinner and our eyes found one another. There was this electricity that was palpable and instantly I felt something familiar yet new.
I had always been on the prowl for my first true girlfriend – and I know how weird that sounds – but I had a long sordid history of liking girls just because they were nice to me or were “cute.” I had no precedence for such a relationship and it showed.
So while this feeling was familiar, it was different because it was finally reciprocated. Tonya felt the same way.
I couldn’t believe it.
My usual instincts kicked in and I panicked. I couldn’t go talk to her?! Then, a sudden surge of courage came over me and I found myself walking directly to Tonya. I could see it in her eyes; she was as scared as me. I introduced myself, and she, her and her friend. We talked for a few minutes and then I went back to eat. We continuously glanced at each other from across the dining hall during the entire meal.
The whole weekend I had hoped to run into her again. She was on my mind constantly (yes, even during Catwoman) but I didn’t see her again. As Sunday morning rolled along, we went on our annual Harbor Cruise around the island. It was then, that I finally saw Tonya. I tried not to make it obvious that I was checking her out, but when I did, she was checking me out. I wasn’t used to this kind of attention. It was exhilarating.
The final event for the weekend was a lobster bake lunch (though, I always had the steak because lobster and all seafood is utterly disgusting). As we got in line for the food, I invited the girl of my affection and her friend to sit with us. I couldn’t believe my newfound courage.
We chatted some more and the sparks continued to fly. Tonya asked if I had wanted some mussels and I figured “What the Hell?” and tried not one, not two, but three. Yuck! Seafood is nasty! Why do I do these things?! Oh, yeah. Right. The female persuasion. Oh well, it was good that I tried something new. She even goaded me into giving lobster another whack.
Nope. Sorry, it’s not good. It’s fishy and spongy.
We eventually parted ways and exchanged phone numbers. I couldn’t help but text her on the way home. Tonya and I spent the whole day texting and then later, we talked for almost an hour on the phone.
We talked for so long that I almost ran out of minutes. We were going to have to figure out a more economical way to talk to one another because, on that night, we decided to go the long distance route and make it official. She lived in Greenbush (a town close to Old Town) and I was in Fort Kent. It was a daunting distance, but we were both excited to get into our first relationship.
Yes, it was her first relationship too. Unfortunately, our first day as a couple (the day we met) was on September the 11th.
I began to use my hard-earned MBNA money to buy hundreds of dollars worth of phone cards. We would spend HOURS talking on the phone (how do teenagers do this?!) I’d go through numerous phone cards so that we could talk at length about nothing.
But I loved every minute of it.
Over the next few months, I would take several weekend trips and go down to visit Tonya, one of which was her birthday exactly a month later on October 11th. At first, it was great because I was able to stay with my old roommate, Tony’s place in Bangor. I had been down to visit Tony during my monthly checkups so this wasn’t a new concept, only now I had another reason to go down to the Bangor area.
Not too long after Tonya and I began dating, however, Tony moved to Portland and I humbly asked her parents if I could stay at their place. Their only stipulation was that I slept on the couch. No problem there.
I remember a few family bonding moments at their place such as watching the films Backdraft and Million Dollar Baby for the first time, getting obsessed with the very first season of Dancing With the Stars, and opening presents surrounded by her wonderful grandparents and their two cats and dog.
For Thanksgiving, I drove down to pick her up and bring her back to visit my family for the first time. She didn’t drive long distances and thus, this was the only way she would be able to visit. I didn’t mind, I loved driving to Bangor by now and I even made a few CD mixes to make the trip more entertaining. I made sure to include my newest favorite band. The soundtrack of my life grew with the discovery of Sense Field. I first heard them on the CD sampler that Tony used to get in the mail at the old house. The song sampled was “Memory,” which had a harder edge song than (I soon discovered) they had embodied. But nonetheless, I fell hard for this band and their upbeat jams about love, friendship, and loss.
When I did visit Tonya, I knew her Dad wasn’t the cheeriest of fellows and her Mom was imbued with a strong sense of sarcasm that I simply wasn’t used to, but still, I was becoming more comfortable with her parents over time. The relationship was going great and I didn’t anticipate any issues, but oh, how life goes… Soon, I would experience my first break up.
This is an ongoing story of my personal battle with Cancer. My hope is that it helps others who are currently experiencing their own battles (whether it be for themselves or a loved one) or to help with early detection.
The way I’m doing it is terrifying for a writer. I’m writing a publically available first-draft outline for an eventual book, chapter by chapter in weekly form. The only reason I’m doing it this way is to get the story out as soon as possible for someone out there who needs a survivor to visit them during their own treatment. If you’re reading this and need someone to talk to, tweet at me and I’ll give you a call. No questions asked. This story is for you and I’ll help any way that I can.
Stay tuned, as I will be posting a new chapter every Monday until the story is complete.
And remember if you experience any Anemic symptoms– get checked for Leukemia as well.