First Sight: Contemporary Love Stories

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Chapter 1: Love Always, Sarah and Daniel 1981

I first saw Daniel when I was fifteen across a crowded room at school. I noticed him several times as he walked past me in the hall. He had piercing sapphire blue eyes and thick piles of wavy auburn hair.

He looked like that old movie star Errol Flynn. As a fan of old movies, that alone made me sit up and pay attention. Plus, he was a senior. That was a bonus.

Through friends of friends, I learned he was asking about me. I was interested, but neither of us approached each other.

One warm summer night, my best friend, Kari, picked me up with her boyfriend and some other friends to drive around aimlessly—just like most of our teenage weekend nights. Kari’s boyfriend said he needed to pick up a friend. When we pulled into the parking lot, I couldn’t believe it. It was the guy from school, Daniel.

With too many teens and an overcrowded open-air Jeep, there was no room. So, he asked me to sit on his lap.

It was so unlike me, but I was starry-eyed. He was really cute and even in the dark, those blue eyes made me melt. I didn’t speak, so I just nodded and sat on his lap.

For hours, we cruised around town with no particular destination. We stopped for ice cream, drove through the park and along the river. It was a brilliant moon, with the bright reflection glistening in the water.  

We all laughed and joked about school, music and movies. He was fun, charming and very self-assured and I was smitten.

As the night ended too soon, they pulled into my driveway. We got out and he walked me to my front door. He looked at me, smiled and swept my long blond hair from my face. My whole being tangled from head to toe. I’d experienced that new boyfriend excitement before, but this was different. My dreams were filled with only him.

The next afternoon, Dan called me.

“I had a nice time last night and wondered if you wanted to go out again.”

Pleasantly surprised, but again speechless, I barely blurted out a “yes.”

“Ok, I’ll pick you up in fifteen minutes,” he said.

In that moment, a whirlwind of questions filled my mind. How did he get my number? Where were we going? What was I going to wear? FIFTEEN minutes!

Without no idea of our activity and very little time, I sifted through my closet and found a shorts romper and slipped on a pair of sandals. I quickly put my hair up in two side combs and put on some makeup. Not too much, just a little eyeshadow and some flavored shimmering lip gloss.

He showed up in jeans and a tight Journeyrock concert T-shirt and asked me if I wanted to go to a softball game.

His high school band was playing against another nearby school band. It was a friendly game, very unorganized, but fun.

When he was playing, I watched his every move. It definitely wasn’t an all-star game, but they were joking around and having a good time. And when he wasn’t playing, he came over and sat next to me in the stands.

Later, his team went out for pizza together. I knew some kids, but there were more I didn’t know. Daniel was attentive, introducing me and including me in every conversation. I was captivated.

Our next date was the Fourth of July band concert in the park. I listened with interest, but my focus was singular. I didn’t take my eyes off him.

After the concert, we sat together watching the light flashes of holiday fireworks in the dark sky. I was jolted by the continual booming eruptions, so he put his arm around me. Suddenly, I heard no sound but the fast beat of my own heart.

On the way home, I sat next to him on the bench seat of his father’s Chrysler Córdoba. Looking out the moon roof, I gazed at the moon and stars, which seemed to guide our path, following us with a soothing blue glow.

When we reached my house, he opened my door and touched my shoulder, briefly staring at me in silence. I froze. This was it. He put his other hand on my temple, gently whisked back my hair and kissed me. It was just like in a movie.

I thought my knees would buckle and his hand on my face was the only thing that kept me from landing on the ground like a pool of jelly. I was enamored.

For the next week, we were inseparable. We went to ball games, swimming at the beach and just hung around together. It didn’t matter where we went; we were stuck like glue, and I loved every minute of it. He was sweet and romantic. And he really wanted to be with me every second. It was so different from the fly-by-night boyfriends I had had before. I was in deep.

After yet another of his spontaneous fifteen-minute warning calls, he picked me up and we went walking in the park. It was strange. For the first time, he seemed distant, distracted and a little nervous.

“I have something to tell you,” he said with a serious and sad look. I braced for impact.

“Last year I enlisted in the Navy for six years and I leave next week for boot camp,” he said.

I was destroyed, like a piano landed on top of me. In one night, he grounded our love affair like an emergency landing of a 747.

Just like any normal teenage girl, I took this devastating news with neither humility nor grace. I was crushed. Destroyed. Broken into little pieces. How could he leave? We were in love.

“I didn’t expect to meet you. It just happened. But I don’t want to lose you,” he said. He held my hands, looking at me with those dreamy blue eyes.

I melted into a puddle. I had no choice. I was too much in love to break it off, so I kissed him in silence, and we walked around the lake, holding hands in awkward stillness as my mind raced from one question to another.

When would I see him again? How far away would he go? Would he be able to come home sometimes? How do you have a relationship with a missing person? SIX years!

By the time we walked completely around the lake, I was resolute. We would work it out. I even romanticized it like an old black-and-white movie where the sailor left a sweetheart behind and went overseas to fight in a war. Luckily, there was no war, but I worried the lonely absence would be the same.

Throughout the next week, we lived every day as if it were the last. We spent every possible minute together, further deepening our bond and counting the minutes until his departure.

Finally, that dreaded day came. Before he had to report, he came to my house. We kissed and hugged so tightly as if we were one. Neither of us wanted to let go, so we held on until the last second. When we waved goodbye, we bravely promised to write to each other every day. I was inconsolable.

I lay on my bed crying for days and days. I kept telling myself it was just a temporary hurdle, and I white-knuckle-gripped onto every morsel of hope for the future.

For two months, we wrote a tireless torrential mountain of letters to each other. Every day I ran to the mailbox, holding my breath with anticipation to see if there was another letter. Every time I opened the door, I was elated to find the pastel blue Navy envelope lying in the box. I couldn’t even wait to get in the house, so I ripped it open right there in the street and began reading while robotically walking inside.

Most of the letters were all about what he was doing. He was learning to march, clean the barracks, put together and shoot a gun…blah, blah, blah. Who cares? I wanted to hear how much he missed and loved me, not the seven ways to clean a gun or how he spent hours stenciling his name on all his belongings.

I was both happy and upset after reading each letter. Where was that passionate romantic guy that stepped right out of an old black-and-white movie? But then, at the end of the letter, there was always a little note that drew me right back in. It was something sweet about how he wanted to be with me and marked the days until he would see me next. And then he signed it “Love Always.” And instantly, I was back to the magically magnetic first day we met and our first fabulous kiss. I was all in for the long haul.

We made a lot of plans for the future. For both of us, this was for real and forever. But it was tough. Over the next few months, we barely saw each other. We talked on the phone some and wrote letters often, but it was like an emotional roller coaster with great highs when we saw each other or talked and deep lows when each phone call or visit ended in torturous fights about nothing. We missed each other terribly.

He tried to keep everything as normal as possible, sending gifts on my birthday, holidays and Valentine’s Day. He even managed to get leave for high school dances, so I didn’t have to sit home alone. It was very considerate, but after a year of letters and notes, expensive long-distance phone calls and a few brief visits, “Love Always was just not enough.

I was sixteen years old and spent my entire sophomore year of high school by myself. I wanted an actual boyfriend and a social life, not an absentee love with many days and nights alone waiting for letters or phone calls, while my friends were going out on dates and attending parties and dances.

So, I broke up with him…in a letter. In my defense, I needed a clean break and I wanted a quick out. It was a very difficult decision and I was afraid if I waited until his next leave and saw his face and his eyes, I would lose my nerve. No, it was the only way I could get free right away and stop feeling the loss…stop feeling everything. I had to be done.

For the next five years of his Navy tenure, there was distance. He was tooling around the world in a fast-attack submarine, and I was experiencing life as an upperclassman, dating and enjoying the rest of my high school years.

He wrote every once in a while, and I would write back. First a lot, then intermittently, when I least expected it. A graduation card. A phone call, just to say hi. And a really awkward surprise visit at my doorstep, only twenty minutes before I expected my boyfriend to arrive.

Every contact slightly reignited the embers of love, only to become buried more and more with time.

We both moved on. I went away to college with my boyfriend, writing off Daniel as my wonderful first love. A great time—but really bad timing. Eventually, by the end of college, my boyfriend and I began to make life plans together.

Five years after we broke up, out of nowhere, I received an invitation in the mail to attend a homecoming party for Daniel. His tour of duty was over, and he had come home to live. I was floored.

Every emotion overwhelmed me at once. It surprised me to get the invitation, but what did it mean? Initially, I was angry. I had moved on. I was with someone else. But then, I was nervous and excited. Did he want to get back together? But what about my boyfriend? We had been together for four years and planned to get married. I was uncertain and confused. But mostly, I was curious.

I wondered what would have been if we had stayed together. I wasn’t even sure I still had feelings for him. Maybe deep down? After all, I didn’t stop loving Daniel; I just couldn’t wait for him.

Luckily my boyfriend was working that night, so I went to the party. The expectation was palpable. The entire day, I kept daydreaming about what our first encounter would be like. Would it be like a romance novel, where we would see each other, and it would be like time never passed? Would he take me into his arms and kiss me like we’d never parted?

My imagination swept me in a whirlwind of thrilling sensations. Curiosity. Enthusiasm. Anticipation. Guilt. But I was so high in the sky, my future marriage plans were not in my scope at that point. I was enthralled.

When I arrived at the door, there he was. My heart fluttered and skipped a beat. He looked a little different—shorter hair, but same blue eyes, same smile, just as I’d hoped.

He walked right up to me. “Hi.”

“Hi.” I grinned. “I bet you’re glad to be back.”

“Yes, I am.” He was distracted and pensive. “There’s a full bar and food over there and the band should be starting soon. I hope you have a good time.”

            I was flabbergasted. Of all the scenarios I imagined, that was not one of them. He acted as though he didn’t want to see me. He was blowing me off!

I was deflated. I lied to my boyfriend and went all the way there…for just a “hi” like I was any other guest?

For the rest of the night, I danced and reconnected with old friends from high school. I saw him milling around talking to people, but not me. Not even a word. He ignored me the entire night! Well, that ended that.

I chastised myself for having silly romantic ideas and watching too many old movies. So, I chalked it up to a miss. It didn’t go the way I thought, but I actually had a sense of peace, closure. It just wasn’t meant to be.

Just as the party was breaking up, he came over to me for the first time all night and asked me to drive him home. The silence was deafening for every one of the five minutes it took. As I parked in the driveway, he leaned over, put his hand on my temple, gently brushed away my hair and kissed me on the cheek. All at once, I was back.

No explanation. No words. That was all it took. The kiss that made my legs feel like warm, soft Jell-O turning to liquid.

All the time, issues, fights, everything were gone, and I felt the same way I did the day we met.

Without a thought in my head, I agreed to meet him after work for dinner. But driving home, I was already having doubts.

It was complicated. Five years was a long time at that age. We were different people. Would a brief magnetic high school love affair fit into my life? And did I even really know Daniel? Yes, we dated for a year, but of that we spent about three months of physical time together.

             On the other hand, the undeniable intensity and sheer chemistry were too great to ignore. The energy between Daniel and me compelled me forward. We needed time together to decide if we were even compatible.

           The first date back was like two old friends meeting again. He told me stories of life under the sea on his submarine and I told him about college and my new job. All along, we sat across from each other with our eyes linked.

We had a few more dates to the movies and concerts and had long talks about the future. I was confident it could go somewhere, but paralyzed with the hope of what could be.

After a few weeks, he invited me up to visit his favorite aunt for the weekend. She lived on a lake a few hours away. He said he hadn’t seen her since he came back and wanted me to come with him. I said yes without even thinking, but later wondered if I was being too hasty. Most of the time, a guy you’re dating doesn’t ask you to meet relatives unless he’s moving forward. But I wasn’t certain. This was it, yet.

The three-hour drive was pleasant. We talked about everything under the sun and were getting along very well.

His aunt’s lake house was beautiful. It was a two-story A-frame home sitting atop the lake with an enormous wooden deck and staircase down to the pier. The house was Nantucket cottage style with cornflower blues, whites and sunny yellows all around. The glass wall of windows framed the picturesque purple and orange sunset into the reflection of the lake. It was a striking view.

His aunt and uncle resembled gray-haired, tanned, good-looking versions of active seniors on commercials for cruises. They were very sweet and welcoming.

Hours later we were overwhelmed by the barrage of chaotic cousins who came to water ski, boogie board and swim. The entire house was abuzz with activity and abundant with laughing and loud voices.

I fit in fairly easily into most situations, but this was a little intimidating. They didn’t interrogate me or put me on trial, but I could tell each and every mind was focused on who I was.

           Daniel was marvelous. He was attentive and included me in every game, sport and conversation. He never left my side and made me feel loved and comforted. I was relieved and more confident.

            Early the next morning, before anyone was awake, we sat out on the deck together and saw the sun ascend and dry the dew. It was the perfect romantic setting.  

Cuddled in Daniel’s old cable-knit sweater over my shorts and T-shirt, I was warm and content.

As Daniel went into the house to get some tea, I sighed deeply, breathing in the crisp morning air. It was so tranquil. Then I noticed a folded piece of paper sitting on the table. It was from Daniel.

I wanted to write this down because I didn’t think I could adequately say everything I feel. I know we’re both different people now, but my heart is overflowing with love for you. I never stopped loving you. Even when we were apart, I’d imagine you everywhere I went. What you’d say—where we’d go. I pictured your laugh and smile in every setting. I know this is sudden, but I don’t want to waste another day. I want—no, I need—you in my life now and forever. Love Always, Daniel.

             Nearly in tears from his tender words, I looked up and Daniel was leaning over me and holding a silver-banded diamond ring in his hands.

“Will you?” he beamed and gently took my left hand.

I was surprised and completely overwhelmed. For a few seconds, everything in my world flashed in front of me, playing the movie of my future life. A wedding, kids, Scouts, PTA meetings, beach vacations, retirement. It was as crystal clear as the calm lake water. This would be my life.

“Yes!” I shouted and he put the ring on my finger, picked me up, and twirled me around. Suddenly, I heard a clatter of applause coming from the house.

“We’re so happy for both of you,” his aunt and uncle said as they came onto the deck, smiling and hugging us.

The rest of the weekend was spent receiving congratulations from his cousins. And luckily the well wishes continued when we returned home and I told my parents.

             “Somehow I knew you weren’t done with  Daniel,” my mother said.

             Daniel and I were married ten months later on the exact date that we met six years earlier.

Last year, we celebrated our thirty-fifth wedding anniversary with a renewal of our vows in Mexico on a warm sandy beach at sunset, with some friends and our two adult sons attending.

After all the years together, we saw too many friends fall in and out of love. I always knew we were soulmates and that our young love helped us endure all the perils of decades of day in and day out life.

This work is copyrighted (c) 2022 Suzanne Rudd Hamilton, all rights reserved.

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