Is there anything more memorable than your first true love? Okay, I’m sure there is, like your wedding day, the birth of a child, college graduation … the list could go on and on. But a first real, true love holds a special position in the memory banks of anyone, especially a romantic who looks upon yesterdays at certain times of his life with great joy for the nostalgia of it all.
My first true love was Tara and I met her during my senior year of high school, a particularly interesting time in my life. I am sure that senior year of high school is an interesting time in anyone’s life, but for me, it will always hold a special place in my collective psyche. Senior year was a time of change and uncertainty. I was certain that I was not going to college after high school, me and school were never the best of friends, and I was unsure what I was going to do after graduation. For most of my senior year the goal was just to finish and get out of there. It’s not that I hated high school, but I always felt that there was somewhere else I needed to be. This was a plague that would haunt me for several years of my early adult life.
I met Tara at the Roy Rogers restaurant we worked in. I had gotten a job at a location further away from my hometown Roy’s because I heard they needed experienced help and there was a chance to make a little more money per hour. I think I went from $4.25 to $4.85 an hour, which was a huge windfall at that time in my life. So, I put in for a transfer to that store where a couple of other friends had gone to work. The commute was a little longer, but I was young and had my own vehicle, so the drive was no big deal to me. I started at the end of the summer just before my senior year of high school would begin.
That same summer, Wilson Phillips roared onto the Billboard charts with their huge hit single, “Hold On.” The song was everywhere and became one that you couldn’t escape. It was on MTV. It was on every other radio station. And it was played all over the shopping malls. Needless to say, the song got stuck in my head and I had to own the album. Even though I was a metal head by preference, I did like other styles of music thanks to my parents. Pop, jazz, country, R&B, I was enamored by it all. If it was good music, it was okay by me. I never did like classifying songs into genres.
Wilson Phillips was a vocal group that consisted of Carnie Wilson, Wendy Wilson, and Chynna Phillips who were the daughters of Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys (Carnie and Wendy) and John and Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas (Chyna Phillips). With that much genetic talent there was no way this group wasn’t going to be anything but spectacular. And thus, on the strength of their huge hit single, I did purchase a copy of the album that summer. I played it a lot and really got into it during the summer, but I did not fall in love with the record until I fell in love with Tara. It was at that point that my romantic side took over and I listened to this album nonstop for the entire fall of 1990.
Working in a fast food restaurant as a teenager allowed a lot of time for goofing off and drama. And for trying to land dates with members of the opposite sex. Such was the way for Tara and I. There was an instant attraction the first time that we met and I’d like to believe that we both knew it. There was a spark in the air and some sort of magic that we were both overcome by. I don’t remember how our first date occurred; I’m not sure if I asked her to go the mall with me (a big thing back in the day), or if she invited me to hang out at her house, I just remember that as my final year of high school began, I found myself spending more and more time with Tara. And most of that time was spent either at work or at her house when we weren’t working.
I shared a level of comfort with Tara that I did not have with many people, especially with girls. Up until that point in my life, my relationships with females consisted of picking the wrong girl, trying to get dates with girls who already had boyfriends, or being flat out rejected for trying to land a girl that was way out of my league. I had tenacity, that’s for sure, but tenacity never got me a girl and it certainly didn’t get me a meaningful relationship. All of that changed in the fall of 1990 when it started getting serious.
I would spend all my non-working, non-school hours at Tara’s house. Her parents liked me a lot. Her brother liked me a lot. And her friends adored me. I was closest with her mom, and with her best friend, April. I can remember spending many an afternoon that fall drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, and just bullshitting about life in general. Her mother was very accepting and approving of me which made me feel wonderful. There was a bond forming there that I hadn’t had with anyone in my entire life. Tara and I grew closer as the fall wore on and I entertained thoughts of us being a serious couple for many years to come.
When I wasn’t hanging at Tara’s, working, or sleeping, I was listening to Wilson Phillips. I had transferred the CD to tape and listened to it in my car all the time. On my way to school. On my way to work. And especially on my way to Tara’s house. “Hold On” was the first song to take hold on me, but I quickly discovered all the other gems that this album contained. Basically, every song was massive and amazing and I fell in love with all of them over time. “Hold On” gave way to “Release Me” which led me to “Impulsive” which was a song that spoke to me on many levels. Of course, it would! I was falling in love with a girl and this song told me all about what that was like. Lines like “Now you’re running away with my heart” and “I don’t want to analyze what I’m doing here” hit me over the head like a rubber mallet. I didn’t want to admit it to myself due to my past track record, but I was falling in love with this girl. I had never felt safer with anyone than I did with her in my arms. There was a sense of belonging, a feeling of security, and plenty of moments of bliss whenever I was around her. She had captured my heart. And even though I wanted to remain impulsive and resist the urge to fall in love (because, honestly, only bad things could happen), I couldn’t help myself. Tara had taken my heart and I was left to wonder what was going to happen now that she had it.
I think my strong feelings scared Tara because she often told me how she was worried about hurting me. She didn’t want to hurt me, but she had her own previous track record as well and it wasn’t a great one. She came with her own baggage and past heartache. And while I didn’t believe that would or should affect me, she felt that it would and that caused her to be extremely cautious with our relationship.
“Ooh You’re Gold” was another Wilson Phillips song that carried a lot of meaning for that fall. While Tara was worried she was going to hurt me, I felt that she was the most wonderful person in the entire universe. Sure, I probably had blinders on when it came to her, but I couldn’t help it. I was fascinated with her. Wilson Phillips said it best for me: “All I really need you to know, is ooh you’re gold.” She was gold to me. And platinum. And every other precious metal placed on Earth. She was amazing. She was everything that I ever wanted in a partner, everything that I wanted in life. I honestly believed that life couldn’t get any better than those late afternoons in her kitchen, slurping coffee, smoking cigarettes, ruminating on life, and waiting for her mom to come home from work. Those really were some of the best days of my life.
And my relationship with Tara affected all my other relationships. I still worked as much as I could, and I kept my grades up to the best of my abilities (I was a B/C student most of my academic career), but I stopped spending time with my other friends. I practically forgot about my guy buddies. And I barely ever saw my mother. She mentioned that to me on the rare occasions that I did see her, but what was I to do? I was twiterpated as the wise old owl told Bambi in the Disney movie. Tara had consumed my life and I was all too happy to drink it in and let it happen. That autumn was a magical one that I hoped would never end.
Sadly, like all things in life, it did come to an end. And as the brisk, bright days of the golden fall made way for the gloomy, gray days of December, our relationship took a turn for the worse. It wasn’t anything that I did. I still believe that to this day. It was just that Tara was scared to get so serious in such a short period of time. Every time I tried to discuss it with her, she changed or avoided the topic. She wasn’t having any of it and I was getting more confused by the day. What was happening to us?
Then the fateful night came. Tara wrote me a letter. A long, long letter. One that I still have somewhere in the depths of my collection of personal effects from years gone by. Tara sent me home with the letter and told me to read it when I got there. Which of course, I obliged. I don’t remember the exact contents and I did not pull it out for this reflection, but I remember the gist. It explained how she had hurt others in the past and how she had been hurt in the past. And then the inevitable was written in it. She told me that she didn’t want me to fall in love with her because she wasn’t in love with me and didn’t think she ever could be. Sure, she loved me, but she wasn’t in love with me. Ouch. That hurt. A lot. The sting of it was real, but the shock of it was worse. I thought everything was A-Okay and then I got hit upside the head with an aluminum baseball bat. Where did that come from?
After reading the contents of the letter I put on my Wilson Phillips CD and sat in my bed, stunned. I remember listening to “Release Me” several times in a row, letting the music wash over me and listening to the lyrics. It was time for a change, can you release me? The lines “Come on baby, you knew it was time to just let go, cause we want to be free” hit home hard. And hurt. I realized in listening to that song what Tara was saying in her letter. She wanted to be free. She didn’t want to be tied down. Most likely due to her own fears, but whether that was true or not, didn’t matter. It was over. How could I read a letter like that and expect that we were still going to be the same as we ever were? Things had changed between us forever and it just sucked.
Inevitably, our relationship ended. I just couldn’t go through with it anymore knowing that I wanted something so much different than she did. Of course, Tara told me that we could still be together, but we couldn’t be serious. I told her that I just didn’t work that way. I was cut from a different cloth that was clearly made in a separate factory from hers. We weren’t going to be able to work it out her way, so we just had to go our separate ways. Which was terrible, but needed to be done.
I spent that Christmas alone, which stung, and I reminisced about my fall over the entire winter break. Wondering if I could have done anything different. Wondering if I had stayed with her, if I could have eventually made her see things my way. Wondering if, given enough time, she would fall in love with me too. Who’s to say?
I also spent the entire winter break listening to Wilson Phillips from start to finish repeatedly (along with Neil Diamond and The Beatles Let It Be). By this time, all the songs spoke to me on some level and every song reminded me of her. Every song reminded me of what I had. Every song reminded me of what could have been. Why did she have to be so scared? “Next To You (Someday I’ll Be)” was the song I played the most, because it spoke of hope and change and the possibility that things could change and be different in the future. Perhaps there was a chance for us? Someday I’ll be … next to you. I was hoping and I was keeping the candle burning, because one day, someday, it was going to happen.
It didn’t. Tara and I kept in touch off and on for the next couple of years, but we never rekindled our relationship (which was probably for the best). When I moved to Florida to figure my life out after high school, we lost touch all together and I’ve not seen her since. And though I’ve tried, she’s can’t be found on social media (at least not through my searches) and google doesn’t reveal anything at all. I like to think she got married, changed her name, went on to have a wonderful family and is living the good life. I always wished for only the best for her.
I’ve often been tempted to drive by her old house and see if her parents are still there. It’s been 25 years since I last visited that house, so it’s highly unlikely, but part of me wants to do it just to say that I did. Not that I wish to rekindle something from so long ago now. I am a happily married man with a wonderful life of my own. But I always wonder what happened to her. How did her story turn out? And of course, any time I hear Wilson Phillips I think of Tara. I think of that magical autumn we spent together and I think of how perfect my life was at that moment. There have been similar moments in my life since then, but I don’t think any of them have been so perfect for so long. Part of that was because I was so youthful back then and had my whole future ahead of me. Part of that was because I was spending every free moment with a girl that I thought of as my best friend. The teenage heart is filled with much. Romanticism being a big part of that.
Occasionally, when the autumn chill settles in and I find myself alone for an hour or so with no pressing deadlines, I like to pull out my Wilson Phillips CD and let it play. I usually grab a cup of coffee (I don’t smoke anymore) and just wander down memory lane. The feeling is both nice and cutting all at once. And, of course, I wonder. What if? What could have been. What would have become. I guess I’ll never know and that’s okay. My life turned out pretty good in the end to say the least.