I think it’s safe to say I’ve always been a bit of a romantic. Those who used to read my old blog will roll their eyes and grumble, “No shit.”
Maybe it was the perfect mix of cheap beer, the sweltering Los Angeles heat and the fact that I was watching back-to-back episodes of The Wonder Years in my undies that got me feeling pretty nostalgic tonight, but I started to think back to my very first love and the kind of impressions that our first loves leave with us. As I sat with a cold Sapporo resting on my stomach, deeply inhaling at the last scene of “The Accident”, I began to wonder if people like Morgan Baker ever really know how much of an influence they have on our lives. Do they remember at all? Were we ever that important to them? Or were we just a brief, exciting blip in their lives that vanished into oblivion?
I never had that classic little boy stage where “playing with girls was icky” and I never had an irrational fear of cooties. My mother tells me that my first very best friend was a girl named Carly with whom I generously shared the coveted Flintstone phone with back in nursery school. When I got a little older and my male peers were memoizing baseball card statistics, I was trying to fit in with my female friends by trying to recite Claudia Kishi’s crazy ass outfits in The Baby-sitter’s Club books.
Lesson 1: Girls Are Equals
Morgan was the first girl who rubbed her Keds on my BK Knights under the table during a spelling test (was it spelling? It could have been pottery or lunch time… I was in an entirely different universe) and caused my heart to thump on my chest like a Benny Goodman song. She would be my first kiss. But she also happened to be the first real friendship I had with a girl. Morgan Baker would be the foundation to how I would treat and view women for the rest of my life. And although we were just a couple of fourth graders dealing with typical fourth grader problems like getting legitimately stressed out thinking about couple skating and trying to master improper fractions, I distinctly remember having some pretty damn intense conversations sitting on sidewalk curbs sliding the soles of our tennis shoes on loose gravel about family, life, and of course, love. I never thought less of her because she was a girl. She taught me things, we made each other laugh, and I genuinely valued the time we spent together.
Lesson 2: You Stick Up For Your Friends
There’s a cold, harsh fact when you develop a close friendship with a member of the opposite sex in elementary school… you’re gonna get shit for it.
There was an unspoken tradition at my school that on your birthday you brought in baked treats and picked your best friend to help you pass them out to the entire class. In my school, boys always picked boys and girls always picked girls. Thems the rules. The night before my birthday, I stayed up half the night giving myself a pep talk: Morgan would be my pastry pal. When the time came, I was cool as a cucumber; I knew what I had to do. As I said the words, “Morgan Baker”, even my teacher couldn’t mask her surprise. Morgan’s mouth dropped like a Snoop Dogg song.
At recess, the entire third grade was merciless about my choice. I shrugged it off. It wasn’t until the boys, some of my own cohorts, started to say some particularly nasty things that I got Hulkish. I could feel my blood begin to boil in my 4’10” frame. I defended my friend, just like I would have any other friend, and volleyed back some words that to this day, I would be ashamed to confess to my own mother.
I don’t even know if Morgan ever knew what I did to defend her honor, but she taught me that you have to stand up to something if you really believe it. Even if it’s pretty scary.
Lesson 3: People Grow Up and Grow Apart
As we grew older, our friendship seemed to get more complicated. Were we just friends? Were we more than that? We were like two people on different sides of exponentially growing chasm… barely able to touch fingertips. When we entered middle school, she matured much faster than I did, as girls tend to do at that age, and caught the eye of an older, dashing eighth grader. The notes that were more like mini-novels written with Jellyroll pens on wide ruled paper stopped being handed off to me. My mother interrupting my Nintendo time by hollering “Morgan’s on the phone!” became non-existent. For the longest time, I was hurt and confused, but I would eventually learn to accept that people just grow up and grow into different people. It’s a lesson I still struggle with to this day.
* * *
The last time I saw Morgan, I had flown back to our hometown from Los Angeles for Christmas break and my friends and I agreed to meet at a local bar downtown. I walked up to the bar to order a drink, and a girl with a smile that hadn’t changed since fifth grade (with the exception that her adult teeth had fully grown in) and a familiar freckled nose popped up from behind the counter. We chatted for a bit while I waited for the others to arrive. Morgan was married now and had been for awhile. I updated her on my life in Los Angeles. Before we could move past small talk, my buddies arrived and grabbed my arm to move to another bar.
I wanted to tell her the kind of influence she really had on my life, despite the fact that the time we shared was limited to a few short years in elementary school. How could she really know her impact? But really, what could I say? How would she take it? Would I just come off as a weirdo who spent way too much time than the average person contemplating shit like this? I slapped a five dollar bill on the bar and simply said, “It was really good seeing you again”. She flashed me another Morgan Baker smile, blew away a stray strand of hair with the side of her mouth and went back to taking drink orders.