Christmas is a magical time of year for a ten-year-old boy. They pretty much have the Santa thing figured out, and they get two weeks out of school. Most kids that age have lots of things they want and can’t wait to get their presents. Life and relationships are pretty uncomplicated up to this point. Then it changes.
At the little school my Son attends here in Maui, there was a classroom volunteer and helper since the beginning of the school year. She is 18 and is also the sister of my Son’s best friend. I only just met her a week ago at my Son’s football game, and he never really talked about her at home. Mentioned her name once in a while, thought nothing of it. I thought she seemed very nice. She is going off to college after Christmas and will no longer live here on the island.
My Son has stayed over at his friend’s house a couple of times this month, the last the night before he flew back to Minnesota for his two week Christmas break to spend with family there. He was very upset when I picked him up and had to say goodbye to her. She will be leaving for college before he gets back. She gave him a sweatshirt and took a few pictures. After that, let’s just say it was a rough night and next morning right up until the time he got on the plane. He talked about her being his friend, how she smelled so nice, how he was going to miss her and probably never see her again, how he didn’t want to go back to Minnesota and miss some more time with her. She is his first crush.
That night I spent about three hours with him just talking about friends and relationships and stuff. I told him a story that I had completely forgotten about up until that night.
I grew up on a mink farm. My Dad was very successful and had people come from all over the world to buy mink and also learn how to raise them. One of the people who came to learn was a girl from Italy named Maria. She was 18 and her Father sent her to stay the summer in a small apartment in the town near us and learn how to raise the mink. I was 10.
Every day she would come to the farm, and I would spend a lot of time with her. She was very kind to me. I liked being around her. It made me feel good. Sometimes I would get dropped off and spend time with her in her little apartment, and we would play games or just talk. She had a heavy Italian accent, long dark hair, and dark brown eyes. I thought she was beautiful. I have no pictures of her, just memory.
The end of the summer quickly approached, like it always does for kids on summer break, and I had never really given much thought I guess about what would happen to Maria. I just thought she would always be there. Then I found out she was going back to Italy. That hit me pretty hard. I cried and cried. A few days before she was to leave, I wanted to go see her, but my Mom said no. I think she was trying to protect me from feeling so bad and felt it wasn’t a good idea to prolong it. She sent me to my room, but instead of staying there, I jumped out the window and ran to Maria’s house, which was 4 miles away. I still to this day remember running in the ditches towards town, tears streaming down my face, scared and confused. When I got to her apartment, luckily she was home, and she let me in. Knowing that my parents would be frantic, she called them to let them know I was safe. They let me stay a couple of hours before my Dad came and got me. I remember Maria holding me as I cried and said everything would be alright, and someday we would meet again. My parents never said a word about the incident. I never ran away again. I never saw Maria again.
As I told the story to my Son, it made me realize how that crush I had on Maria that summer changed my whole life. How I think of holding on in relationships, afraid that they will leave and never be seen nor heard from again. How I felt so strongly, and that love was not given in return. How life could seem so unfair to a ten-year-old when they have no control in situations like this. I can now see that the many relationships I have had over the years have been affected to some extent by, I know it sounds silly at ten, my first love. Now I wonder whatever happened to her. She would be 72 now if she is still alive. Have our paths ever crossed somewhere along the way, like she said they would? I wonder if she has ever thought of me. To her, I was the bosses 10-year-old kid. To me, she was my world. I know she got my infatuation, and she handled it well. I miss her.
It was a different time back then. My parents never talked to me about my feelings I had and how to handle them, or at least acknowledge them and look for the positive. That stuff didn’t exist in the early sixties. I knew they loved me and wanted the best for me. The support was there, it just wasn’t talked about. In the silence was the message, get over it and move on. Move on I did, but not so sure I ever really got over it.
It’s funny that I had completely forgotten about the summer when I was 10 and fell in love with an 18-year-old girl from Italy named Maria until it happened to my Son. I want to be there for him and try to help him understand and appreciate the time he did have with her, and use that foundation to learn and become a better person. Trouble is, I don’t think I ever resolved it myself. Lifes lessons take time I guess.
How do you tell someone that life moves on? That pain and love sometimes are intertwined. That this is the first of a lifetime of relationships that will build you up or tear you apart. That this is the first of countless tears of joys and sadness, of the best of times and the worst of times. How do you tell someone of all the beautiful moments and heartbreaks ahead of them? That it breaks my heart to know his is breaking. Maybe it’s best to just let life happen.
This may then be the circle of life. Maybe it all happened to me so I could relate it to my Son in his time of need and sorrow. I lived and learned, and just knowing him, he will move on and be a better person for it, and maybe someday teach the lesson to his Son or Daughter. There is no beginning and no end.
I am going to offer him the same thing my parents gave to me. A loving home that will always be his to come back to. A smile to show I care and a Kleenex to wipe away tears. A warm bed and a hot meal. A hug and a hand to hold. An ear to listen and a comforting voice to give advise. An unconditional love that I someday hope he finds in a mate and a family of his own. I will always be there. That is my Christmas present to him.