My copy of the 1994 Emma Willard School yearbook is embossed with the nickname Bambi.
What can I say? I was in love.
That was what my first love, John, called me. I wrote about us for the anthology mentioned above, which was five years in the making. Here’s a little more about it.
Here’s a little bit of writing from the book:
John was coffee-colored, with a false front tooth he sometimes clicked in and out of place. I adored him with the teenage innocence that allows us to truly give one hundred percent of our hearts. He would become my Panda bear, though at six feet tall and with a baby face, he looked more like a grizzly. He called me Bambi because of my big brown eyes.
The winter I turned fourteen, John was sixteen. He worked as a locker room attendant at the Columbus Avenue Boys and Girls Club near his high school, Dewitt Clinton (the alma mater of James Baldwin.) I had started to the club with my high school classmate, Lanell, who introduced us.
In the Bronx, where we grew up, John and I were both so tall we seemed to rule every city block we wandered together. We dressed alike in Tazmanian Devil t-shirts or camouflage outfits.
My friends couldn’t stop laughing when we showed up at a junior high school reunion dressed like GI Joe and Jane. But I didn’t care. In the Bronx — a tough world of cracked sidewalks, drugs and violence — we were invincible inside our love and nothing else mattered. We could be kids together, playing Streetfighter on his Nintendoo, or , too grown for our own good, be engaged for a few months based on a pretty cubic zirconia ring and John’s promise to love me as long as I loved him back.
All I loved more than John was books. All I had, really, was school…it was my only way out. And when I got a chance to go to boarding school, I had to take it. John, not one to show his emotions easily, cried. I went to the elite Emma Willard School on scholarship, trying to keep one foot on the manicured lawns there and another on the crack-infested streets of the Bronx. I sent him drawings from school as if I were a budding artist in prison. And we talked on the payphone a few paces from my room most nights of the week. But before I left Emma, our relationship was over.
As big and comfortable as our love was, it taught me that not all love can withstand change. While John had protected me from the world, he had also kept me from dropping my defenses and growing beyond the survival tactics of anger and bravado that come with growing up in the ‘hood.
Please tell me you had your own embarrassing nickname. Did you have one for your first love?