My First Boyfriend – The Story Comes Full-Circle

Fifteen years ago, in 1995,  I wrote a story for my first website. The web was still in its infancy, and not too many people had personal websites.  This was even before I had my first Online Journal– before anyone knew what blogs were.  The story was about the first guy I ever dated.

I posted this story to my blog shortly after I started it in July 2004, and wrote an epilogue.

Today, I just got off the phone with Donnie, my first boyfriend.  I hadn’t spoken to him in over 15 years.

Funny how things happen.  We meet people, have wonderful experiences with them, and then life gets in the way.  Sometimes we stay in touch; other times we drift apart.  In Donnie’s case, I wasn’t sure I’d ever hear from him again.  But the other day, on a total whim, I tried finding him on Facebook– and I found him. Amazing how things come full-circle.

Here’s the story that I wrote in 1995.  I’ve fixed a few things for accuracy and better reading.  I’ll post an update at the end.

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It all started in the winter of 1992….

I was working at a Best Buy in Racine, Wisconsin at the time. I had a 20 minute drive to get from there to Kenosha, where I was living, and the majority of the drive was along a highway that connected with my street. As I entered Racine, I would always pass by a Citgo gas station. On the way home from work, I would frequently stop at this gas station to fill up my gas tank.

One night I stopped and went inside to pay my bill. There at the counter stood the most adorable guy I’d ever seen. He had deep blue eyes, brown hair and was about 6′ tall. I immediately knew he was gay… that instinct ‘gaydar’ we all have… but being rather shy I didn’t say too much. I simply paid my bill and left.

Needless to say, my visits to that gas station became much more frequent. It seemed that he worked there EVERY night, so I was almost never disappointed. Once in a while we’d make small talk.. maybe just smile.  He had the cutest Southern accent… I couldn’t begin to place where it was from, but that combined with his adorable looks just made him all the more irresistible.

I was a Product Specialist at Best Buy in the Audio Department. I had been there a few months so by that time I felt like I knew what I was doing. One day I was at our ‘answer center’ and I looked up.  And whom did I see but Gas Station Guy, walking into the boombox aisle. I quickly scooted over there and said “Hi!”

He recognized me from the visits to the gas station, and smiled. He wanted to buy a boombox, so I showed him all the features on the one he was looking at, gave it to him to take to the registers, and said, “See you around.” That was about it. I was in bliss.

The next day I was surprised to see that he had returned, with the boombox in hand. I waited for him to finish at Customer Service. When he headed toward the boombox aisle again I made my way over to him and asked, “Didn’t like that one?”

“No, I decided I wanted one with a CD player.”

“OK, no problem; let me show you some that have one.”

We talked a little more small talk and I sold him the new boombox. I couldn’t tell if he liked me or not.. and for that matter I couldn’t tell if he was gay or not.. but deep down I knew he was.. he just had to be.  Besides, this was all business.

That night as I left, I looked at my gas gauge and… what a surprise! I needed gas!

I drove over to the Citgo station. I could see him in the window. I was quite pleased. I gassed up, drove the car up to the building to park, and got out. When I walked in, he immediately recognized me. “HEY!” he said happily. “I was hoping you’d stop in!” My heart jumped. “I love the box.. I’ll keep it… but I wanted to know what you knew about car stereos..”

He proceeded to ask me a bunch of questions about car stereo equipment.  We talked about that for a while, then talked about where he was from, then talked about our families, then talked about music, then about TV… then about God knows what else.  I got  there at maybe 10pm.  Next thing I knew it was 1am and it was time to close the store!

He closed up, and didn’t kick me out. We talked some more about whatever.  Finally he asked me, “So where do you go out?”

“Well, here and there.. nowhere in particular…” I answered.

“Ever been to a place called ‘Club 94?′” He asked. (Club 94 was a gay bar in Kenosha)

“Well.. yeah… once or twice.. it’s fun.  I guess I like it.” I answered, getting VERY excited.

He asked me if he could sit in my car while his warmed up.  Now keep in mind, this was about the dead of winter of ’92, a VERY cold winter. He had a Renault Encore. I had one when I first got my license, so I knew how they were. I, of course obliged. He locked up, we got in my car while his ran to warm up and he says,

“OK I’m not gonna bullshit you anymore. I’m gay.”

“Well that’s good,” I said with a smile, “because I’m gay, too.”

We talked a bit more.. exchanged phone numbers.. and that was it for that night. We both had to get home.

His name was Donnie. I was on CLOUD NINE for at least 48 hours after that.

I visited him nearly every day after that. We’d talk all night long, sit in my car and wait for his to warm up, then go home. We never would kiss, we never got mushy… it was just this strange new friendship thing we had. I felt silly standing around a gas station convenience store for all hours in my Best Buy shirt; and my dad wasn’t pleased with it either– especially because I was there to see a guy! (My parents knew about me for a while before this)

Anyway about three weeks into my visits with Donnie a friend of his came in and hung out. I could see that they knew each other pretty well, so at one point I asked him about Donnie.

“How well do you know Donnie?” I asked.

“Why, do you like him?” (he was rather blunt)

“Yes.. why?”

“Well let me just tell you. You’re not his type. I wouldn’t try too hard.”

I was crushed. As far as I knew, he knew Donnie better than anyone else, so I had to trust his word. Still, I thought that if Donnie didn’t like me that much he wouldn’t have been talking to me so much and letting me stay so late. I mean, there had to be SOMETHING there. However, I was very new to the whole gay thing and as far as I was concerned, his friend was right, so I made my visits to the gas station less frequent.

But eventually that changed and I would stop in again just as frequently as before.

One night we went to a bar behind the gas station for a quick drink after he got out of work. We had known each other for about three months at that point. I still didn’t know what he thought about me, but I knew how I felt about him. I was crazy about Donnie, and it was driving me nuts.

After the bar closed, we sat in my car and talked. “This is it,” I told myself. “It’s now or never”.

“Donnie, we’ve been seeing each other now for about three or four months… and I’ve really grown to like you …. a lot. I just want to know… what do you feel?”

“I feel the same way Rick.”

“Really?

“Yes.”

I then asked him if I could kiss him. He said yes. It was the first time I had ever kissed anyone. And it was wonderful.

About a month later I learned that Donnie would be moving to Houston. His mother and sister would be moving back to Atlanta, where they originally came from. I was crushed. I was really falling for Donnie and now he had to leave. We decided that even though he was leaving, we would continue things up until he left, thinking that maybe someday I could move down with him or vice versa.

It killed me to think he would be leaving, but eventually he did.

We kept in touch while he was away, calling each other as often as we could.

He was gone for about three months when one day I got a call from him.

“What would you do if came back to Racine?”

I answered, “Well of course I’d be incredibly happy.. but what would you do? You have no job, nowhere to live, and I can’t move out because I’m not ready!”

He said, “I could probably figure something out.” I figured that was that and left it there.

The next evening I got home from work and checked the answering machine. There was a message.

“Rick, this is Donnie. I’m back in Racine. Give me a call tomorrow at this number..”

I cried.. tears of joy and tears of sorrow. I didn’t know where he was or where he was staying. But he was home. And as far as I knew he came back for me.

We saw each other the next day and holding him in my arms was the most wonderful feeling I’d ever felt. He got his job back at the gas station and was living with the owners. I knew that wouldn’t last long because he never got along that well with the owners, but for now he was here and that’s all that mattered.

We dated for a while but for some reason the magic just wasn’t there like it used to be. I became busy with school and then started working in Illinois. He worked every day at the station and we hardly ever saw each other.

Eventually I met another guy and we dated for a while. He was cute, younger, and fun to be with.. but he was 18 (I was 23), and for some reason that bothered me…

…and I wasn’t over Donnie.

I broke up with him about two months into things. I told him I still had feelings for Donnie. He understood. He was a good guy.

I went to see Donnie the next night. To my shock he informed me that he would be moving to Lexington, Kentucky to live with his father. He wasn’t happy in Racine and needed to get out. I was crushed more than ever before. I lost my chance with Donnie.. the guy I truly loved. We made out a bit in the back room of the store and hugged a lot. Then I left.

About halfway down the road from the gas station, I called him on my Cell phone. He was still there. I was crying.

“Donnie?”

“Yes?”

“It’s Rick. I’m in my car. I was just thinking after I left…”

“What’s the matter?”

“I love you, Donnie. I will always love you.”

“I love you too, Rick.”

“Don’t go. Please.”

“I have to, Rick… there’s nothing else I can do.”

We talked for a little while then I hung up.

I saw Donnie one more time after that. He had a going away party but I couldn’t go because I was sick. I cried so much I didn’t think I’d have any tears left. He called me from his party. We were both crying. I told him I loved him again. He told me he loved me.

The next day he was gone, and I haven’t seen him since.

We kept in touch via phone and mail since then. He now lives in San Jose, CA and has a room mate that he says likes him a lot.. but he’s never stopped loving me or thinking about me. Judging from my tears as I type this, I realize that I still love him. Very much. And I always will. Perhaps we were meant to be together, and if so, I hope that someday we can and will be. Until then I hold very precious memories of the times we spent together, and great regret for all the times we could have been together but weren’t. We parted against our will. We still have contact.. but it’s not enough. I wish he were here now to dry my tears, to hold me and comfort me and tell me everything will be OK. But he’s not and I must deal with that. I miss him. I will always love him.

I guess what I learned from this story is, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” as the song says. I never realized just how wonderful Donnie was until I realized he would be gone. Life is unexpected with the way it works. You could be walking down the street, minding your own business, when all of a sudden fate smacks you in the face with a new adventure, a new love, or a new tragedy. All you have to do is keep your eyes open and your senses aware. You never know what will happen next.

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Epilogue 1 – 1997

A few months after this was written, I realized I had lost Donnie’s phone number. I was pretty devastated, looking all over the place, and even phoning directories trying to find him, but to no avail. One day Donnie phoned me and informed me that he was, indeed dating the man he was living with in San Jose. They had been together for some time and he was happy with him. I was happy to hear from him again, and I finally got his phone number and could call him whenever I wanted, but I didn’t. I felt it was time to close the wounds from this experience, and I was doing a good job of that already. So I called him very sporadically.

A while later, I heard from Donnie again. He was moving out of the apartment he was sharing with that guy, and they had broken up. He was moving a few blocks away into an apartment with a friend of his. I was slightly happy to hear that, but again I felt like it was useless getting excited about it. He still wasn’t going to be moving back anytime soon. He said he’d call me with his new phone number once he got settled into his new place.

I never heard from him again.

Closure has happened. I am over Donnie. Though I will still have a place in my heart for him, as most everyone does when it comes to their first love. I am still single, still looking for someone to fill that space, but I guess I compare everyone to Donnie. That’s not fair, but I guess that is an unwritten rule somewhere when it comes to relationships. I had hoped he would call before I moved to Chicago, but he never did. It just wasn’t meant to be. And I guess that’s just fine. I’ll live.

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Epilogue 2- 2004

Many relationships–one much more serious than Donnie–later, and looking back at what I wrote nearly 10 years ago about him, I see now how young and naieve I was back then about love. Having been through the pain and the sorrow of the ending of a relationship one too many times, I know it never gets easier. But when you’re 23 or 24 and still new to everything, it seems like the end of the world.

Donnie was special, though I wonder if I really loved him. I’m not so sure now. I still think of him fondly, occasionally, but I don’t really know if I understood what love was back then. I think I do now, but I also think that love takes on many different characteristics depending on who he is, what the relationship is based on, and the when, where, why and how you fell for him. The fact that I haven’t had a relationship that has lasted over a year probably speaks to my still-evident inexperience in this area. Maybe, hopefully, that will change someday, but it is good to know that I am capable of loving. I know that will never change.

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Epilogue 3- 2010

Six years later, the story comes full-circle.

I always wondered what became of Donnie.  Where he ended up, who he ended up with, and what he was doing.  I didn’t even know if he was alive or dead.  When you lose touch with people, you can’t help but wonder these things.  Sometimes they cross your path again.  Other times, it never happens, and we are always left wondering.

So a couple weeks ago, on a total whim, I looked up his name on Facebook.  I’d tried this a time or two before, to no avail.  But this time, his name came up.  I clicked on the profile.  There wasn’t a picture of him to be found, but the birthdate seemed right.  Then I looked at the profile and saw two things that clued me in:  He belonged to a group for Atlanta Gay Men; and his employer was based in California.  It just had to be him.

I figured it was worth a try, and I sent a friend request.  A day or two later, the request was granted, and he sent me a note.  He said he was amazed that I found him, and he was so happy to hear from me.  We exchanged Email addresses and traded Emails back and forth, and today we talked on the phone.

He’s been with a guy for the past nine years and is in a wonderful relationship.  They’re living in Atlanta now; close to his family.  He’s doing great.  It was so good to talk to him again after all these years.  In fact, it felt like we had never lost touch.

He told me he always wondered what happened to me, and I told him I always wondered the same about him.  We shared stories of things that happened in our lives, and decided that someday we need to get together again.  It was like talking to a dear friend.

I’m so glad I wrote our story, and kept adding to it as years went by.  It’s really a testament to how, although our lives change, the good people who grace our lives will always find a way back.

Tonight, I’m smiling.  And reliving a lot of great memories.

Re-Launch: The Horror of the Pinewood Derby

Originally posted August 30, 2005

“Hey Rick,” my co-worker asked me as we I was stirring my coffee this morning in the break room. “Were you in the Cub Scouts as a kid?”

“Yeah,” I replied, throwing away my stirrer and popping in a slice of toast. “I spent some time as a Cub Scout, years ago.”

“Did you ever do the Pinewood Derby?”

I shuddered. Memories flew back into my brain that I’d tried to shut out for years. I took a swig of the acid-based coffee in my hand and composed myself. This was no time for a display of cowardice. I could handle it.

“Oh yeah. I remember it well,” I replied. “And thank you so very much for bringing up a horrible chapter of my childhood.”

I tried to feign a sense of disdain for the subject in front of my co-worker, but I couldn’t escape the reality that the subject did evoke a moment of terror in my heart, just as it had over 25 years ago.

“Oh I’m sorry,” he said, pouring himself a cup of coffee, only to find that I had drained the last few drops from the pot. I didn’t mean to do it, but that’s just how his luck was running. Serves him right for bringing up that wretched subject anyway.

“I didn’t mean to bring up a sore subject,” he continued, not seeming to care that I probably didn’t want to talk about it, “But I have a friend that somehow got his hands on a Pinewood Derby racetrack, and I was thinking it would be fun to have a Pinewood Derby race, you know, like we did when we were kids.”

“Really,” I replied. “Well don’t get that track anywhere near me, or I’ll be likely to burn it,” I said.

The Pinewood Derby, in case you are not familiar with the term, is this insipid contest that Boy Scouts hold where each boy is given a block of wood and is expected to build a car out of it. I assume the wood was pine, but whether it was elm, birch, maple or cherry, I didn’t care then, and I still don’t care today. Unless of course it was lining the floors in my home. And even then I might not care that much.

So we all set out to build our dream cars. I forget if we were given wheels for the cars or not, but apparently we had to design our cars so that it would go down this stupid track faster than anyone else’s. And apparently there were a bunch of tricks that one could employ to ensure that one’s car ran faster, but I had no idea what those tricks were, and surely nobody was ever going to tell me, so that I could then, in turn, tell my Dad, and have him build me that fastest, meanest Pinewood Derby car ever. Oh no. I wasn’t that fortunate at all.

The thing that makes me wonder about these races anyway is, do they really think these 7, 8, and 9-year old kids are going to build these cars themselves? Do they really think their parents are going to let them use the saws, planes, sanders, and other big, manly power tools necessary to accomplish such a feat as building a small car out of a chunk of a 2×4? Of course not. So who do these kids turn to in order to accomplish this feat?

Dad.

Now I love my dad. I did then, and I do now. My dad could do a lot of things. He built our garage, three fences, and various other boxes, storage units, and shelving units for our home. He could make repairs fairly well, and get things running again as well as the next dad. He was handy. And that was good. And we loved him no matter what he could or couldn’t do.

But this tortuous event not only proved to me how inept I was at designing the fastest, meanest Pinewood car in all of Cub Scout Troop 507, but it also proved how inept my dad was at doing it as well. He never had to do any sort of Pinewood Derby racing when he was a kid. They didn’t have such means of torture back then. Lucky bastard.

Of course, lucky as he was, my father also had a son that wanted to win if he could, even though he knew that the other kids would probably have a much better chance than he did, no matter how hard he tried.

So Dad and I set out to make my Pinewood Derby car. It was all my Dad’s design. And for what it was, it was sleek and sexy. He painted it black with a glossy paint and put numbers on the sides. By all normal standards, it was a damn nice little car.

But getting it to move was another story. It just didn’t have much “go” to it. We greased the wheels as best we could, but it just didn’t seem to move.

I think we just figured that maybe this is how these cars are supposed to run, so we just let it be. That’s the Aiello way– let it be.

I knew we were doomed right from the start on the night of the Pinewood Derby when we walked into the school gymnasium. Other kids were showing off their cars. They were hot. They were flashy. They were sexy. And they were fast.

When the kids saw my car, they laughed. It was primitive in comparison to the souped-up contraptions they had. Their cars looked like they had bought them at a department store. My car looked like something fashioned out of mud after a rainy day.

In my defense, I did the only thing I could think of to deal with the embarrassment. I cried. And when I would cry, the kids would only tease me more. And when the kids would tease me, I would lose my temper. And when I lost my temper, my dad would get angry with me. You see where this is going, don’t you?

So they set up the cars to race. My pithy little hunk of junk against the fast and the furious. The cap gun blew, and they were off.

It would be too easy, too cliche’, and too uplifting to say that I won the race. It would also be a lie. Because I didn’t win the race… I lost. I lost badly. My little car just moseyed down the ramp while the others actually raced. I don’t think my car even got to the finish line. It probably stopped mid-way down, they just pulled it off the track. I was humiliated.

So I did the one thing I could do to defend myself against my feelings of humiliation. I blamed my father.

In a fit of rage, I cried, yelled and screamed at him. In front of everyone.

And my father– himself humiliated– took me by the arm and led me out of the gymnasium where the event was being held. And he let me have it, but good.

At the time, I despised him for doing it, but in hindsight, I probably deserved it. What kind of example was I setting by throwing a fit in front of parents, friends and family? A horrible one. I was being a brat, and I deserved to be treated like a brat.

To this day, the Pinewood Derby debacle (also known as the “Blue & Gold Banquet” Fight, which is the name of the event where the Pinewood Derby took place) is a sore subject between my father and me. It represented a very low point in our relationship, and neither one of us is proud of how we handled it.

But it is a moment in time. One that try not to think about, except for when some smart-alecky co-worker decides to bring it up and dredge all these painful memories from out of my past.

I forgive him that, though. He doesn’t know the pain I went through. All at the expense of a little chunk of wood.

But through that pain came a few life-long lessons. And an interesting story to tell.

Fade-Out on For Better or For Worse

The last panel in the storyline of the Patterson family ran today for the comic strip “For Better or For Worse,” as evidenced by author Lynn Johnston’s ‘sign-off’ note. From here forward, the strip will be reborn somewhat, starting from essentially the beginning in what the author calls “new-runs.”  But the storyline as it was has now ended and the characters will be frozen in time.

For years, this strip was a highlight of the comics pages for me and my family. While it started as a running-gag-a-day strip with occasional storylines, it grew into a soap-opera of sorts, with long-playing storylines that included everything from births to deaths, growing older, and even coming out as gay. It’s one of the last truly groundbreaking comic strips still being produced.

But for now, the story has ended. I’m sad, but thankfully there are 29 years of memories to fall back on.

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Fire + RcktMan don't mix

I seem to have a bad relationship with fire.

I should immediately add that nothing terrible has happened.  Nothing burned down, and everything is fine.

But if I wasn’t quick, I could have had a much worse story to tell.

My poor relationship with all things flammable goes back to 1995.  I was camping with my friends in Saugatuck, MI.  It was a different group of friends that I camp with today.  Back then the campground was a lot smaller, and had many less amenities.   I was alone at our campsite one day and decided to start my miniature “Smokey Joe” grill to make some lunch, so I threw some charcoal on it and lit it.  After the flames seemed to die down a bit, I threw the grill on top and stepped away to use the bathroom and take a shower.

Dumb idea #1 – Walking away from a flaming grill.  It still hadn’t completely died down, and I left the lid off to let it “breathe.”

Dumb idea #2 – Not throwing away the now-empty charcoal bag.

Dumb idea #3 – Doing all of this so close to my tent.

You can see where this is going.  After my shower, I walked back to the campground, where I saw a few of my friends milling around.  The loudest, queeniest one of the bunch saw me and came running up to me.  “OH GIRLLLL!” he shrieked.  “Your TENT burned DOWN!  Where have you BEEN!?”

I said “I was just in the bathroom!  How bad is it?”

When I got there, I saw it wasn’t quite as bad as he had claimed, but it was bad enough.  The charcoal bag had somehow blew onto the hot grill, started on fire, and then blew onto my tent.  My brand-new, just-out-of-the-box tent.  And it burned a hole in the corner of the tent, and subsequently burned my sleeping bag and air mattress inside. Everything else was fine– my clothes and other supplies hadn’t been touched.  But I was definitely without a tent, and most certainly the talk of the campground– and certainly my friends — for a very long time after that.

That Christmas, my mom got me a fire extinguisher; both as a gift and as a joke.  Thank goodness she has a good sense of humor.

Cut to today, almost 14 years later (ouch).

I had taken out my shoe polishing supplies to start polishing my badly-scuffed brown shoes.

When I was a kid, my dad would take nearly-empty or dried-out shoe polish cans, combine the cans together in one, and light the polish aflame.  The polish is highly flammable and melts, and allows it to combine together and become somewhat usable again.  When the polish was sufficiently melted (you don’t want it to burn too long or it will scorch), he would slip the lid on top to put out the flames.

As an adult, I have carried on this “tradition”.  It works well, and I’ve never had any problems– until today.

I combined the half-empty cans together, lit it aflame, and then tried to slip the lid on top– but my hand slipped and the burning polish poured all over my desk.  I immediately jumped up, went into the kitchen, grabbed the fire extinguisher that my mom had bought me in 1995 off the wall, pulled the pin, and in seconds the fire was out.

I had never used a fire extinguisher before.  In fact, up until about a month ago, the extinguisher I had was buried deep in my broom closet.  I decided that day it was time to actually mount it to the wall so it was ready to use.  I’m glad I decided to do that.  I also discovered that my smoke alarms — both of them– work very well.  They went off almost immediately after I put the fire out.

No damage was done, thankfully.  The fire never spread any further than the polish itself.  But let me tell you, it was a bitch to clean up.  The extinguisher emitted a fine white powder, and it got EVERYWHERE.  But man am I glad I had it.

So the moral of the story is this– don’t play with fire.  Don’t do things just because your dad did them.  And please, please, PLEASE… get a fire extinguisher and mount it up so it’s ready to use.  This story could have ended a whole lot worse if I hadn’t done that.