Everyone has a first love. Mine was Kelly Boucher, the most perfect 15-year-old goddess who ever walked the planet. The first extended writing I ever did was about Act One of my love for Kelly. It was 60 or so typewritten pages, written in the summer of 1974, when I too was 15, and it detailed how Kelly and I had come together on a magical church-youth-group roller-skating evening in April, how I’d managed to charm her with my inability to skate and my self-effacing manner, and how, at the end of the evening, she’d agreed to be my girlfriend.
On the car ride home, holding hands in the back seat, when the parent-driver pulled into McDonald’s, I oh-so-gallantly bought a large order of French Fries to share with this most beautiful of creatures. There was no kiss goodbye, of course, but I was head over heels. I spent the next day in a fugue state, reportedly saying little but “Oh, wow!” as I went for a long walk through the woods with my best friend, Jonas. Because Kelly lived in the next town over, a four-mile walk, I wouldn’t be able to see her until the next weekend at the earliest, but I could live on dreams and phone calls. I was in love.
I mentioned this was Act One. While I’d thought I was the lead role in a romantic comedy, it turned tragic for me within a couple weeks. Kelly went to her sister’s wedding in Newport, Rhode Island, and there met 17-year-old Butch Something-or-Other with a driver’s license, a convertible sports car to use that license with, and a mustache. At 15, I had none of these, and no prospects of them. Did I mention his family owned a florist shop? Kelly broke up with me, and who could blame her, really, to become the girlfriend of the sophisticated if distant, Butch. Curtain down on my desolation.
Act Two came six months later. It was brief, almost a snippet, but led me back to a comic turn. As I’ve mentioned, Kelly and I lived in different towns, traveling in different circles, and I believe she spent most of the summer in Newport, smelling flowers and driving with the top down. Although it took entire days to get over Kelly, I’d pulled myself together by summer, and that fall played varsity soccer, scoring goals in the first two games of the season, a season in which we were runner-ups for the state championship. I’d had a number of intervening girlfriends (that number is two), and by Christmas, 1974, was single again, and much more a man of the world. Being that bon vivant, I decided it would be a good and proper thing to attend a Christmas Eve service at the roller-skate-sponsoring church in Kelly’s town. I hitchhiked the four miles—this was a time, boys and girls, when that was a normal form of teenage-boy transportation—and walked into the service. It was cold and overcast, threatening snow, though none had fallen yet. Because the church was crowded, I didn’t notice everyone there, but after we’d sung, and listened, and sung some more, I saw her. Kelly.
She told me she’d broken up with Butch in the early fall. He’d grown tired of the two-hour drive to pick her up in New Hampshire for weekends, and become more persistent and insistent than Kelly liked in wanting her to relinquish certain intimacies. I asked her how she’d gotten to the church, and she said her parents had dropped her off, assuming she’d find a ride home. Since I still had neither license nor car, I asked her to let me walk her the mile or so to her house. She agreed.
If this were a TV movie, I’d vomit at this next fact, but snowflakes were slowly drifting down as we left. On Christmas Eve. How cliché. Still, it happened. We walked through Christmas snow, not even holding hands but, still, walking together. All the previous spring’s joy poured back on me for that 20 minutes or so. When we got to her house, we didn’t hug. We didn’t kiss. We shook hands, for Christ’s sake, and she went inside while I stuck out my thumb at the next driver.
That may be my happiest Christmas memory, that walk with Kelly Boucher, six months after she’d dumped me, ending in the chastest fashion imaginable.
(Addendum: I spoke of Act One as a tragedy. Act Two was a romantic comedy of the highest sort. Act Three? It approached farce, certainly nothing befitting a conclusion for the first two acts. Six months later, Kelly and I became boyfriend and girlfriend again and remained so for five or eight months, depending on how one measures time during our innumerable breakups. There was much good in the romance, and I do miss her, but none of it matched those first two acts.)
About the author: Keith Howard used to be a homeless drunk veteran. Then he got sober and, eventually, became director of Liberty House in Manchester, a housing program for formerly homeless veterans. There, he had a number of well-publicized experiences – walking away from federal funds in order to keep Liberty House clean and sober, a contretemps with a presidential candidate and a $100,000 donation, a year spent living in a converted cargo trailer in Raymond. Today, he lives in a six-by 12-foot trailer in Pittsburg, NH, a few miles from the Canadian border with his dog, Sam. There, Howard maintains tinywhitebox.com, his website, works on a memoir, and a couple of novels while plotting the next phase of his improbable life.