I have a pretty good memory; in a lot of ways I wish it weren’t as good as it is. I really don’t see the need to remember embarrassing childhood memories as if they were fresh. Remembering as much as I do, though, makes me wonder about all the things I do forget, or barely remember. 

I bring this up today because I was in my favorite local bookstore yesterday and saw someone who reminded me of my first (?) romantic (?) memory. He wasn’t my first crush, and he certainly wasn’t my first boyfriend, but he was my first … something. 

I just wish I remembered what.

For whatever reason, my memory of that evening is very hazy. I was twelve years old, and it must have just been a few weeks before we moved away from the small town in Southwestern Ontario where we’d been living for the previous three years. My parents and I were invited to a barbeque out in the country. The only other kid invited was a boy who must have been just a year or so older than me. We were at a strange age: still young enough to play make-believe but old enough to be well into puberty and for the lines between fantasy and reality to be blurred. Most of my memories of that night are sensory or emotional rather than narrative. I remember the feeling of the humid air as we ran through the fields. I remember the exhilaration of a kind of connection I’d never experienced before. I remember us spinning half-believed tall tales about being soul mates and everything depending on our meeting. I remember how fun it was, how much joy there was, and how expansive it all felt. 

But that’s about it.

I don’t remember his name and have only the vaguest recollection of what he looked like. It’s strange. One might think that night would have had a formative impact on my life, that I’d try to stay in touch after I moved or try to recreate the experience somehow. But honestly, I mostly forgot about it, for two decades. 

I wonder though if perhaps the evening did leave a lasting imprint on me, even if I barely remember it. I think that night may have had a profound impact on my ‘lovemap’, what some sexologists refer to as a blueprint of what and who it is I’m attracted to. I hadn’t given this much thought until the memory was triggered in the bookstore yesterday. But as I think about it, so many of the men I’ve been most attracted to — from actors to Instagram ‘stars’ to the min- and soul-annihilating crush I had a few years ago — have fit the basic pattern of the little I remember about him: thin face, strong nose, piercing eyes, short light brown hair (that colour that would be called ‘mousy’ if it were on a woman). 

If this is true, even a little bit, about my physical lovemap, I wonder if could also be true for my psychological lovemap. Certainly, that feeling of expansiveness and possibility that I experienced that night is exactly what I associate with the feelings I now label as infatuation and love. My instinct is to say this is just ‘normal’ — and that meshes well with everything I’ve read about what love feels like. And yet, I’ve certainly met enough women who say they’re only into “bad men” or gay men who tell me they can’t “get it up” for someone who’s nice to them to make me wonder if I should not take these uniformly positive early memories — and the uniformly positive associations with love, infatuation and attraction they may have inspired — for granted.

It’s an interesting thought. If indeed this night that I barely remember had such a lasting impact on my ideals of love and attraction, I can only wonder what other truths might be forever hidden in events I’ve forgotten about completely.

Either way, all of this has made me cherish these half-memories all the more, and I want to offer a blessing to this nameless man, wherever he is now and however his life has turned out. Whether he was in on it or not, he made my first romantic experience a great one. And for that, I am grateful.