I am going to talk about the first time I fell in love. And I'm calling it the first time because there'll be a time when it hits you the way it does, like you've just been sideswiped by a truck on a sunny day and you wake up in a hospital bed weeks later only to realize you don't know who you are, but you're one happy bastard. There is going to be that time, in the midst of all those other times, and it is going to stick out like a sore thumb. It'll be like – like living your life through black and white and then waking up to the prodigious invention of Technicolor. Like hearing music for the first time after being stuck in prison for the past thirty years. See, there is going to be that time for you, just like there was for me, when you're going to feel like you've just woken up. You've been living with your eyes closed this entire time, and you've just opened your eyes – and you've just woken up. And everything will seem new. Everything will feel new. And all of your ligaments and body parts will feel fuzzy and super-sensitized, and you'll feel like singing. God, you'll feel like singing. And doing a happy little tap number in the middle of the grocery aisle. And your ankles will get tangled up, and your voice will break, but God, you'll do it all anyway. Just because you can. Just because you have never felt so much in your entire life, so alive, and it's impossible not to look stupid and silly.
Everybody has different ways of explaining it, but if I were to go up to that old man on 8th street, tap him on the shoulder, and go, "Jesus in heaven, I'm in love!" and explain to him how I know that, and describe to him every single shimmy and shiver and quiver and shake and trill I feel pulsing through my body, and the bursts of nameless colors in my head, he will just nod his head and say, "Go on, sonny boy. It's magnificent." Because there are a million ways of explaining it. You have a fourth of a million in books, another fourth in movies, another fourth in songs – and the last fourth everywhere else. They don't last on shelves. When you're in love like I am, like this, you'll do whatever you can to immortalize it. To squeeze a bit of it out into a bottle. To write it out and put it in a sealed envelope. To sing about it, whatever trite words you can sing. But you can't. It's a vain hope, what they do, because there is no way in hell that you can stuff it up with preservatives and keep it in a glass cage and hope that it will last. Love is the cheapest and richest thing in the entire world, and it's the only thing that can stand being that way. Poor men can afford it. And rich men are sometimes even too rich for it. It's ambiguous and cruel and uncalculated. It's bloody and violent and sardonic and elegant. It's every single word, because every single word was made to describe it. That's how much we hate it. That's how much we worship it.
I fell in love with the same girl you did. She was sweet and kind and funny. She was mean and brutal and honest. She let her hair down when it was cold. She put it up when there was wind. She smelled a little bit like your mother, and my mother, but so much different. She smelled like fresh-mowed lawns, like new books, and coffee grinds. She smelled like Africa in winter, and the circus in January, and crushed mint leaves. She had a personality for every one of the seasons. The nasty ones. The ones that hugged you until sweat came out of your pores. She was a puzzle, rotating and spinning, and even when I thought I'd finally got her – I didn't, really. I never do. She's a ghost, and a tease, and a falling star.
Did yours drink tea when she was sad? Mine talked about how she used to dream about drowning in it. She would talk about it all somberly, like there was some grave meaning in it, before I realized that she was just hiding her smile behind her cup. She talks about her brothers and sisters, her sisters and brothers, and her neighbors and friends and dead relatives and mothers and fathers. She has so many she can't keep track. That's what she told me. And that was the problem – was it a problem with you? Everybody was in her heart, even strangers she met on the street, the man she gave her change to, and the boy that bagged her groceries – everybody. Everybody she ever met and never met was in her heart, and there was no more room left for me. And, you know, I still can't figure if this was my fault. I asked for more space, I demanded it, I wanted more room. In her heart. I wanted more room in her heart – for me. Just for me. I would put up fences and tape lines and build a moat, because it would be just for me. But she loved so much already she couldn't spare enough for me. And she hurt so much already that she couldn't hurt enough for me – just for me.
Tell me about the time you fell in love. The way you called it the first time because it was the time when it hit you like a bobsled on a grassy knoll, and you were off your feet for months. The doctor said you were paralyzed but he was wrong, you felt everything. You felt the ice cream dripping off of the counter two blocks away. You felt the bruise forming on Mrs. Hannigan's eye. You felt the broken leg of the boy in the park when he fell off the swing, and the tears that came to his sister's eyes because she wasn't watching him, and the wind that swept away a dandelion's petals. You couldn't walk – no, because you were too busy dancing. And with every breath you were singing. Nobody else could hear it, or see it, or feel it, because they weren't in love for the first time like you were.
You fell in love with her when she showed up with a sprained wrist. She dropped her books, all kinds of heavy books, and you passed by the first time. The second time, you came around, and you walked her to class. You fell in love with her and she was black and blue. She had a few broken ribs and a dislodged shoulder but you fell in love with her. She fell, and so did you. She cried and you sang. You were so young, don't you remember, and her hair smelled like strawberries. Sometimes when you touched her hair they were sticky from her tears. You lent her your records, your very best ones, saying, "Listen to this one, it reminds me of you." You'll like it. Every time I play it, I think of you.
When you kissed her for the first time it was sloppy, and wet. Remember what you told me? But you didn't want it any other way. The way she looked so embarrassed with her broken wrist with the record playing on in the background, you wished you could sing the song for her, just so she'd notice what you meant. But you know now that she only listens to the rhythm and can't make out the words. You tried to kiss her again but she backed away. "Sorry," she said to you, but she never said what for. You still wonder what she was sorry for, but she never kissed you again. You fell in love with her for the first time, and she never kissed you again.
Now you're going to talk about the first time she fell in love. Her name was Susan, Josephine, Maria, Lily, Helen, Ann, Stephanie, Lucy. You said she was everybody, but nobody was her. She fell in love at the fish market and she disappeared, and you looked everywhere, but she was gone. And when you told me this story over miles and miles of telephone lines, your cries were decorated by static. You missed her, and you couldn't sleep. Even when you dreamed you couldn't find her. You found everything else, but you couldn't find her. And she was all that mattered. Remember? You said she was all that mattered.
And I said to you, "You'll never find her. Your love swallowed her whole."
When you fall in love with someone for the first time, it will always feel like the last time. Because like the way it comes, the way it ends is like a car crash. It repeats. It plays over and over again, with the shredded metal flying everywhere, and the parts grinding against the rough pavement. The window shatters and the little tiny jagged pieces shower down like falling stars. It hurts, then it gets better, then it hurts some more. Because there is no smooth landing when you fall in love for the first time, not when it happens, and not when it ends. And there is no being safe.
Sometimes you will fall in love with something you don't understand, but there is something about it – something beautiful. Something tragic. Sometimes you will fall in love with a buried treasure and never be able to see what is inside. Maybe you were too young. I knew a man once, he was a hundred years old, and he was still too young to know. And I am much older now but I am still too young to know, just like you.
I am going to talk about the first time I fell in love. And I'll be calling it the first time because every time is the first time.
I am going to talk about the first time I fell in love – are you listening? Because this time it was with you. And I will try my best to forget all of those other times. I will try my best to love you, but the truth is I have loved too often and so much. I am so tired now.