When I was a young child I lived near an open field where sometimes, under the black night sky, I would stretch out to study the expanse of sparkly stars and wonder, what's beyond you? What comes after you? It was incomprehensible to imagine anything bigger.
"Heaven," I decided. "That's where Heaven is." Lacking any better description of Heaven, it made sense to me.
A week ago, sad over new and lingering memories of my brother as a younger and younger person, happy and healthy, I looked to the sky again.
"A little help here, please."
"Fine. Tell God I need him then."
Heaven is a busy place during the holidays, apparently, because God was tied up as well. I put those memories of retro-Bill away, reasoning that this stage of the goodbye process, was probably the last.
"Gone, then," I decided.
More than thirty-five years ago, when he was in high school, my brother fell in love with Robin, a girl nobody ever forgot - especially my brother. She was small and lively, with a laugh in her voice and joyful eyes that made people feel lucky to know her - particularly my brother. It changed his life to find her, and they were inseparable. They shared interests, had the same friends, lived big, lived in full, like there was no tomorrow, also known as, today.
Eventually, life happened, distance happened, time passed. They went their separate ways, took different paths. Nobody saw or heard from her again - including my brother. For as long as I knew him, until he met his son years later, no other relationship lit him up like that.
He never did show up for our meeting last week, and for the first time since we lost him, I could not sense his presence. Gone, then.
The next day, Robin found me on Facebook.
She'd learned of his death in a high school newsletter and she was crushed. Not because she'd harbored hopes of reuniting - she hadn't. And not because she isn't happy in her life now - she is. But, was she the love of his life, as he was hers? Yes, I told her. Nothing else came close.
Because, however great are the loves that follow, however lasting, or fateful or tried and true - none will do to our lives and hearts what the first one does.
It comes with a life span, first love does; a beginning and an end. Its memory is perfect and intact, it occupies a special place in our histories forever, a bright, high sun over everything that follows. It is the end of a diving board, when taking a little risk to go further is first required and then becomes involuntary.
First love is proof that at least once, you possessed the capacity to connect without a thought for the why, how long, and "if" of it. There is longing without reservation, adventure without caution and communication that is pure and not parsed. There is knowing you may reach the end of the ride someday without believing it for a second.
First love is the cleanest thing in the world.
I don't believe anyone forgets, or doesn't love, their first love, a little bit, for the lifelong memory it creates of who we were and of what we can mean to someone else.
For anyone who laments that it came, and then went without the right send off, take heart. If you were ever lucky enough to experience this starter-love, and wise enough to let it go while it still had the power to shape your future, you did it right.
If you haven't fallen in love yet, take heart. It can't be rushed, there's no deadline, and you can't ask for it. No serious love - whether it's the first or the last - responds to invitations.
And then, one night, one day, one afternoon, you will suddenly realize that without meaning to, trying to, or even wanting to, you've already opened your heart to someone who wants to be nowhere else.
There is only one thing that will come of this company which is to answer all your questions about everything in the world that matters.
If you've already experienced this, you're better for it.