Falling in love for the first time at the age of 27 after years of proclaiming every relationship “the real thing” makes you a lot like the little boy who cried wolf. Remember him? Kept insisting there was a wolf until nobody listened, then freaked out when a real wolf rocked up. In my version of the story, the wolf eats the boy, although I’m sure the real ending was something less grisly. Love, you see, is the wolf curled up at the end of your bed in the early hours of the morning: you jerk awake from a nightmare or because you’ve heard a strange noise, and there’s a wolf, just lying atop your duvet. It opens its eyes – yellow, if you like, or maybe icy blue, something that’ll glint a little in the moonlight – and there’s a long moment where the two of you just stare at each other. You know how this ends. You’re going to get eaten, no matter how hard you fight or how loudly you yell for help. And you know what? Sitting there, your heart pounding and your hands shaking and the wolf slowly unfurling its long dangerous body, you feel a little thrill – because it’s a beautiful animal, and who doesn’t, secretly, want their death to be beautiful?
I was the girl who cried wolf for the longest time, declaring every relationship, dalliance and flirtation something special. My friends were patient, and through the fog of desire I couldn’t see them rolling their eyes.
But then came 27, and then came S. It’s a long story (aren’t they always?), but I’m cutting it short: I fell in love. For real. The wolf had finally arrived, and she was more beautiful than I could express to you here. She was also, in no particular order, only in the country for ten weeks and in a serious, committed relationship. Funny how those details stop mattering when the wolf’s at your door. Funny how I let her in anyway. This isn’t a story about cheating, though. We didn’t. We wanted each other, and we said so, and our connection was so breathtakingly intense that I sometimes caught myself trembling with awe.
Then she was gone. That’s a long story, too, but more editing: I begged her to come back, to love me back, to give “us” a chance. She couldn’t, and I loved her anyway and I hated her, too. A year passed. She came back. But not to me, just to visit. We were both involved with other people – her serious, committed relationship was working really well and I was in a new relationship. Well, hey, I wasn’t going to wait around forever and someone amazing walked into my life. She didn’t look much like a wolf, but I loved her fiercely. It was different, you know? I guess once you’ve fallen in love for real the first time, the next time is a little easier. There was a corner of my heart kept on ice, but most of that pesky muscle was willing and able to move on.
Someone told me once that you never forget your first. That’s true. I remember my first lover, and I’m lucky – I smile when I do. I remember the first time I ever fell in love, too. It’s been four years since S walked into my life at the weirdest, stupidest, most perfect time and turned everything I’d ever believed about love and myself into a big lie. We’re still friends. She’s getting married soon – yes, same serious, committed relationship, stronger than ever nearly five years down the line. If I tell you I’m happy for her, would you believe me? I am. I’m just shattered for myself, and for the “us” that never was and never will be.
My darling, my wolf. I will always love you in a small, closely-guarded corner of my heart. And I will always hope that when I jerk awake from a terrible nightmare or hear a strange noise in the night, I will find you curled up on the end of my bed. You will open your eyes, and we will look at each other for a long, long moment – and it will be beautiful, and I will be happy to throw myself headlong into my fate.