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Reflections on the Lost Love of a 13-Year-Old Adolescent

Personal Perspective: My love life was altered forever in one fateful second.

Key points

  • Adolescent love should not be underestimated. Developments during the formative years clearly can have a massive impact.
  • Once true love is discovered, it becomes a way of life, a benchmark for how living with love could be.
  • Anniversaries are a great time to reflect on where we have come since the original event. Life is short; respect the moment.

This week marks a sorrowful day in my childhood life.

I have remembered October 23, 1971, as “a day that would live in infamy” continually for the next 50 years until now. I was 13 years old and madly in love with my girlfriend, Steffi, at the time. I have never loved like that again. It was beyond spectacular, even if it was built in the mind of my young, dreamy adolescent self. I contend that because I was so young, all of the trappings that naturally arise in more adult relationships did not have the time yet to settle into the prevailing context of my defensive/survival-based psyche.

During our brief time together, we indeed soared. We were not embroiled in all the strategies or obstacles that soon became a key feature of seeking out romance. Instead, we loved each other for who we were and even for who we were not. We had met at an 8-week summer camp in Ontario, Canada. We spent as much time together as we could over the next 56 days after our fateful meeting on day two.

Remembering my first love

She lived on the girl’s side, and I lived on the boy’s side. We did not have to make a date, dress up perfectly, buy or make gifts for each other (though we did that voluntarily during the summer), or wonder if we were going to break up. We knew the whole time that we adored each other on a level that neither of us had ever experienced before and that each day seemed to become even more exquisite than the last. To say that the experience was blissful would be an understatement. I saw it as a perfectly glorious meeting of a perfectly divine human being and myself.

It was fun to giggle and play, and we even shared our educational class 4 times a week. We took walks whenever we could, often finding ourselves at the fish hatchery, which seemed like an endless expanse of luscious greenery. We would walk to the perfect spot, sit down with each other, and talk, admire, laugh, and create. And then we would hold hands, knowing that that meant we loved each other, and walk back to the basecamp when the afternoon called us back—those walks, those days… beyond fabulous.

As the summer continued and we gained the favor of all the staff (we must have been so adorably cute), the end seemed to creep up upon us quickly. We said goodbye to each other and knew that we would be back the following summer, if for no other reason than to be with each other again. We knew we would see each other again. We knew we would be with each other forever.

Steffi gave me a gift on the day before camp ended that I still have today. I carried that gift with me for the next 50 years. It is a plaque built on plywood with tiny tiles that say, "I love you." It has a handwritten note on the back. It has been cosmically indestructible, despite coming with me around the world, through so many changes in life that the next five decades would afford me.

I also have all of the letters she wrote to me for the next eight weeks in a storage shoe box. They are so creative, so wonderful, so timeless, and so expressive. Everyone should have someone who can write to them how she wrote to me at least once in their lives. She was heartfelt, hilarious, poignant, and pure, all at the same time. She was stabilizing, forgiving, and understanding, as women are, but to me then, like no other person I had ever met.

It all came to a crashing end on October 23, 1971. Out with her youth group, Steffi and two of her girlfriends were hit by a drunk driver when the bus they were in was parked on the side of the road for a break. Instantly, these three young girls were swiped off of the face of this Earth, with only memories remaining. I found out the following day when our weekly scheduled call was interrupted by her mother telling our mutual friend, Nancy, what had occurred the night before.

I did a cartwheel down the stairs when Nancy told me the news. Screaming to my mother that Steffi was no longer with us, my mother did her best with me, but what became real was the following experience: Nobody will ever understand either what we had or what I had now lost. I will be left alone to deal with the impact of this. I became burdened with this notion as the days, months, and years went on.

The long-term effects of that loss on future relationships

My future relationships were all affected by that important date in time. Maybe my partners were at a massive disadvantage because they could never live up to the expectations set during our real-time puppy love affair. Maybe even more importantly, if I became very interested, I would become naturally afraid that my heart would be broken again if they unexpectedly left me prematurely.

So I always left relationships first.

Until now. I am in an amazing relationship with my incredible wife, Alexandra. With significant growth and development work, I have recovered somewhat and can cherish what Steffi and I had together. I am partnered with the most extraordinary woman I have ever met, and we are the new benchmark for what an excellent relationship can look like. I honor my pathway through this life and the relationships that have paved my way with respect and astonishment. But I always will love Steffi most. I love you, Steffi. May you rest in absolute peace.