I wish I had a photo of us. I have so many at my parents' house, but I have no way of getting them right now. Maybe my mom will text me a picture of one, and I can edit the card later. :)
My first crush was also almost my first fiancé. His name was Sean Ryan. We were in pre-K together in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where I lived for one year between the ages of 4 and 5. My dad was out there for work, and that's where my little sister was born. We lived in a suburb called Allison Park. My family always used to tell me, "They named it after you!" I loved that (my full name, by the way, is Allison).
Sean Ryan and I went to Memorial Park Church's pre-kindergarten together (you can see pictures of the church's exterior and interior below. No photos of the classroom remain that I know of). I know I was instantly attracted to him in that "I want to be friends with him!!" excited kid way, his big blue eyes, tons of freckles, bright red hair, and huge, eager smile. He was always smiling. I still remember the excited look he would get when we were laughing and having fun and really into whatever game we were playing.
Sean Ryan was also the smartest kid in our class. He did special classes with his mom after school, and could name all the US presidents in order. Even though we were only 5 years old, I felt like he knew something about everything! We both loved to read, and were really imaginative little kids. We'd play pretend every recess, and had frequent playdates at his house (which I can still picture bits and pieces of).
I remember one time he had a lot of cardboard boxes in his basement, and we built a HUGE fort out of them. Sometimes we would journey throughout the house as if it were a series of alternate universes, crazy worlds to explore. We had a lot of fun. He would have that big, freckly smile, and I loved every minute of it.
The Sean Ryan story I most like to tell is this. One day at recess, 5-year-old me finally plucked up the courage to confess my love to Sean Ryan.
"I really like you, Sean Ryan," I told him, blushing.
"I really like you too, Alli," he said back. Music to my ears! "I wanna marry you."
!!!!!! I was being proposed to, right in the middle of the preschool classroom!!
"I wanna marry you too, Sean Ryan," I replied shyly.
"No way! I wanna marry Sean Ryan!" someone butted in. It was Billy, Sean Ryan's other best friend.
SR and I looked at each other, puzzled. "Billy, boys can't marry boys," we said, in that innocent preschool way.
"Why not?" Billy demanded angrily.
Sean Ryan and I thought for a minute. "We don't know." We shrugged it off and continued playing, me feeling a little jealous of Billy as we tried to work out a schedule for who would get to be married to Sean Ryan, and for how long, before the other person would get a turn. Sharing is caring in preschool.
Note: Today, of course, I believe boys certainly can (and should!) marry boys if they want to. Silly preschool Alli had just never seen such a thing, probably due to my conservative Christian parents. I lost track of Billy after that year, but I hope he's gone on to find a nice red-headed boy to marry.
When I moved back to New Jersey, Sean Ryan and I stayed best friends and pen pals. We would exchange letters every few months. His letters to me always ended with a big, shaky-handed
I LOVE YOU,
Written out in block letters, just like that. It was my favorite part. And he would send me little gifts from his vacations, or around the holidays. We still have some Christmas ornaments with photos of him and his little sister's face on them. And I have a shell necklace he made for me after a family trip to Myrtle Beach. We definitely had the sweetest "young love."
But by the time we were 12 or so, we had all but lost touch. The only trace of Sean Ryan was every Christmas, when his mother Phyllis would send the annual Christmas letter, with a summary of what everyone had done that year, and an enclosed family photo. So I really did get to watch Sean Ryan grown up, if only through those intermittent photographs.
But the story isn't over. Years later, when I was 22, my mom said she had gotten a call from Phyllis. I was surprised. What could it be? Sean Ryan had just graduated from college too, she said, and he wanted to travel a little before heading to grad school the following fall. They wanted to know if they could come visit.
"Of course!" I said, excitedly. How crazy would it be, seeing Sean Ryan after all that time? So a few weeks later, they came. The doorbell rang. I opened the front door, and there stood Sean Ryan, exactly as I remembered him. Well, much taller, obviously. But everything was the same – the freckles, the fiery red hair, the enormous, sparkling blue eyes, and that wide, excited smile. It took only minutes for us to warm up to each other again, though it had been over 10 years since we had seen each other.
We spent a lovely few days together, playing board games (he always LOVED board games), running around outside, playing tennis, swimming, and just catching up on everything we had missed in each others' lives. It was beautiful.
He came back and visited again, later that summer. And we saw a Mets game together this summer. We've kept in touch, talking on the phone or over Skype pretty regularly. Sean Ryan is now in grad school, becoming a history teacher. He'll be amazing at it. I wonder if he can still name the Presidents in order; I should ask.
But he has been one of the most amazing friends in my life. My first crush turned into a lifelong friend. And for that, I am very grateful :)
I hope he doesn't mind me using a photo of him here. That's him, in all of his red-headed, many-freckled, blue-eyed glory. Still a genius. Still a friend. And still, forever, my first crush :)