(This follows on from Sixteen, and before that, Fourteen & Fifteen, and before that, Twelve & Thirteen, and before that, Eleven, and before that, Seven Through Ten, and before that, Zero Through Six.)
1997, aged seventeen: The way I meet my first boyfriend is that he asks to borrow my eyeliner, and this is a story I will tell for years because it always makes people laugh. We're in a club that has indie rock nights on the first Thursday of every month, and I am almost certainly wearing plaid. Dan is a friend of my wild friend Caroline, and I end up putting the eyeliner on him myself, sitting cross-legged on the dirty floor in the dark. The relationship doesn't last long---three months, tops---and I break up with him in his car one too-light afternoon, and because I'm not sure where to look, I end up looking at a sheet of passport photos sitting on his dashboard, his frozen face smiling up at me in black and white.
That summer I'm back in Connecticut, and Sean comes over one night and we lie on our backs on the grass by the pool, looking up at the stars, and nothing happens because we're only friends, but something in me snaps and I decide that I just can't take the tiresome almost-ness of it anymore. I write him a letter telling him how I feel about him---how I've always felt about him---and I leave it in his mailbox, and the next night he calls. A few weeks later, he kisses me in his car in my driveway, and when I finally go inside the house, I force myself to wait until I see his tail lights disappear around the corner before I jump, like a maniac, around my living room.
1998, aged eighteen: For my eighteenth birthday, my mother lets me have a party. She insists that we vacuum before the guests arrive and I tell her it isn't neccessary, that no-one will be looking at the carpets, but we do it anyway because that is what you do before parties, she says. As it turns out, the carpets get so utterly destroyed that night---beer stains, cigarette burns, blue hair dye---that they end up having to be replaced entirely. It is a very long time before we can laugh about this.
In the Spring, my family takes a vacation to Orlando, where Sean is stationed with the Navy, which is what he's decided to start doing with his life these days. I haven't seen him since September, and when he comes to pick me up at the hotel, he is wearing his uniform, and we drive to the beach in the dark in his jeep. A week later on Easter Sunday, we agree officially to become boyfriend and girlfriend, and this is news to my actual boyfriend, Ian, whose heart I break via telephone when I return to England. The callousness with which I do this will remain one of the top five regrets of my life.
Over the summer, Sean moves to South Carolina, and in September, my friend Alex and I decide to make the 14-hour drive from Connecticut to see him. It is my first road trip, and the exhilaration I feel at stopping at a gas station somewhere in Maryland in the middle of the night is the purest sense of freedom I've ever had. After we've been there a few days, Alex leaves and I stay in a motel in a seedy part of Charleston, during which I subsist mostly on cranberry juice and stale bagels bought from the K-Mart across the street, except for one day when I find myself so hungry that I run across the four-lane highway just to get to Arby's. Sean comes over every afternoon after work and takes me out to see the city I have no idea we'll be living in together five years later, and when the week is over, he drops me off at the Amtrak station at dawn and I cry the whole way home.
A few days after I get back, the phone rings at 5am one morning, and my mother pads down the hall blearily, hands me the receiver. "Hello?" I say, whispering, hoarse, still asleep. It's Sean and he's drunk. "I just thought I should tell you," he says. "That I love you." It's the first time he's said it, and so I say it back.