Carmelo Vallone reflects on losing his first love to homicide and why he can’t talk about the Trayvon Martin verdict.
For a year now, I have not said a more than a few words about the killing, trial and or verdict of Trayvon Martin. I’ve even blocked myself from saying much of anything on social media or elsewhere as it is hard to say what I really need to say to the world. Many times now I’ve tried to say it in small bits, writing these tweets or Facebook status updates. And then right before I’d post them, I’d click on delete draft or save draft, but never send draft — until now. Soon after, I realized I was still suppressing my own feelings about loss, dating back to my teenage years. Unfortunately, Trayvon’s unjustified death, worked rather well as a sense memory experiment for myself. I became an unwilling participant in this game that my mind and my heart was playing on me.
You see, I lost my first love from an unjustified homicide. I was 14 and she 16. She was my first real relationship; better known as the soul-crushing infatuation. Imported from the state of Vermont, “Kristen,” was the new girl at school. She had been kind of popular since the second she arrived in my small town in the middle of the ever exciting, Central Valley of Connecticut. Kristen was my older sister Sally’s best friend. She had a real woman’s body, (as opposed to the middle school ones I was then subject to) and she had these crystal blue eyes that could hypnotize anyone she looked at. In no time, I was considered their ghost-like and nerdy shadow that they brought to certain places out of either pity or obligation.
In truth I wasn’t always just her shadow. As a matter of fact, during that unknowingly final summer of her life she became an almost friend by proxy, of course. After she got to know me a bit, she even spoke to me with real kindness. In my bubble of idealism of her, Kristen became unlike any of the other girls at school.
“What are you guys doing tonight?”
“Um going out, looking for fun.”
“You know. What are you doing tonight?”
“On a Friday night?”
She then touched my face as she wandered off, me the puny kid, with glasses and corrective braces. I probably weighed 107 lbs soaking wet. When I wasn’t tagging along with them, I spent my time alone. I had very few friends and no car to speak of, a common problem for dorky guys my age in the suburbs. As the summer progressed I developed the dark, enjoyable yet introverted habit of running at night. I did it all the time, sometimes I started at 9pm, 10pm and or even at midnight. No one ever questioned my timid lifestyle, so I was somewhat safe from my father’s drunken tirades.
I’d pound the now cool pavement of my quiet, boring Connecticut neighborhood at any hour I liked. My Walkman would be playing the likes of Nine Inch Nails, Public Enemy, to my childhood muses Twisted Sister and Tears for Fears. As long as it kept me going, thinking about the future and or helped me ignore my own past, I was fine. The present however, I hid from like the Black Plague.
Only when I came home would I see the present, my own singular, true loneliness. I’d then lie in my yard stargazing, trying to cool off atop the earth and wet blades of grass. I had known quite a bit about constellations, comets and especially the planets. This all stemmed from a previous summer at the local “Astronomy Camp,” of all places. Sadly enough that was my life, it was a nerdy day camp at best. I mostly just watched the sun through a solar telescope and memorized constellations while I listened to my teachers’ conspirator manifesto about “Intelligent Life” on other planets. According to him there was a big US government cover up.
Tangents aside and regardless of Nerd camp, it taught me well about the sky, a place I often obsessed about. The sky then became my metaphor, and my nighttime escape. Usually by the same time in the night, around 12 or 1AM, when I was stargazing, Sally and Kristen would come home (She was staying with us over the whole summer). They’d always be getting out of some old beat up car or convertible or manly red corvette at best. It didn’t matter who was driving any of those cars, they were all the same, beautiful losers, blasting some sort of heavy metal “burnout music” as I called it. The guys in the car were those cool kids that often made my life at school a living hell: Preppies, Metal Heads, or even the occasional Townie.
They’d all see me in the yard, looking at the sky (sometimes with binoculars even) and laugh. Kristen on the other hand, would often join me in the grass. It was kind of magical (to me anyways). She’d stay with me long after my sister would go into the house, and much, much longer after that said cool kid’s car had peeled out down he street, leaving a trail of rotten smoke and burnt rubber.
The world’s cliches do live in the suburbs.
I’d let her head touch my head, or her hand or shoulder brush or press on to me as I pointed out the different constellations: Cancer, Gemini, Big and Little Dipper to the Northern Cross. The list was long and bright. In those moments, sometimes I thought what she and I had was real. These tiny moments of lovely electricity. Then she’d ask me to help her up off the ground, and I pull her up, and she’d say, “Goodnight, homeslice,” or “Later, weirdo,” and so on.
Then soon enough, summer ended and the school year started up again. I was doomed to go back to being the small, nerdy stranger in the halls of the high-school. She became a junior that year and I a lonely freshman who might have sat in the grass with her just weeks before. She kept her distance with me in the public eye but yet I still felt close to her. I could almost smell her perfume her in the air as she laid next me.
At the end of that same year the typical holidays came, and she went back to Vermont. She had to visit her family over winter break. I hated that she was gone, but she’d call again and again. Mostly for my sister who was usually out. So we’d talk, sometimes for hours. At times I’d even flirt with her, being as charming as I could possibly be at that time. She might have even hinted that she liked it. She made big plans to come down to the big city life of Connecticut for New Years Eve. She was newly single again, and said she was “sick of the rednecks,” in her “boring little town” in Vermont. She called them “Vermonsters.”
“I don’t like hunters, and everyone hunts up here.”
“I’d never kill an animal.”
“I know, that’s why I like you. You’re a weird, but cool.”
It was excited at this news, and I thought to myself, “Maybe I’ll even make a move. A move for a kiss at midnight.” I mean it wasn’t exactly a stellar review, but it was something, something I could clutch on to, dream-wise. Unfortunately that kiss nor the attempt of that kiss never happened.
What happened? I had missed my chance, and she was killed. Shot in the head at a friend’s holiday party. Killed by what the papers called some “drunk teenager” who claimed it was an accident. An accident, even though several witnesses saw him load the shotgun right in front of her, shove it point blank directly at her head, and then pull the trigger.
Now every December 26th, that whole in my heart is blown wide open so I can feel the cold again. Every year, I am reminded of what could have been, and the lack her presence in this world.
A lost life, is a lost life. What could have been, could have been great, like our friend in Florida, Mr.Trayvon Martin. I’m guessing he too, might have enjoyed looking at the stars at night, he too would have liked to have had more moments on this earth, but those moments are gone.
The shooter in question (in her case) was forced to serve a whopping 3 months in a juvenile detention center. His verdict, accidental manslaughter charges, and then soon after, he was freed. She however never became free. Never free to have a life, fall in love and or to just merely exist.
I wish I had the power and strength inside to write a more strongly worded piece about teens and guns, racial profiling, vigilantism, wild trigger happy types and or sick, antiquated Florida laws but I can’t. I simply know about this one thing: a deep pain and a tragic loss that’s stuck, trapped inside of me since I was a young man; a pain I feel every time I hear about a teenager dying needlessly.
She was not a prop, but a lost dream. Now, I can only listen and watch while other newer tragedies join her. What am I really saying? Missed opportunities are just that. They will never come back. They remain dreams forever, forever unfulfilled, and forever haunting us, if we’re lucky. There’s not one starry summer night that I don’t look up to skies, and just think of her and wonder, and wonder and wonder …
Photo credit: Flickr / arranmoffat