real life

'I discovered my first love is dying. Despite 20 years apart, it's broken me.'

You were Kelly Slater and I was Layne Beachley as we body boarded (not surfed – we couldn’t surf) the waves together. 

We were young – in high school, where without other friends around us we could use our imaginations and play these child-like games that perhaps once as primary schoolers we would have played with these friends too.

That was us. We laughed, we were ourselves, we taught each other how a relationship works properly – that pretence and fakery gets you nowhere but being who you truly are is essential, if you want to be happy, if you want it to last. 

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So, that is what we did for our last years of high school, we still showed glimpses of our childlike selves, the playfulness and innocence that was within us but we also navigated our way through what makes an adult relationship what it is for the first time – physically and emotionally. 

Nearly 20 years later (and wow, I can’t believe it), despite the distance and time that has gone past, our relationship has always remained pivotal in my life, because it changed me in so many ways. 

In fact, it changed me in ways I didn’t even know it had, until recently when I finally saw it for the first time.

You see, a few weeks ago, I heard that you are sick, or as the person who told me the news said, "really sick."

An illness that is slow progressing but one that is ultimately incurable, that will take your life too early. 

When she told me this, I was in disbelief, you were always so fit, so strong, so healthy, so tenacious and this disease just surely couldn’t be within you. 

But it is. 

For the days following this news I spent a lot of time reflecting on us. 

I took out my old photo albums and flipped the pages and pages of photos of us together. 

I saw us at the beach, at theme parks, at school dances. From swimmers to suits and dresses, to the final ones of high school graduation, of my 18th birthday, just weeks before we would go our own ways, for good.

As I went through each page in the album, my emotions jumped back onto that roller-coaster that was us, from the absolutely joyous, love filled, hormone driven first year where we could each do no wrong, to the year where we started to plan our own futures after high school and realised our differences, and that we were becoming different people to who we had been when we met.  

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Then I felt the pain of our breakup, the bitterness and borderline hate that we felt as we deliberately hurt one another because the emotions were so overwhelming and too intense for us, still as kids, to know how to cope with properly.

Then I felt the absence of you, of you gone in every way from my life and me trying to work my way through it, never thinking that I could.

But of course, I did, I am here now; I am happy, healthy and I love my life and up until a month ago, I thought you probably were too. 

In my memory, like my photo album, you are 18. 

You are a golden-haired, tanned skin swimmer, you are fit and healthy; you are a charismatic adventurer, with the world at his fingertips. Nothing could ever get in your way, you are unstoppable.  

But I guess things change.

After I learned about your diagnosis, I felt a stab of pain so intense it winded me, I didn’t know how to react. 

Yes, nearly two decades have gone by but it was with this news that I clearly and deeply saw how you impacted my life in so many ways.

Now you have also taught me something else, something that perhaps I didn’t really want to know, that no one, not even the forever young, forever fit and healthy are immortal. 

Despite no longer being in each other’s lives, knowing that you, an incredible man who taught me love is facing his mortality, still so young, is devastating and there is seething I would like you to know: 

The power of a first love changes you. It changes you in ways that can only ever be by a first love.

It lives within you something, an essence, a knowing, a something that is undefinable, that always remains. This piece of pure, brutally honest and often painful love teaches you the power that this four-letter word can have – both good and bad. It shows you, as a person, what is possible, what magnificence you are deserving of and that you can be loved for who you are. 

It leads you to find your own purpose, your own pathway, your true love – whatever, or whoever this is. 

This, Kelly, is what you did for me, and I thank you for that. 

Feature Image: Getty.

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