A Teenage Love Story

20 years ago today I met a boy on October 24, 1998 at the Mt.Sac Cross Country Invitational. It was the Fall of my junior year. I first saw him the night before right after he had run his race and my friend pointed him out to me as the guy she wanted me to meet. She was dating someone at the time, and together they decided they should introduce their best friends to each other. When I first saw him from far away, he was wearing this bright yellow long sleeve soccer jersey over his cross country uniform. He seemed upset at his performance in the race, so my friend thought it was not a good time to make an introduction. I will say that the very first time I laid eyes on him, even from far away, the first thought that came to my mind was: “this one is different.” There was something about him, maybe it was that bright yellow shirt, but I can still remember that moment when a glimpse of a thought in my mind told me there was something about this boy that would be different than any other guy I had dated before, or different than any other guy I had met or would meet. It wasn’t until the next morning, the 2nd day of the invitational, the day I was running my race that I would actually meet him for the first time. There I was in my uniform, nerves and butterflies in my stomach as always happened in anticipation of my race. I was walking with a friend when his friend whom I had previously met stopped me and said I want you to meet someone. I stopped, a little embarrassed because I was not exactly prepared to meet a boy, not looking my absolute best. I was not able to pick just the right outfit, or do my hair cute. I was in my cross country uniform with my hair in braids, a little sweaty from a warm up. And there was the fateful moment. He said, this is Tommy, and he shook my hand, and I smiled trying to figure out if I thought he was cute or not. He was wearing a baseball shirt, with navy blue sleeves and over-sized jeans as was the style for boys in the 90s. Tommy seemed a little pre-occupied in trying to find a ride home from the invitational and only spent a few minutes engaging in conversation with me. However, in that short time we figured out that we lived in the same city, which I thought was odd, because I thought I knew every catholic school boy in my city. So when I realized we were both from Pico Rivera, it did make me feel again, like there definitely was something different about this boy. That was our introduction, a two minute conversation in the middle of a grass field on the Mt.Sac campus.

I went on to run my race, and it wouldn’t be until a few weeks later when we would actually get to have a real in depth meeting and conversation. Myself, Tommy, and our friends, the matchmakers, met up at my friend’s house, a plot to have me and Tommy get to know each other better. We talked about living in Pico and that he went to grammar school in East LA because that is where is grandma lived who often took care of him, explaining why I had never met him before. My friend and I had a conversation long before I met Tommy where we both described the type of boy we would want to be with. I remember saying, “I want someone I can just rent movies with.” (This was the 90s renting movies was a thing) So on this night when we were getting to know each other, he talked about exactly where in Pico he lived and the kinds of things he liked to do. And then we mentioned he goes to this movie rental place by his house, and I told him I knew which place we was talking about. During this exchange, my friend looked at me with a smile signaling to me if I had noticed that he was the kind of guy who like to rent movies. I smiled back at her signaling yes, I did hear that. Later my friend and I talked about it as a sign, a sign of what? We could not know. Tommy and I hugged goodbye that night, and planned to go out on a proper date.

Several weeks later, the four of us planned to go to Disneyland. When he came over to pick me up, my mom had a sore throat and was not able to grill him like she normally would to a guy I dated. My father was pre-occupied with the soccer game and just waved at Tommy, not taking his eyes off the TV. We had a wonderful time, I wish I had pictures, there were no camera phones at the time.

A few weeks after that I had a soccer tournament one weekend, and the very first game I received a black eye from a high kick. The next day Tommy surprised me by showing up to my next game, although I was so embarrassed for him to see me with a swollen eye. But he didn’t care. I will say I played extra good that game. The very next night, we went to the movies together for the first time. We saw the movie A Bug’s Life, I still have the stub somewhere. I tried to hide my black eye with these fake cat-eye glasses I used to wear because again it was the 90s. He told me to take them off because he wanted to see my face, and that I still looked beautiful. Yes, corny moment.

A few weeks after that, we went to the Rose Parade. He picked me up super early on New Year’s Day and we parked somewhere, and then had to walk a ways into Pasadena to find our seats. We were walking along Colorado Blvd. holding hands. I was looking away from him distracted by the scenery, when he leaned in to kiss my cheek, (that’s what he says) in that moment I turned and his kiss landed on my lips. And thus our first kiss.

As months went by we came to realize that our families had actually met about 8 years prior when my brother and his sister went to homecoming together when they were in high school. In fact, the picture from that dance was still up in my house when Tommy and I started dating. (I know, weird) Nothing ever came of their relationship, but our families remembered each other and thus made for a smoother re-introduction. It was not be until way later that year, after some teenage high school drama, that we would say I love you to each other in a very late night phone conversation.

But, I guess I can say it was that first kiss that sealed our fate. And yet our 20 year relationship since has been one hell of an epic saga. Up and downs, great times and not-so-great times. In fact, we’ve had some really bad times, ours is not perfect love story by any means. But somehow through it all there’s never been anything bad enough to break us up. There is something about when we are going through rough times that I think back to that first moment I laid my eyes on him, to that thought in my head that this boy was different from all the others. I remember what it was like to be a teenage girl falling in love with this skinny champion cross country runner from Pico. I remember the innocence of our young love, how we fell in love with the most pure parts of each other. Life, adulthood, marriage, parenthood, has thrown some major wrenches in our relationship, has created unforeseen complications. But I truly feel like what had kept us together all these years, is that we remember the purity of our love, the genuine foundation on which we built our love. At our core, we are still two teenagers having fun together adjusting to every new challenge life brings us.

I could have never imagined in my wildest dreams, that the boy I met at the Mt.Sac cross country invitational was going to be my husband, was going to be the father of my children, was going to be the man who would stand by me through all my life’s challenges, through grad-school, the death of my father, my mental health struggles. At the core of our relationship is our simplicity. He’s still the guy I want to just sit around and binge watch TV shows with (the modern day equivalent of renting movies). This past summer at the height of my mental health struggle, we were in the car on the way to our weekend getaway to clear my head, I turned to him and said, “thank you for being here with me,” and he responded, “where else would I be?” In true Tommy fashion the tone of that response was meant to convey his unconditional love and support. In that moment I felt like we were teenagers again, even if just for a moment, like I was falling in love with him all over again. I held his hand, leaned my head against his shoulder and reflected on the journey of our love, and I smiled.

I can’t say in any way shape or form what the future holds for us. I can’t be naïve to the possibilities that anything could happen with us. But I know in the deepest part of my soul, that I will always have love for him, that our souls are connected, that our epic love saga is beautiful, and I hold on to that to keep us going even in the dark times. We were but kids when we met, 20 years later, 2 kids, 11 years of marriage and a lifetime of memories later, we are still here. Here’s to to another 20 I guess.

Renee Lemus1 Comment