I Get Around


By Louise Ure


I was still here in Australia when I heard that Kevin was gone. He died the same day, in the same city, that the Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot.

His death didn’t make the headlines in Tucson. In fact, his body wasn’t even discovered until the next day.

As remarkable as that Giffords-shooting day will remain in Arizona history, it is the boy from forty years ago that I will remember.

Kevin Michael Palmer. My first love.

“Dear Louise,” the email from his friend Doug Beckett began.

”I’m terribly sad to have to tell you that Kevin passed away. I’m sure this is a terrible way to find out, but I thought you should know sooner rather than later and wanted to be the one to tell you. I know how much you both meant to each other.

The cause isn’t known exactly. He passed away last Friday and was found the next day in his shop by his employer’s spouse. The scenario was exactly as he would have wanted it, he was doing a wood project out of mesquite, which was his passion, and the doctors believe he passed quickly.”

Kevin was the first boy I ever swam naked with and the first person I ever French kissed — my back up against the rough bark of the eucalyptus tree in the yard and Kevin’s tongue between my lips like a small burrowing animal looking for refuge.

He had crystalline green eyes and wide, strong clavicles and shoulder blades which I often thought were the remnant ends where wings used to be. His hands were always calloused, denying the life of the poet that he was. 

We were together for those all important high school and early college years. He was my passion. My future. My dreams. I practiced signing my name, appending the word Palmer to the end of it like a new limb.

Kevin was a poet, a musician, a bad boy. A rebel with a cause yet undiscovered. I still have a 45 rpm record he made of the Beach Boys tune, ‘I Get Around.” I never realized how sad the lyrics were until I heard Kevin sing them in one-quarter time. “I get around” became the empty braggadocio of the perpetual loser. A lie.

He had a dog named Shiloh, a blazingly white Afghan hound — as graceful in movement as a delicate katydid — who was terrified by the world. When we’d go up to Seven Falls and spread a blanket on the hillside in the moonlight, Kevin would place a rope in a circle on the ground to pen the dog in. She would not step over it, preferring the safety of a known space, however small, to the horrors outside that insignificant barrier.

‘I could never love a woman without ambition,” Kevin said. When I won the scholarship that would allow me to get my first master’s degree in France, he had changed it to, “I could never love a woman who would pick up and leave me.” He was looking for excuses to leave, but I didn’t know it at the time. He’d fallen in love with a friend’s little sister and the time for his first love was done.

Now it’s truly the end of it. The end of Kevin Michael Palmer and all my memories of first love.

Here’s to the magic boy – all those years ago – who set me free.

Tell me tales of first love, ‘Ratis. Leave out the names to protect the innocent, if you must. But tell me what it was like, all those years ago. Or today.

23 thoughts on “I Get Around

  1. Barbie

    Awww, Louise… Big hugs to you… I hope your heart feels better soon.

    I'm 22, and my first real love just broke up with me a exactly week ago. There's been boys before, of course, but no one I'd been serious with. No one I'd take to my little's cousin birthday party or ask my mom if he could spend the night. No one I felt comfortable with, certainly no one I told my deepest, darkest secret to. There was only this guy. Was.

    I love him madly, and can't believe it's over. I've always known we wouldn't be together forever — we want such different things in life — but I'd never thought much about the end of it, really. We were together for over a year, some of it on and off, because of my issues with commitment. I'd finally given and and given up, and given my whole self to him.

    I'm waiting for my heart to stop aching, as my friends assure me it will. Waiting. And waiting…

  2. Tom

    If I'd been wiser, Louise, I'd have ringed a rope around my 17-year-old self (to ward off envy, ambition, fury) and that Elvish princess I should have treasured more.
    But these are the beautiful beginnings, and only beginnings. We are formed and forged again by what follows; the travels, the travails.
    I grieve, but cannot grieve.
    And I am so sorry for your loss.

  3. Shizuka

    It's amazing that you stayed in touch for so long
    and that his friend knew to contact you.
    I'm not friends with anyone I've dated (except passively on FB) and admire you for
    maintaining a deep friendship with your first love.

  4. Cornelia Read

    Oh, Louise… this made me cry. Hugs and all good things to you, today and always.

    My first love stole my heart when we were four years old. There's even a photograph of the two of us trying to elope that year, with a suitcase almost bigger than we were. First person I ever slept with, too, when we were appallingly young. He grew up to be a very different guy than that little kid–I still miss who he was as a child.

  5. Debbie

    Louise, your blog is so touching and I'm so sorry that you're feeling this pain. You truely are a master of written language, painting the images so vividly in so few words. I'd like to be able to do that.

    As for first love, I crush way too easily and remember with ease all the way back to preschool when Derrik and I liked each other, grade one…Teddy, by grade three…my 'boyfriend' Peter for 6 months, I'll stop there. You get the picture with the list! First serious boyfriend played guitar and is incredibly talented. We were together nearly six years and I keep in touch through his sister. He's returning from a six month gig playing on a cruise ship next week! He's one of those people who put on a guitar like you and I would comfortable clothing. I think his first love was and still is, the guitar.

  6. Murderati fan

    His name was James William Dalton III, a farm boy from Iowa, who wore a shy grin as often as he wore his cowboy hat to protect him from the sun. I was the city girl from the big town of St. Louis where the buildings loomed tall and the Cardinals played baseball. He kissed me in the hayloft, a soft, lips-closed kiss that painted the sky. Saturday nights and outdoor movies in the square. Laughing and slapping mosquitoes. Holding hands as we walked cracked sidewalks later in the sweaty evenings. Sweet kisses and ice cream sodas at the parlor. Our love lasted the long, lazy, watermelon summer.

  7. Allison Davis

    My first real passion was for a boy I met the summer before I was to go to Europe for my third year in college. He was so handsome, such a bad boy, he knew everything, spouted literature (Borges I remember), long hair messy, and he played guitar to melt your heart. Our first night out we were at the Brickskellar in DC on a hot summer night, and he said, "watch this." He took a piece of glass he found on the floor and told the waitress it had been in the pitcher of beer (which was now empty of course). She was appalled and brought us a fresh pitcher for free. Oh yeah. He laughed and his eyes were incredible — so much knowledge, he was one of the smartest and badest people I had ever met and I never wanted to let him out of my sight. That summer that boy captured my heart and stole it and never gave it back. The love had an amazing intensity that has never been matched since. We wrote while I was in Europe, and when I got back, he drove me back to college (from DC to Massachusetts) in a crazy blizzard. We were the only ones on the road and I never doubted for a minute he'd keep me safe. When I came to California after college, he disappeared and I tried to find him and never could. I worried that he had died. I would pine for him every once in a while wondering what if, idealizing him as the "perfect" guy. Then, right after my divorce about a year and half ago, I got an email and the re line said "Still Alive Say Hi" — Turns out he still thought about me, we each had lives and he wanted to write to tell me he still thought about me all these years. We had a phone call where I felt 15 again and the cute boy was calling…

    No we never did get back together, but just the reaching out was so magical in itself. Or maybe it was so I wouldn't pine for him anymore.

  8. Susan Shea

    Your post evoked dormant memories of the boys who were my first love. No, i wasn't promiscuous, but we moved a lot, and I'd no sooner set my swooning heart on a kid with James Dean hair and tight jeans when we'd up and leave. I think Elvis was my first love. On Saturday afternoons, I babysat my younger brother and sister by taking them to the movies. One day, almost without warning, Elvis Presley's first movie, "Love Me Tender," (I think – that was certainly the song in it) came to the local theater. My poor 6-year old sister and 9-year old brother had to sit through it three times. I'm not even sure I escorted them to the bathrooms between showings. I was struck dumb by love, undefined longing (think sex), and the knowledge that Elvis and I were destined to be together. It was powerful, visceral, and real, and is imprinted on my mind to this day.

  9. Ellen Byerrum

    Louise, what a heartbreaking and lovely post. Thank you for writing it. And as for that first rush of oxytocin, he's emerging in a new mystery I'm writing. Hoping to put those memories to rest and to use. My husband had an old girlfriend who I'm sure he thinks about from time to time. She died young so she can never age. Perhaps maybe those early loves serve to assure us that we choose our mates above all others, with both heart and with head.

  10. Louise Ure

    Hi all,

    It's early a.m. here in Australia. Sorry I didn't check in late last night when the blog first posted.

    Thank you all for the lovely memories in the comments today. Here's to all the James', Derriks and Peters out there. They made us the women we are today.

  11. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Intense and touching tribute, Louise. I'm so sorry for your loss.

    First love…it would take a week of introspection to figure that one out for me.

  12. Ray Rhamey

    You struck a note in me, for sure. As for my first (and very hot) love, I was 16 and she was 15. Loretta lives in my memory as Kevin does in yours, and, more than that, she is the core of the female protagonist in a novel I'm just about to produce. Come to think of it, there are elements of her sauciness in another strong woman character in another of my novels–I hadn't thought that until just this minute.

    Thanks, Louise, for sharing, and for reminding.

    Loves don't leave us, do they?

  13. JT Ellison

    Oh Louise, I'm so sorry about Kevin. And so glad that you have such amazing memories of your first love. Mine just had his first baby, and I'm so happy for him. We're friends after all these years. Hugs to you.

  14. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Beautiful post, Louise, Hard question for me to answer, though. My path with a first love was derailed – I guess you could say I was abducted into the underworld, and so was he. When we came back, he was different and I was different.

  15. Reine

    Louise- Again, I am moved by your post today, and all the comments. It took me awhile to get back, because I realized I had many "first loves" and had to do some sorting… most notably was Manuel – when we were 7, then Laurie when older.

    But real love– that had to be Scott. Scott. Scott. Scott. We broke up during Vietnam when he came home after boot camp. He wanted to… you know. I was afraid. He met someone else who wasn't. We've kept in touch over the years, and when I'm back home in Massachusetts, we go for coffee. Last year he said he was sorry, and we both cried. We have our own current loves and commitments, but there is something so precious about my relationship with Scott.

  16. KDJames

    This post made me cry too, Louise, and I'm sorry for your loss. But I must tell you — a part of me is fiercely glad that your commitment to this blog requires you to dust off your remarkable voice and put something into writing every other week. We're all richer for it.

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