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.