First Love

I never liked the expression love at first sight. As someone who always found imperfections with her looks, I always considered this an impossibly shallow concept. And yet, while efforts exist to combat the worship of (society’s slanted perspective of) physical beauty–no makeup selfies, songs about self-image–trolls everywhere still echo the darkest voices of our subconscious.

Why is it that sight is the sense we choose to associate with instantaneous love? And I’m not talking about love at first smell or love at first taste (ahem, vampires). What about love at first voice?

Wavy flashback lines to seventh grade.

Fabulously awkward me, sitting at the back lab table in biology class with a Beauty and a Jock. Daily, he verbally reminded me of my shortcomings; merely looking at her had the same effect.

But every once in a while, during the last twenty minutes of class, I was permitted to fall in love. Our teacher read aloud to us, in biology class. Not from a science textbook but from a collection of short stories by Ray Bradbury. The Illustrated Man.

Sometimes, as teachers, we admittedly do things because we sincerely believe in their value. Sometimes, it’s because we need something to fill in a lesson that somehow ran short.

I’m not sure what was our teacher’s purpose for reading a collection of science fiction short stories in a science class. We didn’t have ‘I can’ statements back then.

What I do know is that there, during seventh grade, a homely girl with mousy brown hair fell in love with the Voice of literary science fiction.

Ray Bradbury. Orson Scott Card. Ursula K. Le Guin. Frederik Pohl. Isaac Asimov. Robert A. Heinlein.

Even Mary Shelley.

Writers who didn’t just care about the hows of science fiction but the why this matters. Character-driven, emotional, whoa-let-me-go-back-and-reread-that-so-I-can-think-about-it writing.

Flash-forward to high school.

Slightly less awkward me, but fabulously flannel. (It was the 90s.)

Ray Bradbury visited my hometown, and our class went to see him. He spoke to a sea of young people, most of them probably there to get extra credit from desperate English teachers. I remember two boys with “Bradbury 3:16” written in Sharpie on plain white t-shirts, standing up and yelling from the back row.

I remember clutching my secondhand copy of Fahrenheit 451, naively thinking I could convince this god to sign it.

And though I can’t recall his exact words, I know he spoke of writing Fahrenheit 451, renting a typewriter for a dime at a time in his nearby public library. Suddenly, the Voice I had grown to love for the stories he told split into two chords, creating a wondrous harmony. The Stories, themselves, and the dogged Writer behind them.

So I ask you this: with whom did you fall in love at first voice?

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