|Illustrated by Andrea Ucini.|
Elena Ferrante: 'I loved that boy to the point where I felt close to fainting
In the first of a new weekly series, the novelist recalls her first love
by Elena Ferrante
Saturday 20 January 2018
ome time ago, I planned to describe my first times. I listed a certain number of them: the first time I saw the sea, the first time I flew in an aeroplane, the first time I got drunk, the first time I fell in love, the first time I made love. It was an exercise both arduous and pointless.
For that matter, how could it be otherwise? We always look at first times with excessive indulgence. Even if by their nature they’re founded on inexperience, and so as a rule are not very successful, we recall them with sympathy, with regret. They’re swallowed up by all the times that have followed, by their transformation into habit, and yet we attribute to them the power of the unrepeatable.
Precisely because of this innate contradiction, my project began to sink right away and shipwrecked conclusively when I tried to describe my first love truthfully. I made an effort to search my memory for details and I found few. He was very tall, very thin, and seemed handsome to me. He was 17, I 15. We saw each other every day at six in the afternoon. We went to a deserted alley behind the bus station. He spoke to me, but not much; kissed me, but not much; caressed me, but not much. What primarily interested him was that I should caress him. One evening – was it evening? – I kissed him as I would have liked him to kiss me. I did it with such an eager, shameless intensity that afterwards I decided not to see him again. But already I don’t know if that really happened then, or in the course of other brief loves that followed. Certainly I loved that boy to the point where, seeing him, I lost every perception of the world, and felt close to fainting, not out of weakness but out of an excess of energy.
Consequently, I discovered, what I distinctly remember of my first love is my state of confusion. Or rather, the more I worked on it, the more I focused on deficiencies: vague memory, sentimental uncertainties, anxieties, dissatisfaction. Nothing, in fact, was sufficient; I expected and wanted more, and was surprised that he, on the other hand, after wanting me so much, found me superfluous and ran away because he had other things to do.
All right, I said to myself, you will write about how altogether wanting first love is. But, as soon as I tried, the writing rebelled, it tended to fill gaps, to give the experience the stereotypical melancholy of adolescence. It’s why I said, that’s enough of first times. What we were at the beginning is only a vague patch of colour contemplated from the edge of what we have become.
• Translated by Ann Goldstein. Illustrated by Andrea Ucini. Elena Ferrante is the author of The Days Of Abandonment, Troubling Love and the four Neapolitan novels