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He had that hair.
Curly and blond, it floated around his head like a cloud and set him apart from his swarthier, shaggier classmates. He had the bluest eyes. He was tall. He was confident, and when she saw him across the room at her little brother’s Halloween carnival in 1975 she knew that he was the one she wanted as her boyfriend.
They were both 14, and she was right. From seventh grade at Taft Junior High to 11th grade at Valley High, Francisca Contreras and Jubal Bobb were together.
Then, as it does, life took them on different paths to different cities, different loves, different worlds in which their relationship was a distant memory.
But it was a sweet one.
“We were each other’s first everything,” said Contreras, now 59. “We were each other’s first love.”
Now, in spite of the years and miles and the improbability between them they just may be each other’s last love.
Contreras calls it love in the time of COVID-19, a rekindling of a romance that blossomed anew 45 year after it began through an unexpected courtship hampered but not deterred by closures and travel restrictions.
It is, she said, love with the one who has known her past yesterday.
“He’s the closest thing to being home again,” she said.
Which is an interesting feeling for two people who have been married since June 17 but still maintain their separate domiciles – hers in Palm Springs, California, his in Breckenridge, Colorado.
By air, that’s a distance of 702 miles. By COVID-19 restrictions, it feels like many more.
When we talk, Contreras, who manages a bio-identical hormone clinic in Palm Springs, is in Breckenridge for the long Labor Day weekend. Bobb is off on his route for UPS.
Here, restrictions are more relaxed than in California. Restaurants are open to 50% capacity, Main Street and hiking trails are accessible to those who wear masks.
Earlier this year, there were no movies or places open for dinner, drinks or coffee.
“We couldn’t go on regular dates, but in a way we didn’t have to because we already knew each other so well,” Contreras said.
It reminded them of their younger days when money was tight.
“He used to forego lunch because he saved his lunch money for gas to pick me up,” she said. “We never had real dates.”
In high school, sports kept Bobb too busy for jobs. Contreras had several. She was ambitious, a straight A student with a focus on earning a college scholarship.
“That’s why we broke up,” she said. “I wanted to be serious about academics, and he wanted to be a boy.”
Contreras earned a presidential scholarship to the University of New Mexico after graduation in 1979. Bobb became a mechanic.
Both eventually married other people, had children, divorced, married again. Contreras moved to the West Coast; Bobb moved to the Western Slope.
They and their spouses attended Valley High School’s 10-year reunion, where Bobb won the Most Lost Hair award, his cloud of curl now coiffed in a less lofty style.
They saw each other again at the 20-year reunion but didn’t converse much.
The 40-year reunion was held in the summer of 2019, and for Contreras it was a reminder of how much had changed in her life. Both her parents had died within months of each other. Her children were grown. She had been divorced for four years and flailing in a dating pool that had grown increasingly shallow.
In her head, she heard her mother’s voice saying, “Go to him, he’s waiting.” But she had no idea who “he” was.
From across the room at the reunion she saw Bobb. They raised their glasses in a silent toast.
They didn’t speak. He left with his wife of 27 years.
“And I was thinking, how I wish I could meet someone who knows me past yesterday,” she said. “But you realize you just go on in life.”
Several weeks after the reunion, Bobb called her late one night. His wife had left him, leaving her farewell on a sticky note.
“He was broken, and in need of a friend who had been down that divorce path,” she said.
She never imagined then that the path would lead them back to each other.
For eight months, they talked and texted and Facetimed as old friends. It wasn’t until April that they admitted that maybe they were more than old friends.
“I could hear my mother’s voice again,” she said. “And I realized he was someone who knew me past yesterday. We connected on every level. Being someone’s first everything is an undeniable connection.”
For now, their paths connect through airports and long car drives. Both plan to retire in three years and settle down together, although Contreras said she is hopeful she can move her business to be closer to Bobb sooner.
If COVID-19 restrictions allow, they plan to meet up in Albuquerque Sept. 19 to share their joy with family and friends in that place where it all began for them – home.
Bob’s hair is gray and thinner now. But from across the room, he still stands out to her and she still knows he is who she wants.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.