My first memory is seeing my sister in her crib, sleeping. She was wearing brown corduroy overalls, because people did that to baby girls in the 70s.
My first memory of my parents’ divorce is coming home from McDonald’s (a rare treat) to find the good couch gone, and with it, my father. They thought it would be best to have him move while we were out and then present it as a fait accompli. We were devastated, ages seven and five. It was the early 80s and people didn’t know much yet about how to get divorced well.
The first boy I ever kissed was Paul. He had deep dimples and a skater-boy haircut and a troubled soul. He lied a lot, about random things, like where he lived. We used to talk on the phone for hours and hours until my mom demanded that we hang up. He was in love with my best friend, Erin. I kissed him during a game of spin the bottle at my 12th birthday party; it seemed random, when that bottle found him, but everyone present knew it was my real birthday gift. It was an enjoyable kiss. He was dating Erin at the time, but you can’t deny the logic of the bottle. She never really liked him anyway; their relationship was arranged and maintained by me.
The first time I almost died was at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It was also the first time I’d ever seen the ocean. I was bodysurfing on a rented blow-up raft and got gradually sucked out beyond the breakers. When I slipped off the raft to walk back to shore, my feet sunk into cold, cold water; I was literally in over my head. I didn’t know anything about currents, and I was only a mediocre swimmer, but I made it back to shore somehow, about a half-mile from where my family was. No one had missed me yet.
The first boy who ever melted my bones was Craig. He was two years older than I was, and I pined for him from afar for years until he mysteriously decided he liked me one day when I was 14. (In retrospect, I believe my new breasts played a part in this.) The sound of his skateboard wheels growling over the asphalt on my street used to make my heart pound. When the big moment finally came, we were cutting through my neighbor’s yard on the way back from hanging out at the nearby elementary school. “I’m better at everything than you,” I told him playfully. I forget what we were talking about. It was summer, and humid, and we were far from streetlights, in a little pathway between two fences that kids used as a shortcut to school. He stopped, dropped his deck, and took both of my (suddenly cold and trembling) hands in his. “Are you better than me at…this?” he said, bending toward my lips. When he kissed me, I understood instantly what all the fuss in my aunt’s fat paperback romances was about. He tasted like Juice Fruit and joy. My blood fizzed and popped in my veins for at least 24 hours.
The first guy I ever slept with was…not the right person and is best forgotten. Let’s.
The first boy I ever loved was Jason. He was a bad boy, with long curly hair styled in what could fairly be called a mullet. He had pale blue eyes and deceptively boyish freckles sprinkled across a pert, friendly nose. He was a bad boy. I can still remember the way he smelled, like a particularly fragrant detergent and his own clean boy essence. He was built like a cougar, long and lean and liquid. He used to bring me York Peppermint Patties, and I would have crawled across broken glass to be near him. Jason was my first sensualist, unashamedly affectionate and creative. I require that in a man now. He once said to me, “Of course I like you. Can’t you tell?” but I never could. He’s the only person I ever thought I was pregnant by, and I was not particularly upset at the prospect. It turned out to be PCOS.
The first boy I ever officially dated and then officially broke up with was Jamie. He was an idiot. Early on, his mother took me aside and said, “Seriously, what is someone like you doing dating Jamie?” I could never quite answer that question — for her or myself — but he did eventually grow on me. He was a serial monogamist, and knew how to do all of those boyfriend things I’d been missing, like… call me his girlfriend. Introduce me to his grandma. Hold my hand at the mall. He’s still the only person I ever dated who said he loved me, though he actually did not, and I’m quite confident some of my ensuing boyfriends did. I had to break up with him when a pancake-faced girl named Cami confirmed that he had kissed her at the skating rink. I was surprised by how sad it made me.
The first time I saw my life jump into focus like a half-blind kid finally getting glasses was the first day of my freshman year of college. I love my mother more than my own life, but when she shut the door of my dorm room and walked away I felt the bud of my real self unfurl like a time-lapse photo of a blooming flower.
The first time I ever felt like the kind of adult I wanted to be was the summer I was 19. I was in New York, staying with my college roommate and her sister and another friend at the sister’s apartment just south of Houston. I had just learned that it was pronounced “house-ton.” The sister threw a party on her roof and I smoked part of a joint as fat as a roll of quarters. I ate Carr’s whole wheat crackers smeared with chevre and my mouth was so happy that I completely lost touch with reality for several minutes. I have always been a terrible and infrequent pot smoker. I had recently been banished back to Ohio for my sophomore year, and I was still crying about my sorry fate for hours each day. But standing on that roof with my two best friends in the warm night air, looking out over the Manhattan skyline, something in my chest swelled and swelled until I was dying for it to break, and when it did I felt light and happy and free and I knew I was going to get the life I wanted.
The first time I doubted that was every day since.
The first time I really knew how random and cruel the world is, and felt my place in it irrevocably skewed, was the day I walked out of my front door into the hellscape of the shooting. It was the first thing I thought of every time I woke up for years and years afterwards, as bright and gory and awful in my imagination as the day it happened.
The first time I thought I might be losing my mind, I was deeply, terribly afraid. But I was lucky, because I was wrong.
I am lucky.
The first man who broke my heart was Lieu. What else is there to say about that, except that I must have needed that lesson because I dealt it to myself.
My sister says we are ascendant right now, on a path toward greater health and happiness and personal fulfillment.
Sometimes, the day comes when the risk to remain tight in a bud is more painful than the risk it takes to blossom.*
There’s a first time for everything.
*With apologies to Anais Nin.