Our theme for the month of November is “firsts.”
You’ve always put a lot of stock in firsts. It seems to be an important thing in this world. Your first words. First steps. First day of school. First crush. First kiss. They mean something, don’t they? They’re raised like signposts, like monuments. They’re recorded in baby books and photo albums and journals. Baby’s first Christmas, and all of that. So you’re sad when you can’t remember your firsts: your first concert? Your first friend? Your first time riding a bike? Your first time in a boat? You just can’t remember them all. Sometimes you’re too young, but you’re going to try to remember them from here on out. You decide to keep tabs on them, but it’s harder than it sounds.
You’re seventeen and you’re on your first camping trip. It’s night—the first night—and you awake many times amidst the lapping of soft waves and the chorus of insects. Two sleeping strangers lay cocooned beside you, faces flushed and slack with sleep. Because you arrived late to the campsite and the skies were clear, you did not put the rain fly over the tent. Every time you open your eyes and find yourself awake, you prop yourself up on shaky elbows and you look over this shadowed land you have not yet seen by light. You fix your eyes on the bloom of the moon, milky white overhead. Every time you look, it is in a different part of the sky.
It is not actually your first camping trip. You’ve slept in a tent before. You went camping when you were younger, you remember sleeping on the mat next to your parents, you remember watching the mosquitoes flicker on the nylon ceiling, you remember. But somehow out here, it still feels like your first time. You’ve never experienced anything like this before. You refine your statement to make it look more true: this is, in fact, your first time camping in the backcountry, away from other people, without your parents, on an island, etc., etc., etc. But really, in your heart, you can just tell yourself it’s your first time camping and you know what you mean. You know that it’s true by itself.
The first time you tasted wine you wanted to like it, and almost did. The first time you said a swear word, you actually meant it. The first time you felt so happy you almost cried, you were just a kid but you felt much, much older than that. The first time you saw a dead body you wept in part because you knew it wouldn’t be the last.
Maybe that’s why we think firsts are so important. Most of the time, when you mark the first of something, you know there are more to come. You’ll speak over 800 million words in your life (or so they estimate) but those first words—they’re the threshold you have to cross to get to all of those that are to come. That’s why you’re always waiting for that first kiss, because until then all the ones that come after are impossible.
Tomorrow you will turn twenty-two. You are sitting in a taxi in Bucharest and you realize this is the first time you have taken a taxi alone. It is silly you recognize this, silly you put any importance on this, but there it is. No one cares about things like this, but somehow you do. Lately, you’ve been noticing all of your firsts that are alone. They’re happening more and more these days, and you’re not quite sure how you feel about that.
You do your best to get a fair price from the driver but still you are ripped off. This is the first time you’ve been ripped off while taking a taxi alone.
You’re twenty-two and you’re sitting in a bedroom that’s yours even though it doesn’t feel like yours. You’re sitting in a life that’s yours even though it doesn’t feel like yours. You’re watching all these firsts pile on top of each other, slip together, mix and tangle and unravel in your mind. There are more coming.
You’ve watched yourself step in and out of versions of you, but somehow you never change. You are always you, always becoming you. You’re always your own first person, over and over and over.
This is not the first time you are learning how to own yourself, how to carry your voice, how to hold your messy thoughts, but it feels like the first. It’s the first time you’re living this moment after all. Look: now it’s gone. Now you’re onto the next.
A whole lifetime of firsts—that’s your monument. The monument of your first person, replaced by your first person, replaced by your first person. There is no break, there is no gap.
You are here, now, and it is your first time.
Jenna Griffin loves foreign music, old cookbooks, public transportation, and sunsets in new places. After graduating with degrees in writing and French, she is spending her first post-grad year as an English teaching assistant in the Midi-Pyrénées region of France.