We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another, unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, of fix us in the present. ~ Anaïs Nin
My first memory is watching my dad take our cat to be buried. Mom and I are sitting on the couch and staring out the large picture window at the front of the house. It’s nightime and my dad is silhouetted in the streetlight, his shoulders hunched as he’s pulling a wagon behind him containing the cat’s body. Mom is crying and I am about three years old.
The first lie I can remember telling is how I got the cut between my eyes. I was using a butter knife to open the paper on top of a peanut butter jar and I didn’t know enough to not point the knife in the direction of my face. It slipped and stabbed me right between my eyebrows. I told my parents that the refrigerator door had stuck and popped open and hit me in the face. Because I was seven, I was too dumb to realize that not only was I not tall enough for the door to make that particular point of contact but the peanut butter jar and knife were on the counter. I got one stitch for that incident and am lucky it missed my eyes.
The first memory I have of being scared to death is when it snowed at our apartment complex. There was a very tall hill at the end of a long parking lot and we decied to tube down the snow covered slope. Kind of like bowling with a really tall starting point and long lane. My parents allowed me to go down by myself and I flew like the wind, turning in circles and bouncing as I hit the pavement. Then, faster than I could realize, I felt a hard thunk and found myself with my torso curled over my lap. I had gotten stuck under the back of my dad’s car and gone in butt first. I couldn’t move, my face was in my lap and all I could see was my dad’s feet running toward me. I was thankfully uninjured and just very sore but all tubing down that hill immediately stopped for me and I was never as fearless again.
My first memory of my parents divorce is coming home from school and being told we were moving to Illinois and that my dad wasn’t coming. My second memory was being called to the principal’s office in Illinois only to turn the corner and see the back of my dad, who I hadn’t seen for six months, standing there casually talking to someone in the office. He had come to take me back to the only place I had never known as home. I don’t have a memory of how we got back to my mom but that’s obviously where we ended up because seeing Dad became more like visiting than it should have.
The first boy I ever kissed was a ginger before “gingers” existed. He was tall and built like a football player. It was Fourth of July, the summer between eighth and ninth grade. He and I had shared an English class and he happened to be friends with the boy one of my best friends liked. Her and I had the house to ourselves so we invited them over. I only remember the tingles that ran up my spine when his hand grazed my bare side, because I was wearing jean shorts and a cut off tshirt. We talked on the phone for most of the summer but there was a lot of pressure from him to do things I refused to do at 14, despite my cut off shirt giving a different impression, so when the school year came around, he ignored me for a cheerleader with a funny name. Did I mention he had a lisp? And that I hated him after that?
The first two guys I actually officially dated broke up with me because I wouldn’t sleep with them. One of them actually did it to have sex with my best friends older sister. She had his kid and hasn’t heard from him since. I laugh everytime I think about that.
The first time I learned to pick my friends wisely was after finding out two people who I considered my bestest friends ever stole from my mom. Stole enough for it to go through the court system. I was punished too because my actions had allowed them the access they needed to steal but only because I trusted that they wouldn’t do something like that. I spent ten hours doing community service and went into my junior year friendless. It took quite awhile before I realized I didn’t need friends like that anyway.
The first boy I loved was the first one I slept with and the first one who really broke my heart. He was in the Army, stationed in North Carolina and I met him during one of the long summers I would spend visiting my dad. We met over AOL because that was all the rage back then and the first night we spoke on the phone, we talked for eight hours. He apparently said all the right things because by the time I went back home, I was in love, not a virgin and in a long distance relationship. This lasted through my senior year of high school until he ended it two weeks before my 18th birthday and four weeks before my senior prom. I was devastated and I moved on by partying pretty hard with my friends and kissing a lot of other boys. Just kissing.
The first time I got drunk was in a hotel room with the boy above. I drank a few glasses of Boone’s Farm strawberry wine and spent an hour jumping on the bed. I found out the next day my body hated alcohol. That has never stopped me.
The only boy I ever broke up with was the only boy who I look back on and wonder what I was thinking. He was older than me by a year but you wouldn’t know it by the way he acted. I worked with him at the sporting goods store and he swore he loved this sixteen year old girl he was dating. He was nineteen. I felt I was this worldly college girl so I figured I could break them up and really, it was easy. Then we actually dated for awhile and he made me uncomfortable with his professions of love only a month in. And he cried. A lot. At everything. And I couldn’t take it anymore and broke up with him. He cried again and I felt nothing because I was so over it. Then he went running back to the high school girl and tried to slander my name across the store but that backfired because everybody thought he was annoying and they loved me.
The first time I was terrified of being alone was the first night I spent by myself in my very own, very first, 500-square foot apartment. My parents had moved to South Carolina and I had no one left in Philadelphia except for my boyfriend who couldn’t spend every night at my place, no matter how much I tried to convince him otherwise. I remember laying in my bed in the absolute stillness realizing that I was truly on my own, completely responsible for myself and that was not as awesome as I had thought it would be when I was screaming at my parents about how I couldn’t wait to move out.
The first time I got over that was every day after when I realized I could watch what I wanted, stay out as late as I desired and eat ice cream for breakfast while not wearing any pants.
The last time I felt like a real grown up was when I had to struggle with losing someone who I had thought was immortal. Of course, I didn’t really believe immortality existed but this person was such an integral part of my life that I couldn’t imagine it without him. I never thought I’d have to be the calm one, the strong one, the stoic one. But others around me were falling apart and it wasn’t a time for me to lose it. That was saved for when I was alone, when I could really let my heart break and not have to worry about making the other ones who were far too fragile pick up the pieces. And I realized that’s part of being an adult, recognizing when it’s a good time to collapse and when you have to hold your shit together, either for the sake of yourself or the sake of others.
The last man I fell in love with is the only man I never thought I’d be serious with. But life has a funny way of working out and I found myself elated to say hello only hours after I thought I had said goodbye for good. The last man I fell in love with is the only man who has followed me twelve hours from his home to make a new one with me. He is the only one who has stood by me through the good, stood with me through the bad and stood up for me when I couldn’t stand for myself. He is the leader of our Wolfpack, my copilot in life and the last person I’d ever thought I’d call husband.
He is the last of everything and the first of many things.
I remember every time I have second guessed my firsts and questioned my lasts. It just seems to be part of the human condition, always wondering if the choices we make are the right ones, the best ones, the ones that will make us into the type of adults that we want to be.
If you had asked me fifteen years ago what I would be doing with my life, I most certainly would not have told you it would be remotely like what it is now. But fifteen years ago, I didn’t truly know what living was. I never thought it would be in the laughter of friends, in the solitude of sitting on a pier and watching the breeze roll over the water. I never imagined that living was about the quiet moments with the last man I loved or the bositerous ones with family. It was always about the things I would have and not the people I loved.
There’s a first for everything. There’s not always a last. The value is learning from these moments and allowing them to teach you lessons and guide you in the right direction. As long as you’re doing this, there’s never a wrong decision, just a different path. And sometimes, getting lost is the best way to find what you didn’t know you were looking for. Sometimes, finding a new path takes you in the direction you were always meant to be.
So here’s to the first, the last and the in-betweens. May they carry you on the right path as they have done me.
Inspired by this article.