Do you remember the first time?
Originally published on Fourteen Zine.
First times have always meant a lot to me. How long will I last?
A 22-year-old returns to his apartment and marks the locations on a map of Paris where he experienced his first heartbreak and first attempted murder. “Only first times matter to me,” the boy later confesses. It didn’t matter whether the experiences were good or bad. They were important because they were the first.
Boy Meets Girl (1984)
When I first watched Leos Carax’s Boy Meets Girl, I almost laughed out loud because the scene with the map sounds exactly like something I would do. When I was 18, I kept a list of first times in the back of my journal. I put the important next to the unimportant, didn’t distinguish between good and bad. It was my way of recording a time when so much was happening for the first time that I no longer had time for the long, rambling journal entries of previous years. This list would have to do.
When I started it, I cherished each first time whether I enjoyed it or not. I quoted Oscar Wilde’s “always be in search of new sensations” and decided that I wanted to try to everything once, that any experience was better than no experience. I kept that list so that I wouldn’t forget, not realising that it would lead me to misremember how things really were.
Once I put an experience on paper, I condemn it to nostalgia. Memory is tricky. Whenever I write about anything that really happened involving another person, I’m scared that person will reach out to me and say that what I wrote never happened like that. That I got it wrong. That my memory is a liar. We tell ourselves stories in order to live etc. My memory of many first times is hazy, lost to the mists of alcohol, nostalgia, and time.
At some point in our lives, first times start happening less. They never disappear completely, but they happen less frequently and mean less each time. You will never relive your first kiss or the first night you stayed out ‘til dawn. You can only remember. When Alex in Boy Meets Girl tells a girl at a party that only first times matter to him, she replies, “You won’t last long then.”
I suppose my fear of running out of first times is a roundabout way of saying I’m afraid of getting old which is a roundabout way of saying I’m afraid of dying. Dying is the last thing we all do for the first time.
In my journals, I rarely gave much space to the first times that culturally we consider the most important (losing your virginity, moving out of your parents’ house etc.) Most of the first times that really shifted my perspective happened without ceremony. They happened listening to my iPod in my bedroom. They happened running up escalators to catch the last train home. They happened in pubs and clubs that became palaces because of how much they meant to me.
The title of this piece is borrowed from a Pulp song. Pulp are from Sheffield, the city where so many of my first times happened. I could create a constellation of crosses on that map. First love. First heartbreak. First attempted murder (just kidding.) A lot of Pulp songs are about growing up. ‘Do You Remember The First Time?’ acknowledges how, “We’ve changed so much since then, oh yeah we’ve grown.” ‘Disco 2000’ asks, “Won’t it be strange when we’re all fully grown?” Walking around the city listening to these songs made me nostalgic for the present while it was still unfolding. I imagined meeting up with all my uni friends in 2030 at a fountain down the road. I don’t speak to them anymore. I went back to Sheffield alone last year and revisited all the places where my first times happened, these locations like consecrated ground.
I sometimes wonder whether my obsession with first times is only a selfish obsession. As we get older, we are less likely to hear sentences like, “I’ve never felt this way before” or “this is the best night of my life.” When I’ve dated people older than me, I've silently mourned the fact that we probably won’t have many first times together because they will have done everything already.
The constant pursuit of first times isn’t dissimilar from anything else we strive for. I don’t like staying in one place or repeating the same routine for too long. The longer I stay somewhere, the fewer first times there are to be had. I worked a dull temp job in 2018 where I repeated the same tasks every day. The weeks blurred into each other. I would drive to work each day listening to the same Bright Eyes album. I had just gone through a breakup – first heartbreak! – and I guess I was really leaning into those feelings. The album opens with a child reading a book aloud. “I do not want to wake up in the same old bed and eat breakfast in the same old kitchen,” he says. “Every room in my house is the same old room, because I have lived there too long.”
It’s coming up to a year that I’ve lived in my current flat in London and it’s the longest I have ever lived somewhere that wasn’t the house I grew up in. I’m trying to have a summer of first times anyway. My friends and I keep joking that we’re in our healthy era because we’ve been trying lots of new sports now that we’ve run out of cocktails to try for the first time.
First times don’t run out. They just change. How long will we last? I don’t know, but it’s not over yet.