I remember the first time I climbed a tree … and it is not because I got my knee caught and my father had to use the chainsaw to get me out … and my mother took a home movie of it all.
I remember it because it was the first time I did something first.
Before “The Tree Incident”, my parents kept track of all my other firsts: first time I crawled, first time I walked, first word, first tooth.
By and by, they had been ” firsted out”. I was, if not for the technicality of a twin brother, the last of their children.
From that time on, I kept track of my own firsts. They were innocent enough to begin with: first day of school, first time riding a two-wheeler, first time I swam the entire length of the swimming pool.
My parents rejoiced with me at every one, but it was my drive for more firsts that was all mine … my drive for more firsts that defined me as, well, a normal kid.
Then, as I entered my teenaged years, came the not-so-innocent firsts: the first taste of alcohol, the first puff on a cigarette (not, co-incidentally, the last puff, too) and the first time I kissed a girl (and the cascading firsts that come after that which shall not be recounted here).
These firsts I did not share with my parents, although I believe my father was smiling on the inside when he asked me about the shoe prints on the ceiling of my Pinto.
But, again, these firsts were mine to collect at a furious pace and, again, these firsts defined me as a teenager (OK, a teenaged boy).
First day of college, first full-time job, first apartment … the firsts were getting bigger, but less often. Firsts just didn’t define me anymore. It was all about the everyday struggle to stay afloat.
My tally of firsts began again with our first child: first time she crawled, first time she walked, etc. But the firsts were not mine and yet they totally defined me because I allowed it to.
I am thinking about the role firsts have had in my life because I faced something two months ago: my first last.
A friend offered to take me downhill skiing. I declined, saying, “Those days are over for me.”
What? I used to really enjoy downhill skiing. That day, however, I considered the risk to my bones and weighed it with the fun I would have and declared it an unsound expenditure of risk and effort.
Devil’s Elbow in Ontario, with my brother Stephen: that was my last time skiing.
What will the next last be? The last time I hike Grey Mountain? The last time I ride a bicycle? The last time I bench press 200?
Then there are the lasts I dread: the last time I hug my children, the last time I write a story, the last time I take a walk with my partner. Will I know when these lasts happen?
(This is why relationship failures hurt so much: it is the rushing preponderance of lasts.)
So, just as my firsts dominated my early years, my lasts shall dominate my later years … and it shall define me. Except, this time, instead of driving for more and more firsts, I will be seeking less and less lasts.
And perhaps looking for more firsts at that same furious pace.