The Last First Time


Downtown, in a tall building with glass fronts, a girl awoke, sitting up straight in a mass of fluffy sheets to the sharp ring of her alarm. Sliding the sleeping mask off her eyes, she yawned once before mechanically getting into the bathroom. Within ten minutes, she had showered and her long dark hair was tied in a messy knot at the back of her head. Nothing much went into her morning routine these days as she had become careless about her looks, her life, nearly everything.


The apartment was hers since the accident that had killed both her parents almost two years ago. With the anniversary of their deaths coming up, it was more important not to think about it too much–and living in the apartment made that nearly impossible. That was why she avoided it at all costs. She was only in the apartment to sleep and the only thing that indicated a personal life was her photo wall: a picture for every day in her life since the funeral. Now she had more than 700 pictures of an eternal mission that she was never going to complete: doing something for the first time in her life each day, every day. Click–her running up the stairs of the Empire State Building in Manhattan. Click–her doing a backflip. Click–her tasting an oyster in France. And of course the first picture in the middle of the colourful mess–her at the grave, the picture cut out from a newspaper. The neighborhood was obsessed by their deaths. 

Some said it came from the realisation that life was short, her wanting to live as much as possible. Some said it was a distraction. Some just said she was mad. In reality, it was probably a mix of all those things that kept her going–going on both with the project and her life at all. The key was not to think about it. Out of the door, she crossed the street without bothering to look left or right. 

A few minutes later she was sitting in a café downtown, skimming the pages of a magazine with no particular interest. Her days started like this: a coffee and a croissant before heading off to whatever she had planned. In the past few days, she had been on the subway the first time, had bought her first own bike and ridden it for the first time. Her life was full of exciting first times.

Today was different. The mission: the first time writing a real poem. It wasn't too hard to write a poem, she thought sipping her coffee, just string some pretty words together. It didn't even have to have rhyme. But that wasn't the way she handled her first time projects, and this one was actually one of the hard ones. Because writing a poem required her to deal with herself, with her thoughts, with her feelings, something she was all too used to avoiding.

Everything, she jotted down.

Materially speaking, she did have everything. A huge apartment downtown, all the money she would ever need, even her own café that she had bought three days after the funeral but that she had never even visited. Nothing was missing.

What is everything?

Sentimentally speaking, it was more difficult. She didn't have a lot in that department. She didn't even know what to count–or how to count. She had her freedom. She had her independence. She had her adventures. But what else?

Can one have everything?

Speaking of experience, she didn't have a lot of those before the accident. She had barely ever set a foot out of her world. But that had changed, proven by her memories and her photo wall. A downtown girl riding her own bike? Impossible. But somehow she had done it, and it had given her something that all the money couldn't. It was proof that doing something new every day was helping her.

Does one need to have everything?

Out of everything she owned, what did she really need? Not the apartment, not the clothes, not even the coffee. Her experiences made her richer. Her freedom made her independent, and at rare times, happy. But that freedom came with a price that she wouldn't have paid had someone asked her.

It suited her, she thought, that her poem only consisted of questions. Because what was her life? Nothing but a huge question mark. Sighing, she took another sip of her coffee that had gone cold by now. A strap of her dark hair had fallen into her face, and she impatiently pushed it back behind her ear. What was wrong with her? What was it with these words, her own words, that made her feel so restless, so angry with herself?

The sudden uncertainty was like a snake creeping up her back. A hot tear balanced on a lash. She was not going to cry. She needed to get out of here, go someplace else, someplace quiet maybe. She reached for her backpack to leave as someone else slid into the seat facing her, dropping two plain croissants onto the table. Looking up, she saw a girl in a butterfly print dress, her eyes shining in the light of the café. Perplexed, she couldn't do anything but stare at the strange girl across from her. She must have mistaken me for someone else, she thought. But no.

“Looked like you could use a break,” the girl announced. “What are you writing?”

She took a huge bite from her croissant to avoid the question.

“Trying to sort through the mess that is my life,” she said. Suddenly, it was okay to talk about it. Suddenly, there was someone who was not going to judge. Maybe it was because she clearly wasn't from downtown or in the circle she used to be a part of herself. Maybe it was just the final realisation that this was necessary.

The girl took a sip of coffee. “That sounds dramatic.”

“It kind of is,” she sighed. She started talking to the girl that she knew nothing about. And for the first time ever, it felt like a relief–it wasn’t doubling the pain. The girl stared at her for a long time. 

“I like it,” she said. The other girl looked up, surprised. 

“I don't think anyone's ever told me that,” she said. The girl’s eyes widened. 

“Oh, oh no, I didn't mean your parents,” she said, correcting herself hurriedly. “I meant the first times thing.”

She sighed. “I did too, I think it's a great idea. But maybe all I was doing was running away.” The girl reached out, putting a hand onto her arm. “You’ll get through it. Now, do you want to get out of here?”

Maybe that was the real first time, not the lousy poem. It was the realisation that through all these first times, she had been avoiding her real life, her feelings, her loss. And for the first time ever, she had the feeling that maybe there was hope for a new beginning. And that was the last first time. 

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Jana (18) is from Verl, a small town in Germany. She writes because it gives her the opportunity to develop the most interesting characters and worlds not only in her head, but also on paper.  It is a possibility to express her creativity and feelings, which, she says, is something she would never like to miss. 

Jana Hemmersmeier