First Times

First kiss, mosquito bites and hot springs

Man and woman taking selfie on a hike
I believe this was on the same trip I stumbled upon hot springs for the first time

While running with my son Diego recently, I saw an owl in the wild for the first time, a big old brown owl sitting on a branch near the side of the road. Sure, I’d seen many owls in captivity before and heard many more hooting at night, but I’d never caught a glimpse of one in the wild, and it was exhilarating. 

Nothing makes me happier than spotting wildlife, so I’m always on the lookout. When driving, I sometimes scare the crap out of my husband, Cesar, because I can’t help spinning my head around to point out a deer, hawk or cardinal. 

At any rate, the owl has joined my repertoire of “first times” memories,  a vast repertoire spanning five decades.  

I for one clearly remember my first period and first kiss, at least the memories my mind has shaped. It can be difficult to accept, but our memories are malleable and at times largely reconstructed according to the research. Still, I can’t not believe my sense of clarity surrounding these memories. 

I got my period in the 6th grade, at school. I didn’t avail myself of any pads but made do with toilet paper until I got home. I didn’t tell anybody.

 My first kiss was at 18, in college, with a guy I didn’t much like and it felt neither pleasant nor gross. Just blah.

There’s no telling which events have stronger staying power in our memories. I, for instance, remember my first fight with Cesar better than our wedding. The wedding, my first and only, was a huge affair involving a photographer, band, ceremony, and a reception for 300 guests. The fight, the first of more than a few, involved what to do about a stupid button that came loose while we were on the Eiffel Tower during our honeymoon.

Both “firsts” happened the same month 32 years ago. 

Could it be that the fight, and not the wedding, brought home the fact that I’d committed to being with this person for the rest of my life, for better and for worse, to love and to cherish even when we argued about a damn button? It’s not unlikely, given that we’d met ten months before we married.

We experience firsts regularly. We simply don’t note them, so very few get seared in our memories. Once in a while, however, and for no particular reason, seemingly irrelevant moments find lodging in our brains.

“This is the first time a mosquito has bitten me in California,” I noted to Cesar one time while on vacation in California, a state we also lived in for two years.

No sooner had I said it than a reflection eclipsed the sting: Well, that’s an interesting first I’m noticing, my first mosquito bite in California. What’s that about?

This random realization was in turn my first time grappling with the notion of first times!

I can only speculate about what made that mosquito bite a first worth noting, seeing as many firsts like it get overlooked every single day. Could it be that on the East Coast, where we live,  we do nothing but complain about mosquitoes in the summer? Or that I’d forgotten previous mosquito bites in the Golden State?

There was another memorable first that day, a magnificent one: the first time I stumbled on hot springs. As we set off on a hike in the hills around Montecito, a hiker about to exit the trailhead told us about the springs. Two hours later, we were in scalding, 110-degree (Fahrenheit) water with a mild sulfur aroma. 

We bathed in our underwear and shared the three natural pools with a socially awkward man and a striking young woman with extraordinarily smooth, radiant blue-black skin. My husband remembers a third woman, blonde and also attractive. I might allow her into my memory of the first time I stumbled on hot springs while hiking.

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