Firsts by Ruth Joffre


My first kiss: on a playground in first grade, our bodies curved inside a tunnel like plaque clogging the arteries of a heart. No one could crawl through us. While we kissed, we could hear a boy climb up onto the roof and lie down. He poked his head over the edge, his upside-down neck stretched like a uvula at the back of the tunnel’s throat. What I remember most about the moment now is his laughter.

My first regret (in retrospect): allowing that boy to shame me.

My first regret (chronologically): talking during an in-class screening of 101 Dalmatians. My second grade teacher banished me to an administrator’s office, where I did word problems as punishment. If the rule is that I can come back if I complete a chapter of word problems and each chapter has fifteen problems, how many times does the teacher have to break her own rule before I realize that justice isn’t the same for everyone?

From then on, I was always the first one to finish an in-class assignment.

I was the first person in my family to attend an Ivy League institution.

I’m a first generation immigrant.

I can’t remember the first time I was mistaken for a white person. I do recall the first time I called the police: on my father, in the middle of the night, while my mother cried hysterically in the master bedroom. When the police officers came, I sat on the steps in my pajamas and listened to my father posturing for the other white men.

When was my father first arrested for domestic abuse? Never.

He gave me my first drink when I was just nine: a sip from his can of Budweiser. It was a sour taste, like old bread and mildewed carpet. When he poured some into a pie pan for the dogs, their tongues pressed the aluminum in and out of shape.

All my childhood pets are dead now: my first dog, my first fish, my first bird.

My first memory is of a nightmare.

Any of these things could be the first thing I tell my new therapist.




Ruth Joffre is the author of the story collection Night Beast. Her flash fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The OffingSmokeLong QuarterlyVestal ReviewFiction Southeast, and elsewhere and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.


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