I arrived After The First, which notified me that something had gone wrong the first time around.
Something wasn’t quite perfect.
Enough was left un-perfect to try again anyway, and so I arrived in a tumble of mucky and afterbirth, screaming my displeasure into the world.
Hello, here I am.
I am the second, and this means some things:
I may one day rise up, overtake the first, and claim the things that were promised to them instead of me, only because they were a faster fish swimming through a fertile sea, which is not a very compelling reason, in my opinion.
I am extremely likely to be ugly, unlikeable, nasty, and forgotten. I will wear a magenta gown to the ball, with a hideous frill to cover up my below-average sized breast, and a dumpy bow to make up for my unfortunately flat rear. I will hardly catch a glimpse of the prince, and at midnight I will return home with only blisters to show for my labor, and a tea-stain on my left glove.
I will certainly have a height complex,
and I will more than once be left behind at a major railway station, or a bus terminal, or on Christmas Eve when my family is rushing out the door to catch a plane to Paris and everything has been derailed to a severe late night storm and power outages across the greater city of Chicago.
To make up for my inherent secondness, I will come first in everything.
I will score a minimum of 102 on all of my quizzes and examinations. The two extra points will invariably come from procuring all bonuses on offer, or catching a mistake that an errant tutor let slip by their drooping spectacled eyes.
Of all the boys in my year, I can jump the highest and of all the girls in my year, I can run the fastest, and of everyone, it is widely acknowledged that I am the best chess player in the county. I quickly ran through all of the semi-eligible opponents and now content myself with facing off against myself. The matches end in stalemates. Neither of us can slip anything past the other.
I came first in Science Olympiad, the Mathletics Cup, The Academic Quizbowl, The Geography Trials, and every Spelling Bee I’ve ever competed in. I was accepted into all of my unis early: first choice.
I have a hazy memory of one summer hols, driving in a car with my family on the way to the seaside. It is so long ago now that I was strapped into a carseat, wearing a humiliating striped bib and a sunhat with a crab on it. My legs were fat and one of my shoes had fallen off. It’s quite nice to have your tiny socked feet flailing out in the open air, I thought. And kicked my chubby legs harder. After some time, I grew bored and I looked around and saw you: there.
Just across the expanse of seating, old enough to be buckled in with a big kid belt.
Wearing a baseball cap, a pair of blue shorts, and a shirt reading “Sea You Later!” with a cartoon drawing of a sea lion waving on it. Sea lions are not native to European waters, I thought disdainfully. And then you looked at me, and we caught eyes.
And After The First.
You saw me. And I saw you.
Then a seagull flew past our car squawking and you broke the standoff to point and shout out “Duck!” and Mum said, “It’s a seagull, ducky. Not a duck.” And in that moment, I knew I was going to destroy you.
After all, Nothing comes After After the First. I arrived here complete.
I filled in the gaps that you left aching, wide, open, hungry.
I am hungry too.
I feed and I grow and I eat and I devour
And I come back