My first time wasn’t supposed to be special. My first time was sticky and smelled faintly of lilacs, the scent floating through the breeze from the bush down the street and through the open window of the bathroom.

The first time wasn’t special. I reached two fingers down my throat and felt a slight heave. Nothing happened. I reached again, becoming panicked that the ice cream I had eaten might cancel out all of my sweat and hard work. I reached further, discovering the brand new feeling of my throat, not yet tender from excessive expulsion of food or too many cigarettes. It came as a rush of warm liquid exiting with force—not how ice cream was meant to be tasted.

The first time wasn’t special. It was sticky and messy and left a bad, acidic taste in my mouth. It made me tired and made my stomachache, but the rest of me was intact. It would take time for the deeper parts of me to begin to ache as well.

It was years later, while biking through the Swedish countryside on an old rickety bike that I smelled lilacs again, but this time, not through a gentle breeze, but a punch in the gut.

I was transported to the overgrown lilac bush by the driveway of the house where I grew up. I would walk past it every day to catch the bus, and on certain days in warm weather my mother would help me reach the tall branches to cut down flowers to bring to my teacher, tenderly carrying them on my lap, protecting them like a fragile newborn. I couldn’t help but feel immense loss— that I would never pass that lilac bush again and wonder who I could bring the sweet purple flowers to.

Every bike ride after that was preceded by purging and after I’d emptied my belly, I would rush to find the scent of the lilacs again, as though to grasp tightly to the childhood miles away, cemented in a time capsule, irretrievable.  I would ride until I couldn’t any longer, past fields and pastures, goats and churches older than my grandparents and their grandparents. I would ride to the raps fields, vast stretches of yellow flowers along clear blue water. I would stop to absorb their beauty, to catch my breath and rest my legs, then I would begin my journey back, exhausted.

The Swedish countryside was flat and wide. I would often chase storm clouds home to the small house where I lived. The return was strenuous and the bike was old and rusty, but I had to overcome my exhaustion, and the click of the bike chain threatening to jump off its gear, to make it back to the lilacs, to smell them and to inhale everything I’d left with that lilac bush from my childhood and make my way home, back to the present, my insecurities and my uncertainty in everything, to return to my beloved lilacs after my next episode.

Emily Arny Long’s “The First Time (Lilacs)” won third prize in 2015 in the Third Annual School of Visual Arts Writing Program Contest. She is a senior majoring in Photography.