Maybe my wife’s snoring woke me, or maybe I really was trying to decide when I transitioned from third person to second. In graduate school, I discovered I could distance myself from the camera if I focused the camera on the girl. What is the girl seeing? What does what the girl does mean?
Twenty-one and the girl couldn’t even imagine the woman.
Or the woman’s first person narrative.
Look at the girl making choices.
In my thirties, I could accept the woman, but I gave her second person to experience the world. You wake afraid. You wake in anguish. You wake.
You did not expect to love her.
Second person is how I learned to have compassion for myself.
You are having a hard time, I would write. You are in love again, I would wonder. Is the question mark implied? You decide.
And then I met Mary. How would I write about her if I couldn’t accept the first person narrative?
Going back, of course, you know I’m oversimplifying. The first person asserted itself plenty of times. A character speaking definitively. I feel these things. I wonder.
Yes, yes. Let me tell the story.
Six years ago, we moved to this little house in the middle of a snow storm. It took hours of shoveling for me to clear the long driveway. The U-Haul got stuck and we had to recruit another truck and so many cars. We had pizza afterward, and my son was so small that it was literally half his lifetime ago when all of this happened. Mary and I weren’t even married yet. I was still trying to get back to the first person.
How does this happen to you? When you begin to resist the distance of the camera to the girl. When you refuse to wonder what the girl is thinking. When I refuse to let you stand in for me either.
How did love make me more certainly myself?
How did love make me braver?
I’m the only one to tell you what love did for me. Aren’t I?
Love is how I figured out that resistance can include choosing yes rather than saying no.
Yes to kindness.
Yes to progress.
Yes to fearlessness.
Yes to beauty.
Love is how I realized how dangerous I am. The kind of injuries I can make. How my failures will resonate over years of conversations. How vulnerable I am at my center.
It’s a mistake, I think, to let anyone write the narrative. We are not the animal collective.
On my walk to work yesterday, an old woman with a small dog said that she wished me a lovely Wednesday, and an even happier Thanksgiving. The next old woman with a dog stopped and told me a story about the end of her job as an ER nurse. She had a brain bleed. “After 40 years, I just couldn’t react fast enough,” she said. “I was really good at my job.” For the first time, her dog crossed the sidewalk and let me pet him.
This is a whole country of narratives.
Nobody gets to tell us what our story is.
I wanted you to know. This day. Fraught or festive. Quiet or communal. I am filled with a dangerous love. A revolutionary love. We decide who we are. How we will resist.
I decide how I will love you.
And the answer is fiercely.
5 thoughts on “Collective animal”
Once again, Jill, you take my breath away, and my words.
Once again, Jill, you break me wide open.
Thank you, friends.