My law partner is a huge Texas history buff, an all-but-dissertation short of a PhD in the history field. It's therefore not surprising that our firm conference room features numerous prints of drawings of the battle of the Alamo. I've been a number of times to the Alamo itself, in my birthplace San Antonio, where people do seem to reverently stand around the building where a brave but doomed (and arguably tactically unwise) stand by irregular revolutionaries against a superior force of regular army folks resulted in the death of folks on both sides (and the virtual annihilation of one side) as a matter of pretty much predetermined conclusion. But my topic this morning is not "battles in Texas history and soupy previews for rather ridiculous movies being made about them". Instead, I'm thinking back on how one views the train wrecks of one's own personal history.
Sometimes a friendship or a relationship ends, and there's no real sense of denouemont. Things happen, things get dysfunctional, and the whole thing is over. The pithy thing one thinks of later to say never gets said; or, if one writes or calls just to say that thing, it falls particularly flat because all the dynamics that made the unsaid thing so clever in situ now seem banal in post-operative procedures. It's rather like trying to take an additonal gall stone out when the patient is in the morgue.
Yet I find that knowing what that fellow Paul Harvey calls "the rest of the story" interests me nonetheless. What happened to an old friend, or an old girlfriend, after the party ended and the guests all long ago went home?
That fellow Wilder wrote "The Bridge of the San Luis Rey" to show that it's hard to divine some sense of meaning in the tragic postscripts. I am not sure that life is as clever as the story or as random. But I do note about myself that I am always interested in "what happened next?". Ideally, I think, one's interaction with people should be a poem--a set of images, captured, experienced, not tied down as to meanings or purposes. But for me, things don't really work that way. For me, the people in my life are part of some giant saga, a sort of gurdonark Forsyte saga.
Fortunately, I am enough of a loner that it's not hard to keep up with everyone while they are in my life--some people's personal novels seem to have an almost Tolstoyan complexity of characters. But I do admit readily that even when people have faded from my own life, I always want to know what happened next.
I am not one of life's great dislikers. It's probably a weakness of discernment, but I really like people a lot in the main. Because of my eccentricity and relative lack of charm, I always joke that I love people much better than they like me. But once in a while, I develop a sharp and pungent dislike for someone--as if someone were one of those cheeses that I cannot believe that anyone in their right mind actually keeps within range, much less eats with crackers.
I ran across a firm website for a former boss from many years ago whom I utterly despised. I confess, though, that I'm curious why this interested me. That fellow only had authority over me for a period of a year or two. When our firm split up, we went in entirely different directions, and never crossed paths again. We even were largely civil with each other, despite active mutual dislike--so it's not like "he was mean to me", or something. But some part of me, deep down, wishes that he could have some comeuppance, and I know this is ignoble. But I want to read the "p.s., his character flaw put him in the mousetrap in x and y ways". That's such a limited, inappropriate way of thinking. But I know that deep down I think that way a bit.
It's not limited, thank goodness, to wishing people ill. An ex, ostensibly happily married, sends me one of those "to a group of folks" e mails that her address has suddenly changed to a city that suggests to me she may have had a life circumstance change. Courteously, I reply with the "good fortune at the new place" but I do not receive back any "this is what's really going on" e mail. Although I'll learn what happened before the world ends, I'm intrigued that I want to know at all. I really want to see "how the story turns out".
It's hard, sometimes, to tell one's personal story to another. A college friend whom I've always liked but not been all that close to for years wrote me a while back "I got your e mail but my marriage had just ended and I didn't want to tell anyone". I like about myself that my story is bland enough that I never feel too shy about telling it. But I wonder what postscript my tale would provide for those who knew me best? To what extent would my flaws and side roads give rise to some mental "a ha!" in those few I've dated, or my many friends?
I note lately that ruminations on ambition and goals unfulfilled colors a lot of my thinking and my posts. Perhaps this is some version of a mid-life crisis, albeit without the comforts and hassles of an affair with a woman with peroxided hair. But others' tales don't really interest me for "how much did so and so get done?". That is really fluff. I really care about "is A, that I liked, happy?" most of the time--although, sadly, "did xyz's flaws finally catch up with him?" sometimes occurs to me to question. Sometimes, though, the mundane details do interest--like when a work acquaintance's wife invented what I can only describe as a glorified twist-y hairnet marketable on TV, making them both unexpectedly rich.
Where I grew up, the tradition of local oral history called "visitin'" was a primary source of entertainment. Some folks dismiss this transmission of information as mere gossip, but the actual process was much richer than that.
Everyone in my small town became a sort of personal myth, woven into the fabric of some great quilt of community narrative. It can seem cloying and confining, when one is another thread in such a crazy quilt, but it also gives one a sense of place and community.
It's all so hard, this living. I think of the fellow who played fullback in high school for our small town football team. He was a nice enough fellow, even though, curiously, he once told me that I was one of the people he really hated. I did not take it that hard, because we weren't friends, he said it really politely, and there were no negative repercussions. But it did interest me to find what happened next with this polite, interesting kid (who, parenthetically, and frankly, inexplicably, hated me). He managed to get himself arrested for doing a strong arm robbery of the local grocer. When I went to one high school reunion, people reported that he was now in a nursing home, irreparably damaged by some lifestyle choices. The interesting thing to me in all this is not only what happened to him, but also that it mattered to me, and how deeply I feel sad for him. We barely knew each other, and we weren't friends. He even "hated" me, apparently because, as near as I could make out, I had more advantages in life than he did.
But my need for the rest of the plot of the story doesn't stop with people I know well. What happened to that fellow who was a woods hermit, from whom my Dad bought a Model T frame? I never met him, but only heard his curious World War One era "war whoops" when we drove up to his house, but he wouldn't come out to say hello but only made "whoops" in the distance. How did he live his life? What was his story?
What about the friend from college I haven't seen since I was in law school? I remember our last talk--she was really sad. I offered that she could come over, but when she found out I had a couple of folks over visiting, she didn't want to come. I never heard from her again. We had dated a time or two, but we were friends, not amours. But now, probably aided by the "married name" phenom, I have no idea where she's gone. I heard she moved to the Pacific Northwest, but I honestly have no idea. But she was a nice person--what became of her? It's something this particular inquiring mind wants to know.
I want to know the whole story. My fondest hope that there is an afterlife has little to do with bliss or perdition or even houris. I want to learn the story. I want to be like in the stories where one gets to see the whole plot play out. But how curious if one gets to see the plot play out, but from above/afar. On the other hand, it's probably as good a Buffy. I do believe in an afterlife, by the way, where secrets are revealed and joys experienced.
I do not look with shame on the fact that I've located old friends via google. I do not even feel ashamed that I've tracked biographical details on folks with whom I've had train wrecks in the past. But I do look with bemusement how much story detail matters to me--even when folks have all but disappeared from my own personal plot.
I keep reading kids' postings of potential plots for National Novel Writing Month. Some folks even have LJ readers fill out polls about what is the most interesting among several choices. Maybe my 50,000 words, whether literal or metaphoric, are about relationships passed, and what happens to them. We're all like that bit of money in the old movie, passed from subplot to subplot to subplot. But what do we mean, and are the ends tied up neatly by "The End"?
It's all too weird. But I don't feel weird at all. I love the way my life is a story, and I am intrigued that the characters in my story, good and bad, all matter a good bit to me.