I have this notion that if you live long enough,
there are three or four great stories that you will have in your life.
A story of a journey or a transformation.
A story of love, which will likely mean the loss of love, a story
of loss. And a story of spiritual illumination,
which, for many, will probably be the moment of death itself,
the story untellable, its beginning and middle
and end collapsing with its teller into a disappearing conclusion.
I have believed long enough in my notion
to know that it is a romantic notion, that it erodes each time
I realize that the shard and not the whole
comprises a life, the image and not the narrative. Otherwise,
there’s no reason why all I remember of the airplane
I took as a child from one country to another
is the moist towelette packet we were given with our meal,
the wonder and absurdity of it. Or that, in love,
high in a tree in the dark, and high, he and I sat in the rain-damp
branches and ate 7-11 donuts. Or this, this piece
of a story that isn’t even mine, that isn’t even a story
but a glance of an experience, of the friend who held the stray
dog after it was struck by a car. Not knowing whether the dog
was dead, my friend called a friend
who worked for a vet. Poke the dog in the eye, this friend said.
Because if the animal no longer has a blink reflex,
it probably means the animal is dead. Decades after
college, when you could do such a thing, I typed his name
into a search engine to find out what became of the 20-year-old
boy from the tree. Like dozens of old keys
in a drawer, so many of the wrong people with the right name.
The child dead from leukemia, with a school gym
named for him. The wrestler who had a perfectly square jaw,
like a cartoon police detective in a fedora.
When I arrived at a page that was certainly
about him, I no longer knew the face but I recognized the life
that he had had. He had transferred to
another college, gone to film school, and become a producer
of TV documentaries. A film about fishermen, the harsh fishing
season in Alaska. A film about Abraham Lincoln
and a film about the last days of Adolf Hitler.
A film about the Sherpas who go up and down the Himalayas.