This January I sat in a theater so silent the attention of the audience was a physical surge in the room. We sat. Rapt. Collectively alone, collectively together as we watched Elio ask Oliver, "Is it better to speak or to die?"
Call Me By Your Name hit me like a drop-kick to the gut. I left, sick, thinking--in what little ways have I died for fear of my own voice? I recalled those many moments, where I left all my little words stuck, fearful, cowering in that cavern below my sternum. You know that place? Above your ribs? A pressure, a heat that alerts you to the dissonance of your own life. Like a warning beacon within, it swells, a balloon. This place where wishes go to die. I started to think of all those moments when I was unwilling to risk anything and, as a result, lost everything.
Over the summer, I was the nanny for two little girls. I took them to the park and we snapped cotton wood branches, releasing the stars within. The oldest clung to the tendrils of their explosions, flying the sparks like invisible kites. I told her I had given her wish magic and that anything she wished for would come true. Except, the caveat (because I felt the pressure of all future disappointments for this child who was not mine but I felt responsible for) except, I said: sometimes the wish magic will give you what you need not what you want.
Why, I wondered, did I, who encouraged them to believe that stars burst from trees, a supernova within bark, feel the need to temper hope? Curb expectations? Don't ask for too much, I caught myself saying. Even though that idea, instilled too young, is a cruel knife within. It cleaved me apart--leaving a piece I'm still trying to retrieve.
Is it better to speak or to die?
Maybe the wish magic I was begging these little girls to believe in, was magic that I, too, am capable of creating? You can never go back. But you can choose how you wish to move forward. I thought about all those times (like when I wanted to go to grad school, wanted to write a chapbook, had a crush on someone) and I thought that to make even a single, tiny move, would sacrifice everything I tried so desperately to preserve. What was it I was so terrified to lose? My pride? My security? What if speaking is magic? What if it's in micro-acts of bravery? What if--when we're faced with those tiny choices throughout our lives that seem so innocuous, what if, in those moments, we choose the scary thing, the trembling, vulnerable, exposed i-can't-believe-i'm-saying-this-aloud-thing- what if that's where we find true, honest to god, magic?
Call Me By Your Name started a rather brazen period of my life where I began to find myself coming to those moments where I wanted something from my existence and instead of trying to zoom out and interpret how my words, my actions might be seen by those around me, I tried to think solely in terms of all the minor deaths I was inflicting upon myself. How often did I squelch a tender, writhing, real creature within, for fear of embarrassment or rejection?
And let's be real... this little experiment didn't totally work in my favor at first. But, miraculously, I didn't give a fuck about the final result. Simply re-framing my unwillingness to act a fool, to be brave, to be honest as a life or death moment changed everything.
When we're faced with the opportunity to be true and we back down, there truly is a little death. A possible trajectory that fizzled before there's even a chance for a spark. Let alone a journey.
And while I've had some missteps these last six months--I feel alive.