“…Hold on. Just, stop talking. Why is there a steak knife on your floor?”
My roommate is standing in my bedroom doorway, asking me or telling me about the night before when she sees it, the steak knife. It’s been sitting there for months now, I’m surprised it took her so long to notice.
“Oh. It fell off of the dresser. Here, I’ll get it.”
“I mean, why… why is it in your room?” she asks, looking down at it, up at me, then down at it again, as though the steak knife might be sooner inclined to spill our dirty little secret.
“So… well this is going to sound silly. It was a Saturday night in February, I guess. I came home and as I was unlocking the door… something felt off. I kind of felt like maybe someone had broken in? It was just one of those nights.”
She bends down and picks up the knife. “One of those nights when someone has broken into our home. Okay. Continue.”
I remembered the night in question and felt embarrassed – the walking up the stairs one step per minute, like I was holding an egg between my ass cheeks. The way my hands gingerly grazed the banister, fingertips sprawled out and tickling the wood. The ritualistic opening of every door and cabinet in my home; the inspecting what was inside. And finally, when the coast was clear, gripping a steak knife in my fist – in case someone was lurking upstairs, someone I had to stab.
Because what if someone had been there? What if they were waiting for the stupid girl with the stupid knife to come home? What if I had stabbed them, what then? It was self-defense, the police would come and take a statement, and then all would be set right? No. Because life is not a movie.
I forget sometimes. I forget that I’m not playing a role. I forget that, if I’d stabbed someone, I’d be in therapy right now trying to forget. I’d be afraid to come home alone. I’d hold a steak knife in my hand and feel different about it. You know what else? I forget that, once you reach a goal, you need a new one. Once you get what you want, you have to want something else. Your accomplishments don’t sustain you for long; they don’t sit in a glass cube in a museum to be admired. Once we get one thing, we need another.
Movies don’t show that though, do they? Take a movie about a man and woman falling in love. We don’t see what happens to the relationship after ~129 minutes of henpecking and grand gestures. We don’t see the fights, we don’t see the infidelity, we don’t see a miscarriage. At the end, all we see is a happy ending. But there are no happy endings – there is one ending, and that ending is death.
When we hope to fall in love the way a movie teaches us we should, even if the film we choose to model ourselves after is ‘realistic,’ even if it’s not dogmatically romantic, even if we think it’s as close to Real Love as we’re going to get, we’re setting ourselves up to fail. A movie does not consider the whole of a person – the days when you’d take out the garbage for .75 cents, your name scribbled on a chore wheel in black Sharpie. Movies don’t think about the time you choked in a moving vehicle when you were six. They don’t talk about how you went to your grandpa’s house afterward, and he’d known you choked before you arrived, said a little birdie told him. You thought your grandpa knew magic; thought a little birdie really had told him that information, and you wanted to find it and keep it as a pet, smart thing. You begged your grandpa to help you find the birdie, and could he not stop laughing? These moments, minute and seemingly insignificant, are the little stitches that make a human being. The big moments we define as life-changing are no more important than the routines we knew as kids, the conditioning we never noticed while it was happening, the big and small victories alike. A movie character doesn’t have those stitches. A movie doesn’t have that texture.
You know what a movie has? Directors. Producers. Actors. A script. Life would be easier if we had a script. Then you would’ve known what to say that time the doctor called you, told you you’re incurable. That he was sorry. It would’ve been nice to know what to say then. Or the time that you learned what the opposite of love was from the person who’d taught you the meaning of it in the first place. Someone else’s words may have been helpful there. What about when you discovered that the next time you’d see someone would also be the last? They’d be laying face-up in a box, painted and sculpted and on display like a horizontal mannequin and you’d lean over their slack visage and think, “So this is what it’s like.” But you can’t say that aloud, can’t someone else come up with what to say in these moments?
No. Life is not a movie. It’s not a drama, it’s not a Rom Com, it’s not a blockbuster. We don’t have the promise of perfection, of loose ends getting tied. And why would we expect it, anyway? Even a runway model, in her leggy precision, is prone to stumbles and falls when you ask her to walk down a waxy platform in eight inch heels. She looks stunning, aspirational – until the legs give out and the façade is revealed to be just that. A fake. An impossible standard. A movie.
Life isn’t a film, you know? It’s not a talkie. It’s not a still frame from Gone with the Wind. It’s not a movie – but maybe it’s a picture, a mosaic. Countless pieces of glass, each one meaningful and unique, intricately bonded by glue and sweat. Perhaps its beauty can only be fully realized when we look at it from far, far away, or maybe it can only be understood by the adhesive that holds together each colorful shard.
I look at the knife in my roommate’s hand and it looks alive, flickering as it reflects the blades of the circling ceiling fan.
“Actually, it was silly. Do you mind taking it downstairs?”
I don’t need it anymore.