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Brief Historiography of a Still-Unfolding Narrative photo

She said, during the commercial break, that she was a fan of westerns. I said, I loved the train heist trope. She told me that we were going to wait on dinner, or that we should order in. I said, I got it this time, and that she should get whatever she wanted. Appetizers, even. I must have been overcome with generosity—atoning for cheapness on down the line somewhere, like it’s possible to make up for our pasts.

And then we watched a little boy get shot and I looked at her face and wondered what sort of parent she would be. It made sense—she, almost bi-nightly, let me put my penis inside her. This act could have resulted in parenthood. As the boy lay dead in the desert, she looked sad and that was good. She looked attractive, even though she was sad, and that was good too.

When the first season started we’d just begun dating. I asked her, Can you believe it’s been five seasons?

Well, not counting when we took some time off. I had to watch the fourth season by myself.

She said she didn’t like the female characters in the show. They weren’t strong enough. They didn’t exude enough control over their own decisions. Her emphasis.

I’d never seen her watch a western but I didn’t comment on that. I watched Unforgiven by myself some night she was out at the bar. With co-workers, she’d said. I said, OK, choosing to believe her.

OK, maybe before that was me—my critique, my emphasis. But she agreed that the female characters didn’t have enough agency. But, for some reason I can’t or won’t deduce, it seemed more reasonable to let a female character in the story criticize the female characters in the show.

The edge of my seat has grown worn. I’m working my way back through the American Television Canon. Everyone’s always told me that it’s hard to cultivate a relationship who isn’t your intellectual equal. I want to be able to be equals with anyone.

If only it was still OK to smoke inside places. Or to have roommates that were cool with it. She always complained about me having to pause shows to step outside. Again? she’d ask. Yes, I’d say, again.

But I couldn’t pause live TV, so I had missed things along the way as I was smoking on the porch, things about the guy who doesn’t smoke getting lung cancer, about a culture loaded with gadgets and machines that affect our bodies in ways we don’t know, about the workings of power, about the war against ourselves, about the great poets of the 19th century breathing down our necks. The things I missed, outside on the porch, that I’d never get back. Back inside, I would ask her to re-cap and she’d tell me about the sketches of landscape, the drawing out of character through glances passed, her theories about the workings of ever-shifting power. Just hit the main plot points, I’d say, and then she’d get mad, because I was telling her what to do and because we were talking instead of watching. We’d once discussed upgrading TV packages so we could get DVR, but decided against it when we saw the price.

She liked to save up shows until they finished so she could marathon watch. She said she hated the suspense, how forced it felt sometimes. The cliffhangers, the cuts-to-commercial. I told her that it was just the way it is. She said, It doesn’t have to be. I said, OK. I’d been saying OK a lot. I’d been watching the West Wing on the side.

I remember, years ago, when me and her started watching The Wire together and I’d keep watching episode after episode after she fell asleep. It felt like cheating. Her slow breath in bed, her body beside mine. My laptop glowing. Going out for cigarettes, hoping not to wake her so she wouldn’t see my progress.


image: Sean Carman