The Last Ending

I have just returned from a visit to my hometown of Providence where I saw my family and a large group of friends I have known since high school. It had been seven years since I’d been to Providence, and seven years since I had sat in the same room with my entire family. Much has happened to me in those seven years, and as I listened to us reminisce and amuse one another I was reminded what habitual storytellers we were. Conversations in my family were a linked series of stories, and as the conversational baton was passed we learned what had happened to us, and what interested us, and what made us laugh.

No surprise, I suppose, that I should have sought storytelling friends. Only these friends told stories differently, their jokes were more language driven, they used more details, and I remember as a boy noting this difference and bringing this new breed of story home to my family to see if they worked as well in my living room as they had in the cafeteria.

I loved to tell stories, but always for me there was the problem of the ending. I was quick to participate, but so often I would find myself on a narrative path – down which my friends and family had willingly followed me – only to realize I was heading toward a conclusion I did not understand how to share. So I would fudge the ending, find some joke that wasn’t there, or offer an obtuse, life-is-strange shrug.

For many years I carried a sense of failure and frustration at these non-ended stories. Sometimes I blamed my audience; mostly I blamed myself. In this way I had no choice but to become a writer, if for no other reason than to test my true endings out in private. I couldn’t worry about who might be uncomfortable, of if I might be embarrassed, or if something was appropriate—I needed to hear it for myself so I could learn at last why I wanted to start telling these stories in the first place.

I came to understand that the only story I ever wanted to tell went like this: everything is all right. I never tire of story; I am always moved by it. As I have gotten older, it is also the only story I believe. As I have gotten older, all other conclusions feel like middles—the drama we thrash around in when we forget where everything must end.

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