The story and the telling

Within the week, it had become a universal point of reference, a place outside of ourselves that would help us understand our place in the vastness of it all. It was a religious experience, the cyclical retelling. It was prayer. We related other narratives in our lives to the incident. We discussed our interpretations in boardrooms and coffee shops, in locker rooms and on late-night call-in shows. Murals appeared on the fine masonry of regional financial headquarters, garish images depicting the crucial moments. We redrew the boundaries of our relationships to conform to this sudden history. We rejoiced in the dissection of it all, the dismantling of fragile truths.

The art house down the street from my apartment was showing the video at a secretive all-night screening. According to the postal carrier, the organizers had angles that no one had seen. They’d edited video files to various degrees of aperture, zoom dimensions, time lapse. They had diagrams of velocity. They had some seriously high-tech students from the university behind this effort, he assured me. Of course I went. This felt very important to me. I traded him a bag of mushrooms for the password: “immaculate.” When I arrived, most of the seats were taken. I stumbled in the dark, tripping over boxes of old newspapers and fraying paintbrushes, and settled in for the night.

Nearby, in the back of the room, an older couple began pantomiming the sequence: the thrashing, the gripping, the angry gesticulating, the kicking. Silent affirmations. I was amazed. They’d memorized the pattern language from the moment it unfolded on live television. They’d subsumed the narrative. But how could they not? This was what the story had become: an endless reiteration of the same sentiment that humans had tried to express since they were half-erect nomads on the steppes. “Me” against “you.” Me right you wrong. This is the prayer, the ongoingness of a war.

The film crackled to life. It was as advertised, a rapid-fire loop of the fleeting drama from the field. The same punches, thrusts, grunts, the massing swarm of players, whistles sounding insanely, the commentators providing a preconscious understanding of who was doing what to whom. We viewed the official broadcast, replaying on and on through the night, interspersed with amateur footage from the stands. Shaky social media feeds. We awaited the familiar movements each time, the choreography of ourselves. Now here comes the motorcade, turning left onto Elm. Feet shuffled nervously in the screening room. With every subsequent viewing of the moment, the arc of the helmet, the exchange of information, we changed. The story deepened. I looked at the couple, and they were crying uncontrollably. They were almost smiling while they cried, splashes of tears pounding the art house concrete. What joy! What ecstasy! This was what we had come for, after all, the baptismal denouement of a foul decade in America. The story and the telling. The alpha and the omega.

You keep telling the same story to yourself, the mailman said, appearing suddenly and leaning over the seats, and eventually you’ll meet yourself coming the other way. This is how it’s always been. And isn’t that why we were here? Isn’t that why we watched?

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