You go to see Begin Again at the cheap theater near your house with your husband to celebrate your second wedding anniversary. This after a six-day visit from your mother — who you’ve been emotionally preparing for since her last visit twelve months ago — and your fourteen-year-old niece who you haven’t seen since she was nine.
The whole trip becomes an act of juggling dull knives, a negotiation between reality and expectation. You pick your mom and niece up from the airport, breath measured, smile painted on. You see yourself in your family’s eyes, you see your faults. And you’re determined not to break or dive too far under the surface of their lives.
But then night falls and you find yourself tucking in your teenage niece at your house, listening to her wondering about your life, sharing hers, and you feel the immensity of her questions, her stories full of implication, clues as to who she’ll be in another year and another and you’re overwhelmed by the weight of it all, these lives crashing into yours.
You’ve always wanted to be a fixer but never knew which tools would do the job.
A week or so before your family arrives, you walk to the park for a picnic with friends. The scene is all urban bucolic: lawn for yards, climbable trees, a tennis court adjacent to the community garden. And then the vagrant guy walks up, kneels down, holds out a blue paper plate, asks for exactly two deviled eggs in a whisper. He has his delivery down to a science. He’s patient, Christlike. You think of that old admonition about treating the ragged and poor and deserted as if they’re Christ returned; you consider letting him in, giving him what you have to give. But before you consider this you grimace and scold him. Please don’t, you say. Your friend chimes in, This is a private party. As if your blankets are locked doors and he’s the wolf threatening to blow down your house.
You leave feeling a little sick at how easy it is to keep a hungry man hungry with piles of food at your disposal. You leave wondering who you really are.
Then you’re sitting by a pool with your mother, telling her all the reasons she’s wrong. About what, you don’t know exactly, but you know these words have to be said even though you see what’s happening in her eyes and you know, too, that you’ve chosen the wrong tools again. What if the right tools don’t exist in your reality, you wonder. What if some lives just stay broken?
Then you’re sitting, arm woven through the arm of your love, in a dark theater watching Mark Ruffalo spiral out and back into control of his life, watching him find the tools, be the fixer. You watch people lose each other and find themselves. You watch a girl fall in love with her father and understand what it means to be beautiful and wanted. You watch Keira Knightley make music artfully and choose not to sell out. You watch lives move like a dance and embrace in understanding. You tell your husband how glad you are that Mark and Keira don’t hook up, that it would ruin their romance. You’re in love with their kind of love: a tight rope, a life raft.
And you know that you’re not exactly sinking or flying and you know that you’re full of something that can be good when it’s not tired or frightened and you tell yourself to keep trying, that someday the tool might be there, just the one you’ve been looking for all these years.