PREFACE TO “This is How it Could Have Gone Instead of How it Went”
It’s not often that two literary entities have the opportunity to work together, so when approached last summer by Louisville Literary Arts to jury submissions to their annual prose contest–held in conjunction with their annual Writer’s Block Festival–and publish the winner, we jumped at the opportunity for creative collaboration. The piece we chose was Christiana Louisa Langenberg’s essay, “This Is How It Could Have Gone Instead of How It Went.” Nonfiction Editor, Cat Hubka, has this to say about our choice:
What happens when an essay explores the narrator’s hypothetical imaginings? How does the writer negotiate an experience that she wishes had gone differently than it actually did? Disappointment is digesting an unpalatable truth, bedding down with grief, yet still hoping for a different outcome than what one ultimately has.
In her essay, “This is How it Could Have Gone Instead of How it Went,” writer Christiana Louisa Langenberg challenges us to think of creative nonfiction as imagining, the blurry territory where memoir, personal essay, and fiction intersect. Langenberg’s word choice expresses possibility provoking the reader to leap with the narrator from reflection to imagination toward an emotional truth.
Blue Mesa Review Editors
I would have ordered the baby beet and hazelnut salad, despite your statement that you didn’t want to watch me eat something that reminded you of the vital organs of small, undomesticated animals. Your description alone of a wild rabbit’s heart pulsing in your hand made it an impossible choice.
I could have ordered the frisee, too, or maybe the wilted spinach, given the state of the evening. Perhaps then your fingertips would not have galloped in place beside your empty plate, and you wouldn’t have said “You’re taking too long,” when I already knew that wasn’t true. We had all the time in the world.
I could have looked at your face instead of my plate and my ability to hold eye contact would have disarmed you. In fact, right then, rather than years later, I could have made the conscious choice to call your bluff simply by returning your stare. Or, after your third drink, when I could already see where all of this was going, where it had gone before, I could have suggested we leave. After months of practice, I’d learned exactly how much time would pass between your very very, last drink and your first, placid snore.
Had I asked for the osso bucco – 45 minutes of patience, the menu noted – we could have ended up being some of the last people in the place, watching the server with the fishtail braid set all the bottles of condiments in a row, from most full to least, and then take that least and funnel it into the next, until she’d combined all of them into nine bottles, down from 12, the exact number of tables and months we’d known each other. Comfortable silence could have prevailed as we watched her tip and pour without spilling a single drop.
You may not have ordered your fourth glass of wine.
The walk back to the hotel – a mere three blocks – could have been easy. Cinnamon, cloves maybe, interrupted the air as we passed the indie coffee shop. Inhale. Slow down. And you would not have tripped over the curb and skinned both knees, bent on getting back to the bottle in the room.
I could have slowed my gait. You might have matched mine. I could have stopped reading the faces of all the people who gave you a wide berth and looked at me to see if I knew. “Like a drunk 12 year old,” you said as you sat on the sidewalk. I could have realized that must have been more true than funny. But you started laughing, or maybe it was crying, and I rebalanced the boxes of leftovers before I dropped everything, and something about the sound coming out of your mouth – not music, not alarm, but a kind of sweet contagion – spread in the space between us. Again.
A runner in reflective gear slowed to ask if we were okay. You said, “No, we got this.”
And we could have kept walking, past the hotel, and we could have skipped the comedy show, and you would have sobered up instead of falling asleep. Then I’d have decided to drive us to the movies because we didn’t want the night to end on this unusually positive note.
And you’d have eaten all the popcorn before Please be courteous…silence your cellphones appeared on the screen, and I’d have decided not to hassle you about it, because at that point I knew our peace was fragile.
And then a shaft of light. Some kind of smoke. Someone confused, I’d think, coming in after the opening scene. So much they’d already missed. Then all the popping noises, just like what they say, like firecrackers, and the woman in the row in front of us would shudder, or twitch, or sigh, or everything all at once, and then slump to her right.
We’d have five, maybe eight, seconds.
You’d turn to look at me, to see if maybe I knew what was happening. And I would. Because how many times had I imagined something like this? Us, everything, really, almost over?
The second of the next six bullets could have severed your carotid artery, and it would be too late to say anything before the third hit my jaw. Maybe, but probably not, even in the haze, the dark, the screaming, we’d have had the good sense to look at each other instead of trying to think this thing through. And if all of this would have happened, we’d have had just enough time to say thank you, goodbye, I’m sorry it didn’t work out.