Another year has come and gone, Charlie. There’s hardly a day that passes in which at some point I don’t imagine what you would be like if you were here today to make me laugh, to teach me things about you, and myself, to keep me company and challenge me to ever loosen the restraints that hold adolescence back from adulthood. I often think of all of the stages of a life that never was, what you would have loved, what you would never have abided, the quirks of humor and temper and curiosity that would have made you instantly recognizable as a sibling to your sisters, both of whom make me scratch my head and radiate wonderment with regularity. And I consider it a blessing that even though you never laid eyes on your parents, the pain that arrives on schedule this time of year continues as a reminder that you’re still growing in our hearts, that the grim reality of your brief visit here does not hold complete sway over our vision of you.
There’s a movie that I haven’t seen called Moonrise Kingdom, directed by a guy named Wes Anderson, and some of those I know who have seen it have suggested that Sam, the boy played by Jared Gilman, is a ringer for what I was like when I was Sam’s age (12), both in looks and disposition. But, not surprisingly, I suppose, I look at pictures of Sam and it’s not myself I see, but instead a projection of another possible you. Perhaps one day I’ll see Moonrise Kingdom and see Jared Gilman, with his slightly Amerasian features (I don’t know if he actually is Amerasian), and think again of you.
But for all the things I find insufferable and wonderful in Anderson’s movies, the one I think I’m probably most grateful for is Rushmore, which stars Jason Schwartzman as the precocious (and insufferable, and wonderful) Max Fischer, renaissance man, perpetual student, unrequited lover, unconscious seeker of self-knowledge. Your mom and I saw it about a year and a half after we lost you, a time when we were still spinning in despair and heartbreak, and though the movie has really nothing to do with loss or any similarity to the circumstances surrounding your death, I’ll never forget the feeling of being visited by your spirit as the movie came to its graceful, forgiving conclusion. An unlikely group of people, united by the cracked vision of this most unlikely romantic protagonist, join together in a celebratory dance, first at normal speed and then magically slowed down to a kind of nirvana of unchoreographed motion, a joyous nod to dreams both tangible and unattainable. The song to which they dance, laid down on Anderson’s soundtrack and lingering over the end credits, is “Ooh La La,” a tune about the ways of love from the perspective of a boy too young to heed the bitter, wistful experience of his “poor ol’ granddad,” written by Ronnie Lane and Ron Wood and performed by their band Faces on their final album from 1973. It’s one of those sublime moments for which Anderson is known, the perfect marriage of pre-existing pop music and lush, pregnant imagery which teases out the inexplicable emotion lying just beneath the surface. As the blue velvet curtains closed on that first screening of Rushmore and the suddenly graceful, blissful Max Fischer, dancing with the woman he’ll never have, I found myself awash in tears that I didn’t entirely understand. And then came the refrain:
I wish that I knew what I know now/When I was younger
I wish that I knew what I know now/When I was stronger
I’ve never tried to explicate exactly why I cannot watch the ending of this movie without being reduced to a heap. But I know it has something to do with Max Fischer being yet another projection of you, Charlie, of the hopes I once had for you as a son, the hope that you would be so much your own person, with all the possible flaws made apparent in Schwartzman’s great performance, and yet smart and intuitive enough to know when it was time to expand horizons, contract others and make your way toward becoming a good man. Something in the plaintive clarity of Ronnie Lane’s voice, combined with Anderson’s irony-free concession to the bittersweet triumph of fundamental human connection, cuts directly to the bone here for me, containing, as it seems to, the essence of what I confidently believe would have been your sweet, tough, searching personality.
I’m sure my own experience of this ending would have been profoundly different had you lived to one day see it with me. And I would trade every ounce of what I now treasure in Rushmore for the simple chance to find out what I would have thought of it, knowing that your mom and I had a tiny little boy to come home to once we got back from seeing it that night in December of 1998.
Today would have been your 15th birthday, Charlie. I love you very much.