“If You Knew Then What I Know Now” by Ryan Van Meter
This is a collection of 14 nonfiction essays about Van Meter’s journey of learning how to love.
A trailer was adapted after his first essay, “First”.
Even though this was nonfiction, it had a wonderful “fiction” feel to it. There are POV and tense shifts, a poem to a hypothetical person, and an essay where he’s talking to his younger self.
In “Tightrope”, he cleverly revels parts to the reader, while his character is oblivious to the true meaning of what is going on in the story. Like why “Lisa” is Lisa to him, but “Charlie” to her best friends, and that he doesn’t know he’s going on a date, but we know he is. It creates a sense of distance between us and Ryan, like we are watching him with his older self.
In the last essay, “You Can’t Turn Off The Snake Light”, Van Meter starts off the scene with hot sweat and muscles. “Say something dirty,” his boyfriend says.
Ryan doesn’t know what to say, and the psychic distance in this scene is so close we’re reeling through his mind with him, the feelings of newness and wonder and terror. He says, “I love you”.
I almost cried with the first and and last essays. They broke open old scars and created new ones. But with the pain and the vulnerability, Ryan opened me up to the joy in his words, in his discoveries.
Ryan loves with every fiber of his being, beautiful and heart-wrenching. I highly recommend this collection.