In December of 1997, we were several months into our senior year of high school. We were writing college applications, putting together our case for the Mock Trial team, studying hard for Academic Decathlon, and looking at a June graduation that still seemed far enough away to permit only of excitement and none of the pain (yet) of difficult goodbyes and postponements. In short, we didn’t know what we were getting into, really, as we hurtled toward college and lives and responsibilities. We knew only that everything waited for us somewhere: love, families, fulfillment, and success by various subjective measures.

Near, far, wherever you are/I believe that the heart does go on…

And a large group of us went to see the biggest movie of the year, the biggest movie in any year close to it, the movie that defined my senior year: Titanic.

Love can touch us one time/And last for a lifetime/And never let go until we’re gone…

By the end, when Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack Dawson is freezing to death in the icy waters of the North Atlantic (spoiler alert), my 18-year-old heart throbbed with the sublime pleasure-pain of one on the cusp of experiencing first love (my first love would happen in April of ’98) and one whose poetry poured out the pangs of unrequited love, love separated, and love as savior. In short: the binder poetry of an English-loving teenage girl obsessed with the Romantic poets, who had experienced plenty of infatuation and nothing yet of love, and who still believed in the cliche of the other half, the rescuer. That was simply far too much burden to put on the seventeen-year-old male who would become my first love a few months before graduation, but teenage love is experimental and tempestuous by nature. I had shown some promise years before in choosing Jane Eyre as my standard bearer: in the end it is Jane who both rescues herself and becomes the balm and equal of Rochester. Yet as Rose whispered, “I’ll never let go, Jack, I’ll never let go”  it seemed evident to me that the drowning of DiCaprio was absolutely the most tragic event of all time, and I had never seen anything more sad or horrifying than the separation of these two lovers, and how on Earth was she supposed to go on? I am pretty sure there was wholesale weeping in the theater. Just the opening strings of Celine Dion’s ballad in all the months that followed could choke me up to tears. And when I said goodbye to my boyfriend as we left for separate universities the next fall, it seemed as tragic and epic as that night Rose clutched Jack’s hand in the frigid sea. Oh young and teenage love, what do you ever, ever know?

I happened to see part of the film again the other night (disclosure: I do own it and still love it, more for its reminder of who I was than for who I am now), and that viewing inspired some of the thoughts that have led to this particular writing.

As I observed myself watching the film, I realized that I no longer bawl when DiCaprio’s character dies; however, I start tearing up when we see all the pictures of Rose at the end in her cabin room. These framed pictures show her horseback riding, catching a huge fish, flying a plane, and living her full life with curiosity, passion, and fire. These pictures reveal the courage she had to write her own narrative, an authorship she began to take symbolically and practically when she reported her name as “Rose Dawson” on the rescue ship. Her selection of a new moniker, and the creation of a new character that it represents, reminds me of Gatsby’s self-renaming. Rose’s story ultimately is one of a woman asserting the claims of authorship over her own narrative, no longer trapped by society or the roles expected of her. We assume—at least, I do—that she pursued her education, enlivened her mind, and sought out adventure. The fact that she essentially narrates the bulk of the movie reaffirms her role as author/creator. In fact, she admits that there is no record of Jack other than her oral account at the moment of the film: she has the power to make anything of her past, and whether or not he existed is almost beside the point.

Still, I find myself troubled when the older Rose explains about Jack: “…he saved me in every way that a person can be saved.” I remember thinking how romantic that sounded at age eighteen. But even Jack, more worldly than Rose at the time they met, cautions Rose about his role as savior of her life when he tells her, “Only you can do that.” Why the film wants to position Jack as Rose’s saving grace, despite his own character’s assertion, continues to puzzle me now, at age thirty-four. Certainly love can be transformative for the better: we see this quite literally in Beauty and the Beast. And certainly a love between equals inspires each person to become better and stronger.

But no one can save another human being. And that’s not romantic. At least, it isn’t romantic in my opinion…not anymore. A love between equals means that I come to you without dependency, knowing I am in charge of my own feelings, failures, and triumphs. I want to save myself, so that when I look in your eyes you will see no fear of life in their glowing light. I want to save myself, because I have the education, curiosity, and vitality to do it. I want to save myself, so that you never need to know a moment of worry about my well-being should something ever happen to you. Love me because I am strong and have taken the time to know myself, not because I require saving. As the female heroine of my own life, this is how I would write romance at this point in my life. In all that I have learned from having Bill as my husband, having him look upon me as an absolute equal and also expecting my independence, vitality, and evolution are the two most significant hallmarks of our relationship. Never once has he broadcast that he wants to “save me”—thank goodness. Protect who I am? Yes. Protection and salvation are not the same thing. Leave my own salvation to me: I will pound it out on the pavement, or write it out in the dead of night, or cry it out in the shower. Protect my worth, but let me find it through my own hard work. No one can save a person if she can’t save herself.

DiCaprio had to drown. He knew it, too. And what he represented—romantic love as salvation—also had to drown with him, so that Rose could come into her own full power. The movie almost gets there, but falls a bit short really. It still wants to credit Jack Dawson with Rose’s authorial agency to some extent. I wish the film had made a bigger leap, although at eighteen it would have been lost on me: a person who still viewed love as a state of co-dependence, which is not at all how I currently view the purpose of love or the purest expression of love.

Bill is the only person I know—truly, the only one I know—who has not seen the 1997 Titanic. We joke about it now and then, in fact. I tease him that one day I will randomly put it on when he is out in the family room and that he will not be able to escape at least seeing a few seconds of it. But, of course, I won’t. He has no desire to view it, and for the purposes of my life narrative, that works out quite well. Bill is, in many ways, the kind of character that Titanic wishes Jack Dawson could be, were he fully realized and not subjected at the last minute to the archetypal role of savior. No one encourages me to live fully more than Bill does, and I feel with him that I have all the choices in the world—and that he will embrace each of my choices as if they were as dear to him as his own.

His love says always, “Live and create yourself, and I will protect the person you are.” That sentiment was in the vows he wrote for me, and he has never broken it.

We went to Santa Monica last week for a Google Glass meeting/shindig Bill had at the Google building in Venice. I had never taken myself to the pier, and I loved every second of it. Windy, cold, and breathtaking on the Pacific Wheel.

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Katie and Eric loved the adventure, too, and as always were adaptable and eager travelers. Katie basks in novelty, and Eric made friends with the pigeons at lunch (especially his friend he calls “One-Toey”). We rode the carousel, indulged in ice cream sodas, and had a classic time of it.

Live and explore, he says. And so, we do.

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