(Crossposted from here.)
I spent the ages of 18 to 25 or so in cars and parking lots with boys. And other girls too–I lived with one of the girls for about a year, I still frequently wish I’d kept in touch with her–but my car club experiences were dominated mostly by boys with thin chests built of bravado and mouths that bubbled insults and boasts like spring swollen rivers.
Over the two days it took me to read Maggie Stiefvater’s The Dream Thieves I’ve had almost as many nostalgic, indulgent thoughts about those boys and their cars as I’ve had about the characters I’ve come to love. I was a very different person then, still becoming. (I guess my breath, by definition, means I’m still still becoming). I was a lot like Ronan, though admittedly my violence was restricted to words and walls and the stupid, stubborn pipe of my cold air intake.
I was a lot like Ronan, and I have known a lot of Kavinskys.
I often talk about wanting to teach myself to run because it’s the closest I’ll ever get to flying, but my memory knows that’s not entirely true. The closest I’ve ever been–may ever be–to flying the way ravens do has been sitting in the passenger seat of my friend’s Honda S2000, top down, wind pummeling my hair as we did a buck twenty through the sticky hot central Florida night. Nights like that are printed indelibly on what I’ve become. Drag races and street races and autocrosses, smoke pouring from tires and slipping NOS hoses, alcohol and weed and adrenaline. Those are things that have made me feel like I was soaring even as my feet remained on the ground. (Or on the poor, abused clutch pedal on my ex’s truck. I never have been overly competent with a stick.)
But like most people, I also spent that period of time trying to figure out just who I was and who I wanted to be. I opened my big mouth when I shouldn’t have. I stayed quiet when I shouldn’t have. I was too quick to shrillness and too slow to learn how to calm a racing heart. I tried to blend in and mimic behavior, practice and homage, because that’s how you learn to do something, right? Even becoming.
There was a phrase people used to throw around on the boards and at meets. Only fags wear white shoes. It was a phrase that made me uncomfortable and that discomfort, the way I couldn’t put my finger on it, was a second secret of my own. What their words meant was that a pair of hideously ugly white rims were never going to improve your car. What their words did was reinforce a tight, sinuous brand of homophobic misogyny that was cutting off circulation to my heart and my brain. Derision and deflection so often have the same voice.
Ronan’s gradual becoming in The Dream Thieves is a thing of wonder to me in a book spilling wonders. It’s a story I desperately wish I could have had at twenty, because no matter how certain you are you’ll finally reach a destination, some journeys are just better with a well-creased map. There’s a certain amount of grief in growing, to be sure, that no map will help you avoid, but there’s also a limit to how much grief you take before you start reverting again.
Maggie Stiefvater has managed to capture the balance of that grief remarkably well. She created a character whose main desire was to be true to himself, who fought with others and his own dreams for the privilege of becoming, and whose reverb shook my fingers on the page just as Kavinsky’s bass shook everyone within hearing distance of the Mitsubishi.
In Ronan Lynch I see speed and asphalt and anger and truth and the creeping, adolescent feeling that you could crawl out of your skin and leave it behind if you tried. There’s a subtle grace in his character that I’d still like to see more of, even though it’s been some time since I had to answer the questions he’s so recently thought to ask. Thank you, Maggie, for creating a character who I could see my young self in so perfectly who was allowed the time and space to discover his sexuality, but not allowed to disappear into his sexuality as if he were a cipher.
Becoming is a constant process, but the creases in Ronan Lynch will now continue to remind me where I’ve been. That too, makes me feel like I’m soaring.