“It’s just one story”

(Spoiler Alert: In case anyone’s watching or planning to watch “True Detective,” I’m writing about the final scene.)

I’ve watched “True Detective” three times. When I finished the post before my last (“Hand to God”), I was up to my second viewing of the final episode. I knew what was going to happen, but I didn’t remember the all of it. And what struck me was the final conversation between Rust and Marty, because this is what I’d written in that post:

“So on the one hand, I say I need the dark to understand death. On the other, I say it’s light that leads to transcendence. Do I even know what the hell I believe?”

I’ve mentioned “True Detective” several times now; if you haven’t been reading along, Rust and Marty are two detectives trying to solve a macabre murder. Rust is the dark one. The fact that his two-year-old daughter was hit by a car and died is a huge part of what drives him.

The final scene in “True Detective” takes place at night, outside the hospital where Rust and Marty had been taken after being attacked by the suspect they’d been pursuing. Marty was already released, Rust was in a wheelchair. He’d sustained more serious injuries, was in a coma for a while. As Marty pushes Rust in the wheelchair, Rust talks about what we’d call a near-death experience, but not quite like the ones most of us heard about, the ones with the white light. He says he went somewhere dark, and in the deeper-dark he knew his daughter was there; he could feel her love. In that place, he said, there was nothing but that love. And even if you haven’t watched any of “True Detective,” if you’ve read the bit I wrote about it or watched any of the scenes I linked to, you’ll know Rust is not a sentimental guy. Hell, in eight episodes his one and only smile was a smug one.

Rust says that he wanted to stay in that love, and so he let go. That’s quite the opposite of near-death experiences I’ve read about, where people say they didn’t want to “come back,” but they knew they had to. Rust had no such dilemma. He let go, but he woke up. “I’m not supposed to be here,” he cried.

So Rust is crying in his wheelchair, and Marty looks up at the sky, at all the stars. Marty reminds Rust that Rust once told him that when he lived in Alaska, he used to look at the stars and make up stories. Tell me a story, Marty says.

“…I was thinkin’. It’s just one story. The oldest,” Rust answers.

“What’s that?”

“Light vs. dark.”

Marty looks up at the sky again. “Well, I know we ain’t in Alaska, but it appears to me that the dark has a lot more territory.”

“Yeah. You’re right about that.”

But then a minute later, this is what Rust says, the last lines of the show:

“You’re lookin’ at it wrong. The sky thing…Once there was only dark. If you ask me, the light’s winning.”

Light and dark – there it is. Rust found something in that deep-dark that allowed him some light. It was Love. Because if Love is real, is tangible, there’s a reason to live. I don’t consider that a ride-off-into-the-sunset moment. It was a transcendent moment, which is no guarantee of what any next moment will be. But each moment like that is a star twinkling in the blueblack night. If you’ve ever looked deeply into a sky lit with stars, you know the beauty that comes from the interplay of dark and light.

Years ago, when I first joined AA, I met Maria. We shared the same sponsor and vied for her attention like two children. It was part of the friction between us, but I had no friends except the ones I was making in AA. I needed her.  Maria was short and dense with a long, serious face, wildly curly black hair and eyes that warned you away, like there was something inside she was keeping watch on. I used to think she was mean. But maybe she was watching the hurt that she’d been trying to drink away, maybe she was protecting that hurt because if your pain runs your life, what are you without it? And if that pain’s lived holding hands with alcohol, what kind of monster does it turn into without it?

One day Maria told me she’d seen God. What do you mean, I asked – you saw Him, like He was a person? Yes, she said, I saw Him. He’d come to her in a vision of robes and glory. I didn’t know if I believed her. I imagined such a thing was possible, but talking about it made it sound loopy. I wanted to ask Maria, “Then what could ever be wrong for you? If you saw God, if you knew He existed, what could your sorrows be?”

I didn’t ask because I didn’t want her to think I doubted her. Truth is I was envious. Why’d God visit her and not me? I’d stopped drinking and was trying to “turn my will and life over to the care of God” like everyone around me. It wasn’t working. But if I had a vision, I would finally be once-and-forever all right because I’d know something I hadn’t known before. If God revealed Himself to me I could believe there was something beyond this deeply disturbing world. But where was He, and why should I want to live in a world that even He refused to inhabit?

There isn’t – for most of us – a single epiphany that causes a big enough shift that world settles down forever. That we settle down forever, because the world is the world and it isn’t going to change. If you want to change the world, change your mind about the world. That’s the way to peace. I’ve had moments of transcendence, and never more so than since Philip died – not the least of it being the way he communicates with me. Two years of it and I’m still sometimes shocked. Philip’s wise in ways I didn’t have access to when he was alive. To be this close with him in death is pure grace. But what do I do with it? I know these daily signs are nudges from him telling me to wake up to life. He told me a long time ago that signs are pointers to the truth. At some point they’re not necessary. But he knows I’m too hurt and shaky to do without for now.

Never have I felt as loved as I do since Philip died. A broken heart means I’m as vulnerable to love as to grief. But my dark still has a lot more territory. I know that sometimes life’s irredeemable, sometimes people die sad and broken. So I have to ask myself what do I make of I’ve been given and what’s been taken? Will I die treating my life like a tragedy?

© 2014 Denise Smyth


13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. daveallen
    Apr 28, 2014 @ 22:28:03

    I envy your ability to stay close to Philip – I’m still trying to reach that…


    • Denise
      Apr 29, 2014 @ 22:03:06

      Talk to him, listen for him…I believe he’s around you, which isn’t anything I would’ve said before Philip died, and I saw it for myself.

      Just a suggestion, if it feels right – I sit down with a notebook and listen for Philip, and write what I hear him say. You’re a writer. Maybe you want to write to him, maybe you want to listen for him. Or maybe you just want to be with your grief and let him come to you when it’s time.


  2. Greet Grief
    Apr 29, 2014 @ 18:05:49

    Living and dying, lightness and dark – all interconnected, all teaching us lessons.
    I believe Philip will continue to “visit” even when you are less shaky!


  3. Rose
    Apr 29, 2014 @ 23:30:02

    Denise, I haven’t written in here for a while.. I have been thinking about you a lot and miss “talking” to you. I was in NY this past weekend and was tempted to write to you before I went to ask if we could meet. It would be nice to talk to you in person and listen to this thoughts of yours that are so deep and touching. I really admire you for the way you are handling this situation in your life. I know sometimes it must be very dark for you, but I also know that when you see light in any shape and form, it does make you happy. You are a beautiful soul, and so was your son, people full of light and love.



    • Denise
      May 01, 2014 @ 22:55:08

      So good to hear from you, Rose – it always is. If you are in New York again, and you have the time (I know how hard it can be), maybe we can meet. It’s so odd to me to hear you say I’m full of “light” when I feel so dark. But then, you know it’s what I’ve been struggling with. Philip was full of light – that’s the kind of soul he was, he is. And since he died I’ve been having “conversations” with him about light – he’s trying to move me toward it.

      You, Rose, are full of light. And I know I said this before – you are a gift from Philip. Sending you love and hugs and all things bright and beautiful.


  4. afichereader
    May 02, 2014 @ 23:02:58

    I’m so relieved to hear someone who read True Detective as a redemption story.* After all the hype, critics across the internet panned the final episode. But me, I wept. When they ran through the labyrinth, they dug deeper and deeper into their pain. They chased it. They faced it. And then, they saw the light. I should have known that you would have been a fellow watcher of that show, watching in the way that only people in pain could watch it.

    *this is just one little response to one little snippet of your post, which is bigger than I can respond to, and is lovely.


  5. Denise
    May 05, 2014 @ 05:47:55

    Yes – deeper and deeper until they faced the monster, which almost killed them. But it didn’t. As a fellow blogger wrote, “One needs to grieve almost to death before they can live again.”

    I’m so glad you wrote this – and yeah, it doesn’t surprise me you saw it the same. I see how deep the water is that you swim in.

    I’ve a question – a couple months ago you mentioned a series that you watch. And I thought, “oh, if she’s watching that, I want to watch it, too.” But I don’t remember what it was – can you let me know? ;o)


  6. afichereader
    May 07, 2014 @ 20:43:01

    House of Cards? Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy (the recent Gary Oldham film)?

    Reading your comments reminded me of the viciousness of the bad guy at the end. He really gets them, both of them! In a way, it was over the top and ridiculous. But when you read it like we do, then–yeah–the monster gets you. But that’s not the end of the story.


  7. Denise
    May 07, 2014 @ 21:11:34

    Definitely over the top – and no, it wasn’t the end. Thank God by the end they both started breathing.

    No (I do love House of Cards 😉 – it was months ago, and I think it was the third season of something, and for some reason I’m thinking the name of the series was the name of a man. Grrrr. I should have written it down. If I’ve sparked your memory, do tell.


  8. afichereader
    May 08, 2014 @ 21:39:30



  9. Denise
    May 09, 2014 @ 08:13:49

    Yes! Thank you ‘o)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: