[an analysis by Lydia Moeller]
The story “If You Knew Then What I Know Now” by Ryan Van Meter is about a pretend kiss between two boys that held heavy meaning for the young narrator, Meter, who witnessed it. Told in second-person point of view, and in a self-reflective manner, the story is about the narrator who is talking to his younger self about a choice he made to do a project with two boys, Mark and Jared, in the sixth grade. When the trio meet at Mark’s house to work on the project, Mark and Jared pretend to kiss in front of Meter. This created an uncomfortable encounter for Meter, one that came too soon for the naive narrator. Embodied in this kiss was a part of Meter—a part he was too young to fully understand and not ready to face or admit. He had not yet come to terms with the fact that he was gay, nor was he ready to openly express his inner feelings; this experience added to his confusion. The narrator calls it “the biggest kiss you ever saw,” which illustrates the monstrous impact it had on his early life. At the end of story, Jared and Meter meet again at their 10-year high school reunion, where some form of closure between them occurs. The story is told as a warning, in a sense, to his younger self that he would save his future-self much strife if he could avoid witnessing that kiss.
Ryan Van Meter writes this story in what I call an omniscient second-person point of view, and the result creates a profound resonance. For example: “You’ll knock on the closed door. You’ll think it’s odd that the door is closed,” is known as second-person point of view. Interestingly, though, for this story, the “you” to which the author is referring is really a younger version of himself. He recounts a particular event in the sixth grade that would not come to a resolution until his 10-year high school reunion. The author tells the story in an “if only” way, like, “if only you knew then” in the sixth grade “what I know now, then we could avoid all the discord that follow this event (hence the title of the piece). Here is a quote which demonstrates the “if only” attitude of the author: “If you do agree to meet with them at Mark’s house then I don’t know what to tell you. If you meet there it’s probably all going to happen the way it’s going to happen.” Prior to this, the narrator urges his younger self to “meet at the library” or to “see if there’s another group [young Meter] can get into.” The result of Meter choosing this perspective creates a personal feeling of empathy towards the character and a deeper understanding of Meter himself. His ability to portray that feeling so well in this piece by using the “omniscient second-person point of view” is what makes this story resonate with its reader, and have a deeper connection to the character in the story.
In choosing to do the project in the sixth grade with Mark and Jared, the first “kiss” he ever saw between two boys occurred, but it was one he wasn’t ready to see: “They are trying to get you to say things about yourself that you won’t be ready to say for several more years, and that’s what will hurt the most about this afternoon” (522). The reader can immediately assume the author is still at heart just an adolescent boy struggling with his sexuality, struggling to be normal and accepted. “One day someone will ask you about the first time you kissed a boy, and you will think of this kiss… the kiss that isn’t really a kiss and isn’t really yours… It will be the biggest kiss you ever saw.” Now an adult, Meter writes with a longing to spare his younger self from the pain of that what that kiss represented.
The second-person point of view creates a deeper emotional attachment for the reader, therefore the ending is much more climactic for the reader as well. Meter is approached by Jared at their 10-year high school reunion, and “[Meter] almost thought [he’d] made it through the night without talking to [Jared].” A bitter contempt is still there, which the reader can understand. The suffering is expressed throughout the piece by Meter, so when he sees Jared at the reunion it is easy to understand why he would want to avoid him. When Jared goes to apologize, Meter stops him, claiming he knows what he is going to say, but Meter feels, “It would seem too easy, too obvious for this tormentor to apologize at your reunion.” The resolution comes with this statement: “You think it’s strange that you assumed you were the only boy hurt by that kiss in Mark’s bedroom. But you see that Jared carries that day with him like you do; he carries a shame not very different from yours.” The point of view allows us to see Meter’s transformation; his epiphany that those boys, or Jared at least, have thought just as much about that kiss as Meter had, and have been left with guilt since that afternoon in the sixth grade.