There’s an old Looney Toons cartoon that has Daffy Duck getting the business end of a shotgun over and over again as he constantly shouts “SHOOT HIM NOW! SHOOT HIM NOW!” At a certain point he looks at the camera and says “hmmmm…pronoun trouble.”
I’ve been running into similar grammatical troubles. Oh, I don’t end up with my mouth upside down on the top of my head or staring down the barrel of a Winchester. My troubles tend to be more verbal trouble. Or perhaps most appropriate is tense trouble.
It started – or at least I recognized it – when I was in the office of the monument company trying to hold it together while buying Andrea’s gravestone. I agonized over the picture that was to be put on the stone. I could have picked one from our time in Texas, which is probably closer to what the kids will remember her like, but I settled on one from when we first were dating because it just…I don’t know…glows. Her body language, her smile, the way she looks, all of it are just her at the peak of happiness.
When I went in to the company to look at granite colors, costs, installation, all of it, I ended up making the woman at the company cry. I’m not sure how she does her job because I certainly couldn’t. I held it together – barely – and then came time for the picture. She picked it up and immediately said “oh…she’s beautiful!” That’s true, but I caught myself replying “yes, she is….was.”
I’d been using the past tense for awhile, and I hadn’t really noticed it, I guess. It’s not that it feels uncomfortable, it’s more that it’s just difficult. The hardest thing in the world is looking at those pictures and the videos and everything as I dig through boxes and such and come to the realization that where the discomfort was hitting me so hard this time I realized that I only used present tense because the woman in front of me had. I’d normally have said she “was” all the time.
I also started to – and I know this is crazy – hate the letter “W”. “Is” become “was”. She was younger “then” became younger “When”. She was my best friend…when she was around. The tense changes the entire characterization and description of life in general.
The thing that bothered me a little wasn’t that I had to use it so much as the fact that I was able to use it so readily and easily. Part of me thinks that it’s because I was there . . . I saw it all take place. I saw the color drain and the life pass out of her body. It’s hard not to have that image creep into your consciousness even when you’re remembering the good things. The use of the pronouns and verbs makes the image flicker – if even just for a second – and in the blink of an eye the emotions of that day wash over you all over again.
So . . . as Chuck Jones used to say . . . I want so badly to be Bugs Bunny, but in the end, we’re all really Daffy Duck . . . with pronoun trouble.