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you may call it telling lies (I just call it getting by)

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“I said, ‘This can’t be me, must be my double.’ And I can’t forget, I can’t forget, I can’t forget, but I don’t remember what.” - Leonard Cohen, “I Can’t Forget,” from the album I’m Your Man (1988)

Sometimes, Garcia has four brothers. But then other times, she’s an only child. This isn’t as much of a contradiction as it seems. Sometimes, Garcia’s parents were killed by a drunk driver. Sometimes they were killed by a drunk cop and his drunk partner, driving a cop car. This isn’t a contradiction either. Prentiss isn’t — wasn’t — the best compartmentalizer on the team. She was just the most obvious about it. Garcia and Aaron and Reid and JJ, they can all give her a run for her money.

These are all things everyone knows, but no one ever talks about. The mandate against inter-team profiling is mostly because of this thing, this belief that they can’t and shouldn’t talk about the ways they hold on to sanity. They can talk about talking to someone, they can talk about focusing on the positive, but they can’t talk about building the stories. They can’t talk about choosing a fiction over reality, about building different stories off of the same event like they live in a choose-your-own-adventure novel, about bouncing between alternate universes to keep from going insane. Everyone knows because everyone does it, but no one ever brings it up.

Like how everyone knows but no one ever talks about what happened to Gideon, to Elle, to most of the people they meet in the course of this work. Because what’s the point in talking about it? With Gideon, well, what the record says and what everyone knows are different outcomes, and no one wants the record to be wrong, because what everyone knows is that he swallowed his gun, twitched a few times, and was finished. And no one really wants that to have happened. They want him to have left his weapon and badge, gotten in a nondescript vehicle, and driven away to a new life. Because that’s a better story than the one that ends with blood on a badge and skull fragments in the walls.

No one wants to think that Elle is still a dead-eye shot, that she’s still angry and broken and deeply scarred on her chest and in her heart. They want to think she’s somewhere else, happy, healed, doing good on her own terms. Well, the “on her own terms” part isn’t wrong, because when did Elle ever do something on someone else’s? But the happy part? The healed part? Fairy tales they tell themselves so they don’t, say, keep an eye out for a pattern of vigilante justice. So they don’t scour crime scene crowds for that sharp face, those big eyes. So they don’t ask for her to be found. Because the story about the girl who was broken and left to heal is better than the story about the girl who broke and left and kept breaking, the girl who is scarred and scared and semi-automatic. 

The people they meet? The people who’ve been raped and tortured and beaten and burnt, who’ve been stolen and shot and seared into memory? Those people, they’re all fine, right? They all got therapy and got better and they’re fine now. All of them. No one swallowed their gun (because of course none of them felt unsafe in their homes so none of them got guns), no one downed a bottle of sleeping pills (because none of them had trouble sleeping so none of them got prescriptions), no one hung themselves or left their car running or slid a razor through their skin or jumped off of anything high or did anything else that caused their fear and pain to stop. Nope. They’re all fine, happy and healthy and having lives somewhere new. Right?

Because without that fragile belief, what’s the point? Without telling themselves that the people they save are just that, saved, and not still doomed, why would they even bother trying to save them? And certainly they have proof, sometimes, that it can happen: a picture now and then, a phone call, a Christmas card or two. They get hints, sometimes, and they swallow those up and pretend that it’s enough, that it’s the same for all the others who don’t write or call or answer emails or seem to exist anymore, because letting that door creak open and letting the monsters out is the exact opposite of what they are supposed to be doing. So they don’t.

And sure, on some level it’s chicken and egg discussion, on some level it’s layers of lies and cabinets they never open, and sometimes they misremember and say the wrong thing (tell us, Aaron, about your father. Tell us about your brother. Tell us about the people who grow up with monsters, and tell us about your father’s good advice, and tell us why your brother never calls), forget that in this universe in this moment they are only children or the lone girl in a sea of brothers (stepbrothers?). 

So it’s not really their fault. They talk all the time about coping mechanisms, about compartmentalization, and they do it while they talk about it and it’s so twistedly meta that they forget, sometimes, what is happening. And then they remember, and they correct the timeline, and the narrative they built to keep themselves mostly sane, generally functioning, stays on its shaky legs and holds against the storm.

And when it doesn’t, they think of Elle, and they burrow farther into the ribbons of strength they’ve squirreled away, the veins of belief they stock with letters and holiday cards and snapshots and voicemails. Because the alternative is for London Bridge to tumble down, for continuity to shatter, for Garcia to have to tell us about her brothers, for Aaron to have to tell us about his family, for Gideon’s body to turn up and Elle’s face to splash across WANTED posters and no one wants that, do they?

No one wants Reid to tell us about his past, about the way he uses those eyes and skinny wrists to either be as off-putting as possible or to inspire an instinctive protectiveness in anyone he meets — because if anyone thinks he doesn’t know how to do that, they haven’t been paying an ounce of attention (tell us about the view of a revolver, Reid. Tell us about Russian roulette and intravenous drug use and headaches that don’t make any sense, and tell us about your mother, Reid, and your imaginary friend who turned up dead). No one wants to hear it, unless there is no other option, because hearing Reid tell us about his past is worse than pretending it didn’t (couldn’t) have happened, and seeing Reid remember things is like seeing a mirror shatter and everyone hates it so no one talks about it.

No one talks about JJ and her son and her secret boyfriend husband. No one talks about it because no one wants to think about it because JJ is supposed to be the one who smiles, who mothers, who laughs at jokes and takes care of people and eats Cheetos and cheats at cards. No one talks about it (except sometimes Aaron, who is the only one who seems to understand her job, and isn’t that interesting in and of itself), because no one wants to hear it. They want JJ to keep up the story (tell us, JJ, about Reid coming over to your house when Emily was dead. Tell us about dogs in a barn and a bullet through the seal and about the thousands of women who look exactly like you and cross your desk every day, dead and dismembered and doomed, and tell us about the times you waver and don’t break, and tell us, tell us, about your son and the woman with red lips, and tell us about the woods).

They want everyone to keep up the story, to keep things in their own little boxes, to pretend that people are happy and healthy and they don’t have horrible secrets in a shadowy corner of their minds, because if they talk about it they have to talk about all of it. And no one wants that. Ever.

“Tell a lie sometimes, tell the truth when it suits you, and when you’ve lost your way tell a story.” - Deb Talan, “Tell Your Story Walking,” from the album Sincerely (2001)