Second-Person Point of View in Fiction

First off, happy new year to everyone! I hope you all had a bit of joy and a lot of champagne—or vice versa.

And second, I wanted to share a small piece of writing I’d worked on a little over a year ago which my current reading—An Anonymous Girl, by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen—reminded me of. Home Is Where the Heart Is was meant as an exercise, using second-person narrative because it’s so uncommon in today’s texts, and yet I found the result more introspective and tormented than an otherwise first-person or third-person omniscient point of view.

In An Anonymous Girl, too, even though readers know and understand this overly present “you” isn’t addressed to them, they’re left with an uneasy feeling, almost as if they were voyeurs, secret keepers implicated in whatever is going on with the main character, because they know who the narrator is. But it’s not always the case. Here’s my text below—you may recognize what inspired it.

Home Is Where the Heart Is

Your apartment was almost perfect: small but cozy, warm and noisy. You liked that your nights were always disturbed by the familiar wailing of a police car or a fire truck speeding off down the avenue outside your windows. You’d been through hell and back, and had carried along some boxes of misplaced dreams that you’d neatly stacked up in piles in the basement storage unit a hundred feet below. Your apartment needed some fixing and renovating, but it was a home—your home. The skeletons would either have to wait or be reduced to dust.

But then they arrived, and they made it all so much better.

At first, it was just her. She knocked at your door. You weren’t expecting anyone, and you hardly ever got visitors. But you let her in and watched as she began to open every door and window; she visited every room, moved around your furniture, added her feminine touch here and there, and filled your closets with her own stuff. Before you knew it, your walls were painted pink while you had never considered that the grey that covered them wasn’t suitable for your home. The new shade was so vibrant it hurt your eyes, and you both laughed. And it did look better in pink. That’s when you realized that your home had only felt like a home because it was yours; you’d never looked around to see how lonely and barren it was. Things come in three, they said—quite rightly—and sometime later, so did you. You came in three. You pushed out a wall or two to welcome her too, and then you sealed the front door shut and asked them to stay in forever. They said yes.

Their scents lingered in the air in every other room, your wife’s body rumpled your bed sheets and imprinted on your mattress, your daughter’s greedy little fingers marked your countertops in the kitchen, their smiles adorned your walls. Downstairs, your basement floor was surely coated with dry bone powder because new books of wonders filled your shelves. Nothing in your home didn’t remind you of them. And yet, your apartment never seemed to be missing space. It was as if it extended with you three. What had once been yours had become theirs, and what had been theirs was yours. No spot had been left behind. They’d taken up space everywhere, and everywhere you turned to, they were there. Your apartment had been wonderfully fixed and renovated.

One day, they hugged the windows and peered outside. It was a wonderful day and they asked if you wanted to go to the garden. You said you didn’t have a garden; most people didn’t have a garden in the City. But they insisted that you had, so you took a look. You smiled sillily when you saw a beautiful sunflower tilting its head up to the vibrant sky. Had you been so blind before that you never noticed you had a garden? You grabbed their hands and rushed outside where you mimicked the sunflower and let the sun warm your smiley face, and you took long, deep, and grateful breaths.

It was a good home, and you couldn’t have predicted it. You were attentive; this was an accident. You couldn’t have known. The crackling and sizzling heat came from underneath the door and snapped at your toes as you got out of bed, triggering your survival instincts. It simply wasn’t a possibility that smoke, thick black smoke, could suddenly roll up the stairwell. It choked you. It choked them. That the whole three of you wouldn’t escape the howling inferno was something you could never have envisioned. Not until you found yourself staggering backward in the middle of the avenue, falling down on your ass in shock. Alone. But it all had happened so fast … One minute she was there, and the next they were both gone.

All that was left of your home was ground down to the dust that swirled and scattered in the wind. The ashes crept into your throat, got into your lungs, burnt your chest, and the memories of long breaths suddenly ached more than you knew possible. You lifted your face again to meet the sun, but clouds gathered, and so you wilted your head and folded yourself in your arms as the cold set in.

Homeless, you returned to the only other home you knew: Hawkins, Indiana. But even there you felt down and out for a long time, not daring to sleep in your room and self-consciously hoping to just kill yourself slowly with the same smoke that had taken your daughter’s life and pushed your wife as far away from you as she could go. The same questions hammered the inside walls of your head over and over, always beginning with “why” and ending with a smoke-filled inhalation.

And then you found her, this little girl with the shaved head and the confused expression on her face, and you started to wonder if two life-blown vagrants could maybe build a nest together. So you opened your door again. You once more buried your skeletons below the floor and you swept over the planks, swept the dust outside. You built a fire inside your chimney to warm you both up, let the sunshine streaming from an upper window heavenly illuminate your living space, and let new sounds fill the air, suffusing the heart of the shack with new memories. Together, you fixed and renovated. And you put many, many locks on the door too, just to be on the safe side.

Things come in three. You realize now that you failed to understand it correctly the first time. You focused on “things” rather than “come”. But this beautiful girl you’ve welcomed into your home and who is sitting next to you right now; she’s your lucky three.

Most of the time, you’re worried sick, but today you smile. For three simple reasons. One, your home is luminous. Two, the door is wide open, and yet no one comes in or out. And finally, it’s just that, sitting on the couch with your legs crossed over the coffee table and your arm around her shoulder as she nestles against your side, it’s the best place to enjoy the view of the little impromptu field of yellow daisies growing outside your porch, making their way to the light from underneath the thick blanket of dead leaves—and the fact that the TV is out again isn’t the only reason that you can watch the flowers again.

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