Sunday, September 20, 2015
So this is how it goes. I'm twelve and watching TV in my Dad's apartment. It doesn't feel weird referring to my "Dad's apartment." And that is my great guilty secret, I'm incredibly relieved my parents got divorced. I change the channel, a group of people are looking worried on the bridge of a spaceship.
"Ooh, that's Wrath of Khan, leave it here, it's a really good one," my father says. Thankful it's not a Western I'll have sit through I obey. And that's how I first see one of my favorite films. My father tells me about Star Trek and Leonard Nimoy. We eat chopped steak sandwiches and watch The Enterprise play cat and mouse with The Reliant in the beautiful lilac, peach and cobalt clouds of a nebula. And when Spock's first question after sacrificing himself to save everyone is "Ship...out of danger?" I start rubbing my nose hard to keep from crying. I'm making a determined effort to stop being my thin skinned, starts bawling at the drop of the hat self. My father squeezes my shoulder, "It's okay, he comes back in the next one."
And that's what I associate the most with those years, watching movies. Renting them from video stories around town. Renting them from the library. My mother is woman who considers "shut up" a curse word, my father rents me "The Terminator". And as much as I want to scream when my father puts me in the middle by unloading on me everything that went wrong with his childhood and his marriage I just have to think of watching "The Long, Hot Summer" or "The Godfather" with him and I let it go. But it gets harder to let it go as the years go by. And I begin to put up walls, and not answer the phone when I know it's him.
I feel guilty about this, and then I'm able to put up walls around that too. But all that falls away when my sister and I take him to see "Star Trek" in 2009. A film even its abominable sequel won't let me be objective about. Because all I'll remember is the look of sheer delight on my father's face during it. The grin that lit the theater when the end credits music started with a version of The Original Series' theme. It's only later do I realize how important that moment was. When it hits me that was the last movie I saw with my father before he got sick. Before the long, slow decline in various convalescent homes began.
When my father enters the convalescent home is when the terrible waiting begins. I feel guilty about leaving town even though my mother tells me it's the right thing to do. I call my father, not as often as I should. He starts to have trouble remembering that I'm no longer in North Carolina, I call him less unable to bear it. And then I get the call from my mother that it's time to come home. It's Time. And then an even more terrible month of waiting happens. It happens in February, an awful, awful month of gray empty trees and worn brown soil crusted over with dirty ice. There is no catharsis when he dies. Just a terrible emptiness and sensation of walking underwater that lasts for months.
I go back home. Numb, angry that not only did I lose my father, Leonard Nimoy died a week later. That the universe owed me at least Mister Spock still being around. Knowing that the universe could not care less what I think it owes me. Adjusting to the new normal begins. I do well some days, others I just want to sit on the couch with a blanket around my shoulders. I'm frightened by how I've lost any sense of time. Days bleed into each other, I'm not sure if a memory that skitters across my mind happened three days or three years ago. But the dirty ice melts into green grass, and the trees around the deck start to fill out with leaves again. And in July I notice the AFI Silver is playing "Wrath of Khan" in revival.
It's a warm balmy night as my boyfriend and I walk from the car to the theater. I've half joked to him that I'll probably start bawling when Spock dies. And I'm secretly hoping I'm not joking. I've cried in front of him perhaps twice. I have gotten so good at not crying at the drop of the hat that I don't cry at all. We buy our tickets and go in. The shiny chrome and black of the Art Deco interior comforts me along with the pinprick I'm starting to accept as a constant companion that this is yet another thing I won't ever be able to share with my father. We go into the theater and find our seats.
From the moment the deep blacks of the star field shimmer on the big screen I'm transfixed. Sometimes I'm watching the acting, sometimes I'm watching the directing. Other times I'm paying attention to the sound design, or noticing the choices the screenwriter made. I'm paying attention to everything my father taught me to pay attention to. He taught me movies were too wonderful to just passively digest and forget, that at their best they became like old friends you checked in with to see how they're doing.
And it hits me over and over. That without my father I wouldn't be sitting in this theater right now. And it's a double edged sword of realization. That the fraught nature of our relationship made me eager to flee. Yet he was the one person that I could truly be myself around. He shaped my cavernous appetite for movies, for art, for life. And just when it feels like my life is taking the shape and purpose I would be proud to tell him about, he's gone. He sacrificed so much for me and I'll never get to tell him thank you. And so when Spock asks "Ship...out of danger?" I finally put my head in my hands and cry. I cry for just how not at all alright it is. I cry for how it's never quite going to be alright again. I cry for Spock, for Leonard Nimoy, for James Horner and his beautiful music playing over the scene. I cry for how many things get lost, how lost is the natural terminus of all things. And my boyfriend is sitting next to me, not sure whether to leave me be or comfort me, he puts his arm around me and draws me close. And that makes me cry harder because one day he'll be lost too. And so will I.
I want stop but I can't, I shouldn't, it feels like poison slowly draining out of me. A pair of little boys sitting behind me worriedly ask their father "Is she okay?" And I smile a little underneath my tears. The funeral scene is ending and I'm down to just a few drops left. I feel like I'm floating. I begin to come back to myself as the wonderful end title music starts. I feel a bone deep ache at hearing Nimoy recite The Original Series' opening narration. But I'm happy the audience I saw it with was clearly loving it. I'm even happier about the two little boys who kept peppering their father with excited, whispered questions throughout. If things are to be lost, it follows that they have to be found first. And that is the question I wrestle with everyday, will I allow myself the hurt of letting myself be found?
The lights go up, the crowd files out, I stay in my seat until the music and credits are finished. My boyfriend squeezes my hand and we walk to the little cafe in the lobby to sit down. It feels like I've been excavated from my grief, the silt of confusion and sorrow brushed away. I'm part of the human movie again, trying to remember my lines and steeling myself for my invariable exit. It's awful. It's wonderful. I can feel my heart red in my chest as big as the room at the moment in my affection for my boyfriend, our audience, this theater, and everyone in it. Things get lost, so very lost. But things are always, always in the process of being found. I found myself again at the AFI Silver. I think that's just right. I kiss my boyfriend on the cheek and ask him to get me a Cherry Coke from the snack bar. I want to have a drink before our next movie starts.