The Memories of a Night Out
I did something the other night that has become, literally, the most routine and common occurrence in our household. I wouldn’t normally have thought twice about it.
I took my kids to the movies.
I grew up loving to go to the movies, my brother took me to see Revenge of the Pink Panther at the old Royal Theater in my hometown. I saw Ghostbusters and Back to the Future and even 16 Candles and probably every other John Hughes film in my hometown. I loved them then. I love the movies now.
Tonight, though, I walked with three of my kids into the theater and it was different somehow. We went to see Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland. There was nothing in the film that startled me. I wasn’t driven to tears by it (well…much). I just started down this emotional road and, like watching a train wreck, I couldn’t stop moving toward it.
As the film wasn’t boffo at the box office like Jurassic Park or Inside Out we went to one of the older theaters in the area. It was walking around the corner into the darkness of the theater that I was overcome. Inside the darkened room I realized what was getting to me. The upper balcony, the near dollar-theater feel . . . it was like the old dollar theaters from when I was younger. That reminded me of my late wife. I hadn’t been this awash in melancholy in a very long time.
When I was first married I was broke – far more broke than I am now. It’s not that we complained or worried about it, we were broke, knew it, bemoaned it, but still managed to enjoy ourselves with it. Even after our daughter was born we’d spend the money on a babysitter and then go to the dollar theater to see a movie that had been out so long it was probably already on video. We were cheap dates, only a buck to go to the movies was a bargain.
As the lights darkened in the theater this night, approaching the end of the movie trailers and heading to the start of the Disney Motion Pictures logo I took a deep breath and sighed. Loud.
I always sat to the left of my wife. I don’t know why, it just always was where I sat in the theater. It’s an odd fact that I’d never thought about before but it was all I could think of at this moment. Why on the left? Why not the right? I don’t know…it felt weird to think about that, even now.
I looked down at my arms and turned them over, top to bottom. My left arm, as far back as my memory goes, has always had a slew of scars that covered it. The remnants of burns I don’t remember from when I was a mere 12-months-old. It remained the same.
My right arm has one scar, about 3/4 of the way up the forearm, fading now in my fourth decade on the planet. The area above it started to get tender and I got goosebumps on my forearm. It wasn’t a ghost, I don’t pretend that the spirit of my wife was in the room with me. Yet her memory was there. I felt how she used to quietly, near subconsciously move her fingers over the skin of my right arm, sliding her fingers down and merging hers between mine and holding. I had this urge to reach over and put my hand on her knee even though I knew it wasn’t there.
Movies were date night for us. We might have dinner at some bad Tex-Mex place (because it was cheap) and no matter how bad the movie we would navigate around the arm rest and find a way to press next to each other. She would hold my hand through most the movie. She would lean her head on my shoulder only to lift it again because the seat just didn’t lend itself to that juxtaposition of her body.
I was distracted for the full two hours. It wasn’t the need for contact. I suppose I could get that if I really wanted. It was her contact that was missing. When the climax of the movie, the tearful most poignant part came and George Clooney shed a tear on the screen I could only take a shuddering breath and sigh out, stifling the same emotion.
I didn’t miss having someone. I honestly missed my wife. In the deep, buried in the membranes of your cells, tied to your DNA kind of way. I missed those silly, broke, insane days when just being together was enough. When going to the movies brought us together, just the two of us.
I was in this cold reverie of nostalgia when I felt a head on my left shoulder – the opposite side from my wife. I looked over and my son, blonde and growing and such a mix of my and his mother’s personalities had laid his head on me. I reached over with my right arm and rubbed his short hair. He looked up, head still on my shoulder, eyes lifting his top eyelids to their peak, and smiled only to return his gaze to the screen.
I heard him sigh and took that same cleansing breath.
As we walked out of the theater, the memories lingering behind as we moved toward the entrance my other son asked “how did you like the movie, Dad?”
I looked at him and simply said “I loved it.”
I loved everything about it.