On Facebook the other day, I got on a rant with an old friend, quoting the movie Arthur back and forth for most of the afternoon, like we'd done for the last 15 years or so. John is in Afghanistan, on his last tour. It got me thinking about how we use the safety of movie lines to say things we can't in real life, or how, in particular, I say, "Where's the rest of this moose?" to mean "I love you. Be safe."
Read on if you're interested. i would love to hear your movie lines too.
We speak through movie quotes. “Arthur” in particular. We can’t say I miss you. I’m scared for you. My heart hurts for you. I’m curious about you. Where are you? So we say to John, “You must have really hated this moose.”
When John was stateside, before he was shipped off on his third tour in Afghanistan, he was just another of the boys who came to visit, another offshoot of the Henn family of ten kids who took on friends as more family, like they did me, we watched movies. Nothing art house. Nothing even current. We watched "When Harry Met Sally" and John Hughes 80’s flicks that we already knew by heart and chanted them in unison in the flickering light of our makeshift home. We were vagabonds, all displaced, college-less in our early twenties. We were trying to prove our adulthood to the parents who came sniffing around on odd Sundays. We threw dinner parties and had poetry nights. We discovered EE Cummings in a book I’d stolen from my dad’s bookshelf. I wish I’d thought to ask him then if he’d read Cummings and what he thought, but I was too busy running into adulthood to do something so pointless as to converse with my father.
Rachel and I tried to organize a card game night, with two packs of neatly stacked playing cards in the dining room table we’d hoisted from someone’s garbage truck pile in the dead of the night. We sat down, baseball caps askew, gum chomping, dressed the part and blasted Kenny Rogers's "The Gambler." Until we realized that the only card game we knew was gin rummy that we’d played with our grandmothers. That wouldn’t do. We wanted a good ol‘ poker game, but didn’t know the rules. So I made a call to Pete, my mafioso friend who run his share of high stakes games back in his day and ran a Vegas racket that got him banned from the state of Nevada.
“Baby,” he told me. “The best advice I gave give you about poker is to leave the table if you get an Oriental dealer. They’re bad luck. Mark my words.”
That didn’t help.
We pushed furniture out to the perimeter of the living room to make room for a dance floor. We danced to loud music until our shirts stuck to our backs, pretending to be drunk on beer and wine coolers. An excuse to move, to be free, and to be young again. Young still.
The movie quotes helped us put words to feelings we didn’t recognize, to hold onto the safety nets our parents had given us and had suddenly set loose. My friends’ parents had sold their home and moved a ten hour’s drive north to a remote country house in Maine. My parents had divorced each other for the second time, and my father had voiced words to me in a fit of temper that I was pretending to think he’d meant, just to punish him. “If you stay there,” he’d said, referring to my first boyfriend’s apartment, “then I don’t want you back here.”
My dad often said words in fits of rage that he’d later come to eat. Lots of things could set him off: women drivers, Goddamn liberals, daughters flouting their first sex in flips of their hair and in their defiant stances. Yet, after his pulse resumed to normal, he was sweet as pie, loving in his own way. My defense was to take him at his word, at his worst, just for drama’s sake. Just to revel in the angst of my early twenties.
And so it was, the house of misfits born, adult orphans paying rent, food shopping, throwing parties just because we could. I worked in a deli then, making cash hand over fist because I took on all of the hours I could to distract myself from the pain of my first broken heart. We spent it all on weekends and forgot to pay our car insurance. We learned our code from The Breakfast Club: “When you grow up, your heart dies.”
So we didn’t grow up. We worked, we played, and we watched movies. We were a cast of characters holed up in a made-up world until little by little it disintegrated as adulthood fought its way in through cracks in the roof and the porous clapboard shingles. Husbands were met. Baby showers were thrown. Our fathers died. Standing outside the church after the funeral mass, in grown up heels, no shield to adulthood and what lies after, Alicia took my hands. Her words were familiar, echoed in a Southern accent borrowed from Dolly Parton in a film we’d watched a hundred times together. “I don’t know how you’re doing on the inside, but your hair’s holding up just beautiful.”
And because I couldn’t say that I missed my dad or that I was broken because he was gone, I found my own Southern voice and finished the scene from Steel Magnolias. “Shelby’s right. It does look like a brown football helmet.”