I didn’t expect this one to be as hard as it was. How difficult could it be, I thought, to just sit in the dark with a bunch of people that are too invested in what’s going on on the screen to notice that you even exist, let alone that you are not with anyone?
I tried to choose my movie wisely. Nothing scary, that would only remind me there was no one there to cling to when I wanted to hide my eyes. Nothing romantic, obviously, why would I want to poke a bruise? I considered a drama, but settled on the safest choice – a comedy. It was a movie I had wanted to see: The Change-Up, starring Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman.
First and foremost let me say that my favorite part of this step was not having to consult anyone else about any part of it. I went to watch whatever movie I wanted to watch – there was no compromise involved, there was no consulting. I went to the theater I wanted to go to, at whatever time I damn well pleased. I bought the treats I wanted and nothing more or less, and the soda was my choice and no one else’s. These details are small, but they aren’t really. This is what being alone is, for good or for bad: making your own decisions and then reaping the benefit or damnation of those choices.
I took a seat in the theater – not terribly crowded, I got a good seat. The commercials were on so I checked in on Facebook and answered a couple of emails. I turned off my phone, tucked it in my purse, and settled in. When the lights went down and the trailers started… that’s when I noticed I was alone. No one to steal my popcorn, but no buttery fingers to intertwine with my own. When a movie looked like shit, there was no one to whisper that to and have them nod. When a movie looked damn good, there was no one to say “Ooh, let’s see that!” and have them agree or shrug.
The movie started and was immediately hilarious. I enjoyed the whole damn thing, actually. Laughed til I cried probably 8 times. I went in to it expecting it to be a 50/50 shot at being passable as a decent movie, but it surprised me. It was really funny, and poignant, and it felt honest. There were a couple of moments that felt forced, but in any comedy when you introduce sentimentality I think you risk that happening. Still, they did a much better job with it than I would have anticipated. I highly suggest it. Crass as hell, of course. You’ve been warned.
I noticed how weird it is to laugh out loud at something when you’re alone, but not alone. My laugh, particularly, is embarrassingly loud, and in addition to this I find things funny that I don’t think most people find funny because they are so black and dry. I laughed out loud at parts that no one else laughed at… and my laugh sounds like a goddamn foghorn in the quiet. But I’m used to being stared at for my laugh. Don’t make me laugh in a fancy restaurant unless you like attention. What caught me was how hard it was to watch the parts of it that were sentimental. And I don’t mean the romantic parts either. I mean the parts where Ryan Reynold’s character (or is it technically Jason Bateman’s? Just stay with me here) – your typical bachelor – starts to feel what it is for his friend to be a father, and be loved and cared for and the ways that while the family life may be hard it is also vastly rewarding. There I was, tears in my eyes, and no outlet for it. No one to kiss on the cheek, no one whose hand I could squeeze, no shoulder to rest my head upon whimsically. Listen… it just kind of sucked, okay?
I’ll tell you what, I didn’t realize how fully I had converted movie going into a social activity over the years. I feel my movies, I live in them. There are so many small, intimate ways that you interact with the person you’re with. You share in the laughter, you share in the sadness, you soak in the emotions on the screen and you play them out in silent ways with your company. I had no partner for projection there. I mean, think about it, have you ever tried watching a movie with someone you aren’t really connecting with? You spend that 90 minutes stiff and inhibited, scaling back your expression and in turn your enjoyment of it. As quiet and personal as the movie watching experience may be, you want to share a movie, not just see it. You can’t directly interact, but you interact nonetheless, just in barely discernible ways. If anything, this step made me realize how very much watching a movie with someone tells us about who they are and what they’re like. It teaches us about how we connect to that person on a natural level.
A theater isn’t just a dark place for youthful gropings. It’s not just a place to laugh or cry or sit on the edge of your seat. It is about reaching out for human connections, both with those on the screen and those beside us.
On the other hand, because I had no one to share with, and no one to project my emotions towards, I also had no one else to share my attentions. I could give my full focus toward the movie and just react to it. And the reaction was pure. I didn’t laugh harder because someone was laughing beside me, I didn’t stifle my laugh because the other person wasn’t laughing and wouldn’t get why that was so damn funny. I wasn’t self-conscious when things got sad and my eyes got teary, and I didn’t get weirded out by all the boobs.
I did what the Project is about: I reacted to things on my own terms, and got an honest opinion from myself that wasn’t affected by anyone else. It’s not a huge leap in my understanding, but this isn’t about huge leaps. It’s about healing, and healing is a slow and patient process. I feel the healing though. The wound isn’t open anymore. The scar is forming nicely, and scar tissue is much stronger than regular tissue. It’s not always beautiful, but it’s strong.