I loved going to the movies as a child. There was a theater in my hometown where you could attend a matinee for a dollar. As an only child with unending energy that my parents could not contain, this was an easy escape. For about five dollars (after snacks), I would be among the ever familiar galaxy print carpet, the red shining stiff chairs that made your body ache after an hour, and the sound of kernels popping in the background. I grew up seeing teenagers and adults having their lives play out in the most beautifully tragic ways. Just when you thought all hope was lost, the heroine arose like a phoenix from the ashes, ready to conquer whatever was in her way. It was beautiful. It became my little world to experience, and it did feel like it was all for me.
Real life wasn’t like the movies, I quickly discovered. I grew older and life became difficult. My parents divorced, I moved across the state, and I lost my sister. It was the perfect line up for a coming of age film. The only problem was that I would’ve done anything to not be in that situation. The hurt became deeply saturated. It was at one point so strong that I felt all the color had been drained from the world. The sun became unwelcome heat on my skin. The moon? Only a reminder that more time was passing. Day after day, things were changing at a rapid pace, but I never felt more disconnected from what I thought my life was going to be. I would still go to the movies, but by this time in my life, the dollar theater with the crappy food had been bulldozed for an apartment complex. I was also three hours away. It was surreal. There had been nothing as exquisitely painful as realizing that I was slowing becoming Nick Carraway, a background character to my own life.
These films, with the gorgeous lens filters and the perfect soundtracks, offered me a world better than my own. However, it was escapism at its finest. I could leave all my problems behind and take on the mindset of the hero. If this imaginary world was made from the minds of real-world people, was it so bad to seek it out? I found myself constantly disappointed that my life did not resemble climbing rooftops at sunrise, going on a thousand mile long road trip, or having my best friend proclaim their love for me. There was no looking outside of a bus window, wondering what the world would bring me. No next step. An ever-present sibling with the perfect responses was absent. No whirlwind, whimsical family to preoccupy. I wanted these things so badly that reality slowly escaped me. My imaginary world began to serve me better. Upon reflection, it was not a good place to be in. Life wasn’t a coming of age movie, and it was a great disappointment.
Long after my losses, I sat down, truly alone, uncloaked by the comforting darkness of a theater. It was my favorite café in my hometown—something out of a movie, I dare to say. The red counters created a stark background for my steaming mug of tea. I sat down at the end bar, hoping someone wouldn’t slide into the other side of the table. It was commonplace in a small town to join a lonely diner. Not allowing any distractions, I let myself wonder about the archetype of the hero’s journey and how it related to my life. Sometimes the main character needs to hit a low point before they may arise. I sat there and rolled the idea around in my head, but it didn’t click that day in the thaw of early spring long ago.
My love of movies turned into resentment for a time. There was at least a year where I refused to take the time to watch one. I spent hours diving into the radio, music, and conversations with strangers just to get a similar feeling. What did I learn from stepping away from my escape? Life is as cinematic as you make it. You can’t romanticize everything, but you must appreciate what is there. I don’t know if I’ll ever be satisfied with my youth due to the exposure. I think to myself often if I’ll ever be able to settle into the terms of reality.
I was sitting in my car the other day, thinking about what changes have occurred since trying to plunge myself into reality. I spent more time with friends, more time with books, more time enjoying what real life has to offer. The problem wasn’t ever the preciously-crafted scenes of fiction, the issue was my perspective on it. You may not be able to enjoy a John Hughes moment in your own life. You may not speak poetry with your friends in a cave. You probably won’t drop everything one day and decide to travel the world. What can I say about what is comparable?
It ends up being better.