Movies a la Carte
At the last minute, one Friday evening, I decided to go see a movie. I knew that I wouldn’t be giving them much notice, but I called a few friends to invite them to join me. When I telephoned, the friends who were at home had already made plans for the evening. I looked at the clock. It was getting late. If I wanted to get to the theater in time for the coming attractions I had to abandon the idea of a movie companion. So, I grabbed by coat and left for the theater. No big deal, I thought. I’m just going to be sitting in a dark room, watching a film, quietly. It wasn’t as if I was going to the theater to have a heart-to-heart conversation with a long lost friend. I was going to see a movie, plain and simple. I could do that alone.
I had a slight tinge of insecurity while I waited in line to buy a ticket. I was surrounded by handholding couples and groups of teenagers who all looked at me, standing alone, as if I had just been crowned Miss Social Pariah, 1999.
The pitying looks continued as I stood in line at the snack bar. I had convinced myself that people were whispering behind their hands and looking at me out of the corners of their eyes. “She her. Over there. ” They motioned with a head-nod. “She’s alone. Tsk-tsk. What a loser.” When I made it to the snack counter I considered ordering two popcorns and two drinks, just to throw them off.
I know it was paranoia but I felt as if all eyes were on me when I entered the theater. All I wanted to do was sit down and blend in. Within thirty-seconds, I had become completely self-conscious. When I found a row that had a few empty seats, I quickly shuffled in to sit down. In an effort to make it look as if I was saving a seat for my date while he was in the bathroom or at the snack bar, I put my coat over seat next to me. To keep up the illusion, every few minutes, I would turn around and look back at the door.
I tried to kill time until the movie started. I rummaged through my purse, rearranged my wallet, ate most of my popcorn, read the movie theater brochure that I had picked up in the lobby, and played the riddle game that was being displayed on the screen. I looked at my watch. I checked the door again. Then I noticed the child who was standing on the seat directly in front of me. He was turned around and facing me. He was just standing there looking at me.
His look turned into a stare. An unending-unblinking-see-right-through-to-the-soul stare. It began to make me uncomfortable. What did he see? I looked down. I looked up. I looked at my nails. I looked at the door again. I tried to ignore it as long as possible. Finally, I stared back. I scared him. His eyes welled up with tears. He whispered something in his mommy’s ear. She shifted her position to get a glimpse of me. Uh-oh, here it comes. I was certain that she was going to turn around, wag her finger, and give me a piece of her mind. But instead, in a voice intended to be loud enough for me to hear, she started to explain what was wrong with the mean lady behind him.
“Ignore that lady. She’s alone. She probably has no friends who want to be with her and must be very unhappy. Leave her alone.”
I shrank. Is that how I’m perceived? After a minute or two of self-examination, I realized that I was reevaluating my entire existence because the parents of a four-year-old boy hadn’t taught him that staring is impolite.
As the lights started to dim, I could sense the pity from the people who were seated around me. I had to think fast. To save face, I looked back at the door one more time and said loud enough for others to hear, “I wonder where he could be. He’ll never find me in the dark.” After my subtle announcement I gathered together my snacks, my purse, and my jacket and walked up the aisle toward the door to make it look like I was going to find him. I walked through the swinging doors, crossed to the other side and came back into the theater through the other set of doors. Shrouded by the darkness, I walked slowly down the aisle, found a single seat and sat down.
The woman who was seated next to me leaned over and said, “I’ve been waiting to see this movie. It’s supposed to be good.”
“Me too.” I agreed, “I …”
Suddenly, we heard, “Shush!” from the man behind us. “If you wanted you socialize, you should have stayed home. Now be quiet and watch the movie.”