It was the summer of 1996. The movie was Twister starring Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton. Matinee tickets were $3 at the small theater in my town. That afternoon, I was playing basketball in my 2-inch platform shoes. 13 is an awkward age.
My friend suggested we go see a movie. The religion my parents belonged to banned television and movies. Worldly pleasures, like going to the theater, were bad for the soul.
I had a jar full of babysitting money in my room. The heel on my shoe had come loose and so I had an excuse why I needed to come home for money. I told my mom I would be at the mall getting my shoe fixed. The theater was next door. She was none the wiser.
There were no ads before the movie in those days, only previews. I was in heaven. Watching a movie on a big screen felt like a luxury. Plus, I could now join in the conversation with other kids about something popular. All I wanted to do was talk about Twister all summer.
My brother didn’t believe me when I told him about the theater. I realized he might tell my mom because he was at an age where he couldn’t keep his older sister’s secrets. So I changed my story. He knows the truth now.
To this day, I love watching Twister. RIP Bill Paxton.
At the age of 16, I went through a rough patch with my parents. According to them, I was rebelling. Sure, I was a good student and even had a full-time job teaching violin. But I was so angry at my parents for making me live this restricted lifestyle.
I started going to the school counselor for help. My dad, who had a lot of connections in the community, got wind of this. My parents were not happy. I fought back, telling them that I wanted more than this pious way of life. So they took me to see a therapist at the local clinic.
I sat with my parents, listening to them rattle off all the expectations. I told the therapist that all I wanted was to dye my hair red and go see movies with my friends. I also wanted to go to a school dance. You know, normal teenage experiences.
I wasn’t having sex, I wasn’t drinking or doing drugs. I knew I wanted to be a professional violinist and a teacher. I was working hard towards those goals. But I wanted some freedom.
The therapist told my parents that there was nothing wrong with their daughter. They needed to trust that I was smart enough to make decisions. What I wanted to do was not harmful.
I had to receive weekly counseling for a year, as did my mother. Separate sessions of course. We had a written agreement that I could attend movies and dances. I could dye my hair and wear makeup.
I was making a lot of money as a music teacher already so I could fund this all myself. I paid for my own music training. My own food, my school fees, etc. But I remained living at home until I finished high school. I couldn’t get out of that one.
My second visit to the movie theater was after that first counseling session. It was January of 1999 and I went by myself to see At First Sight starring Val Kilmer. I was in need of some romance.
It was the middle of the day and I was so excited. So excited that I didn’t call the movie hotline number to check what time the movie started. I walked up to the ticket booth and said: “One ticket for At First Sight, please.”
I still remember the two cashiers looking at each other in confusion and then back at me. “It’s not playing until 7 PM.”
If only I had looked at the sign above my head. My only option was to come back later or see what was playing next. Varsity Blues. Not a film I cared about but I was there to see a movie. Any movie would do.
I got my ticket, my bag of sour peaches and sat in the back, happy to be there. Two other people showed up, a girl in my grade on a date with an older guy from high school. They smiled at me as they took their seats in the middle of the theater.
All I remember about the movie was Ali Larter in a whipped cream bikini and James Van Der Beek. I’ve never seen that movie since. This was my first clue that the movie theater wasn’t all about the movie.
The movie theater was a safe space for me to be alone with my thoughts and dreams.
Every Wednesday evening at 7:30, my parents hosted a bible study. I finished teaching early those nights as I used the basement for lessons. I’d leave the house at 6:30 and walk 15 minutes to the theater.
The “Now Playing” choices were pretty limited given that the theater had only two screens. I saw The Matrix every Wednesday for a month. I didn’t mind. It took me that long to understand the entire movie anyway.
To Russia with Love
The second semester of grade 10, a new girl from Russia started classes at my school. She didn’t speak a word of English. She spent the first few weeks following some of us around to our classes.
She had an electronic translator with her. She would type in a word and hand it to me and I’d read the translation and get the gist of what she was trying to say. I’d type in one word to answer and give back the translator. That’s how we communicated for the rest of that term.
I took her to the movies to help her learn English. She remains one of my best friends to this day. She still has no idea what Blast from the Past is about.
A month after graduating from high school, I moved eight hours east to attend college. The local community orchestra had offered me a contract to work as an instructor.
By now, I had a vehicle so I could drive to the theater to catch a late evening movie. I discovered a discount cinema in another city 45 minutes away. Movies from noon until midnight. More than once did I do a marathon. I even convinced a friend to come with me. She didn’t make it through. I went alone the next time.
When life felt overwhelming, I’d head to the theater. I cut class once to go see Riding in Cars with Boys starring Drew Barrymore. It turns out the movie wasn’t worth the money or the effort it took to catch up in class the next day but I needed a time out.
After my mother died in 2005, I rejoined my childhood religion for a couple of years. My movie-going subsided for a time.
“ What if Jesus returns and finds you in a movie theater? Straight to hell for you!”
One evening I was out with another friend from church. We decided we wanted to see Last Holiday starring Queen Latifah. By now, we knew other members were watching DVDs on their computers in secret. So we didn’t feel bad about going to see a movie. It felt so good to be back. I had missed the theater.
I felt free in a movie theater, watching a fictional character achieve their dreams. I felt more inspired to pursue my own than I ever did sitting in a church service.
Some women dream about their wedding day or the birth of their child. I dream of winning an Academy Award for Best Original Song and Best Original Score. I see myself at 50 or 60 becoming an Oscar winner. That would be fun. Creating a film score is a daunting task but what an experience it would be.
I’m not great with recalling movie quotes or plot details. I can remember the music though. And play it back to you on the piano or violin.
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Like most things, I prefer to go to the movies alone. I once went with a female roommate who texted her boyfriend the entire time. I don’t remember what movie we saw, but that was the last time I ever went anywhere with her.
I went to a lot of movies during my long-term relationship. Sometimes I’d remember to bring my boyfriend. Many times I’d go by myself to figure out what to do with that boyfriend. Probably not the best time to go see The Hunger Games.
I’ve seen a lot of movies with my brother. I would sneak him out of the house to see films when he still lived at home, provided he not tell our mother. I told him on the phone that I was working on this article and he reminded me about the time I took him to see Hannibal. We were both so creeped out walking back home late at night. I had plans to order us a pizza but neither of us was hungry.
I take my nephews to the theater on occasion. I’ve missed key scenes when one of them had to pee. Now, they are old enough to find the bathroom and make their way back on their own.
Silver Linings Playbook
To me, time stops in a movie theater. The chaos around me disappears. During a particularly trying time in my 20s, my brother took me to see Avatar at the IMAX. That afternoon was blissful. I lost myself in the movie and my soul soared for the first time in months. When the movie was over I saw that I had missed a call.
There was a voicemail from the owner of a company I had applied to work for. I had a job offer.
This remains one of my greatest learning moments to this day. Letting go of the outcome in trust that you will receive what you ask for when the time is right.
Pretty in Pink
I had another experience two years ago that taught me about trusting the timing of life.
After 6 years of devoting myself to a job (a different one) that I loved, I was ready to try new things. I wanted to explore other creative ventures. I didn’t want to quit or have anything bad happen. I wanted a peaceful, natural ending where I part ways feeling good about the whole experience.
Many times I wanted to make a snap decision to force an ending. But something inside of me kept saying to hang on and be patient. Which is hard for me to do.
One afternoon on a rare day off, a Monday, I decided to go to the movies. This time, Beauty and the Beast starring Emma Watson. I wore my favorite pink dress. I put on makeup, earrings and a Swarovski crystal bracelet and drove to the theater.
For some reason, I chose a different theater than my usual one. Once again, I lost myself in the splendor of the music and magic of Disney and Luke Evans. I laughed, I cried-or got misty eyed-which is as crying as I get. I had a wonderful time. I felt romantic and happy and that everything was OK in the world.
The next day, I went to work and my bosses were waiting in the office. With big grins. They decided to retire. My peaceful ending to a job I had loved-that helped me transition from violinist to whatever I would become next-was finally here.
It’s coming up 23 years since I discovered the movie theater. It remains a place where I can take a look at my problems-my goals-my fears and decide what steps to take next. Two hours in a darkened room without a multitude of distractions. And yet, enough distraction to let my ideas breathe.
No matter the theater, I still feel fancy going to the movies. I look around and think about all that has become of my life and it makes me smile. Even if I’m dealing with something that is bothering me. I know that I can figure it out and move on. Those feelings I had as a teenager were worse than almost anything I’ve felt since.
Whenever I travel, I make time to see a movie. Sometimes it’s in a colossal cinema with AVX Dolby Atmos sound and reclining leather seats. Other times it might be in a small-town theater with seats so close together you can tell what the other person had for lunch.
I arrive 30 minutes early. I get a small popcorn with extra butter. I end up feeling queasy halfway through the bag but I cannot see a movie without popcorn. I’ve tried it and it feels like something is missing.
I’m usually the last to leave the auditorium. I’ve been sitting through the end credits long before Marvel began adding those extra scenes. I like to see the songwriting credits which are at the very end.
Who knows, one day my name might be up there.