When I was a kid, I frequently had dreams in which my dad died. There were some in which he died naturally—heart attack, illness, etc. And there were a few more harrowing ones. A regular dream involved a drive-by shooting (it was the ’90s, when I think everyone was afraid of drive-by shootings). My mom, my brother, and I were all OK, but my dad was hit. There was another that involved an abduction on a family trip. My subconscious created a lot of cinematic, yet realistic, ways in which to murder my father.
Later, after my dad died, I had reoccurring dreams in which my father was alive again, but dying. Some of them mirrored his real-life sickness; there was the strange understanding that he had died and come back to life, only to be stricken again with cancer. There were others in which he had never died at all, and in those dreams he was stuck down by outside forces, such as drive-bys and mean men who killed him as they tried to abduct members of his family.
I haven’t had any of those dreams in a while, thankfully.
Andrew and I saw The Impossible last night. He was very excited as he dressed as Naomi Watts in The Impossible for Halloween. It really just involved a ratty blonde wig, some lipstick smeared across his forehead, and some branches he picked up off the street on the way to a party. “No one is going to know who you are,” I told him. “They will when she gets an Oscar nomination,” he replied. (I dressed as Joan Didion—old Joan Didion—so what could I possibly say? Only two people I met that night even knew who Joan Didion is. Brooklyn!) I wasn’t super excited about the screening, because I expected it to be a combination of disaster porn, emotional manipulation, and white-washing of the destruction in Asia by focusing on the torment a white European family (in the movie, they are British, although it’s based on a Spanish family) went through without focusing on those who actually lived in Thailand. It is an understatement to say that The Impossible was a very harrowing experience.
My dad used to cry at movies all the time, and we all made fun of him for it. “My daddy used to do it, too,” he’d tell us, lamenting the childhood movie-going experiences he had with my grandfather, which were typically John Wayne war movies. “He used to tell me, ‘One day, you’ll cry at movies, too.’” When I was in college, I remember a good friend saying, “Crying at movies used to be a sign of weakness, but when you grow up you realize that crying at movies is actually a sign of maturity.” I think the first movie I saw in the theater after my dad died was Rachel Getting Married. I cried through the whole thing. Like, I sobbed through the whole thing, and I didn’t know why. At one point, my boyfriend at the time turned to me and said, “Do we need to leave,” and I just wept, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me but I’m actually really enjoying this movie!” (Sidenote: I find that’s an unpopular opinion. Usually the people who dislike it claim the wedding was “too multicultural” to be realistic. They are usually the same people who do not like Girls for its lack of diversity.)
I have never cried as hard at a movie as when I saw The Impossible. Perhaps it was my childhood fear of being separated from my parents. It may be because the movie is relentless in its depiction of the unrelenting destruction of the 2004 tsunami. It may be because the movie, while not overly sentimental or melodramatic, still perfectly plays at the audience’s heartstrings. It’s kind of like the first time you see Apollo 13 or any other true-life disaster movie that you know will turn out OK: it’s the unsettling suspense of the expected that is worse than the surprise.
Not to say that anything I have gone through in my life in any way compares to the experiences of to those affected by the 2004 tsunami, but it got to a point where I thought I might have to leave the screening room because I was sobbing so hard. Luckily Andrew was there, gripping my hand as hard as I was gripping his, and I was thankful that I wasn’t alone. But it also brought back a lot of pain that I felt when my dad was sick and dying and dead four years ago, even if his death had absolutely nothing to do with what was happening on screen. But watching the fictionalized stories of people affected by the disaster made me wonder how I would handle myself in the same situation, how I could possibly cope with such a torturous experience.
I left the theater still crying, and I had to stop walking down the street to collect myself. I texted my mom and told her that I loved her. And I immediately realized how silly it was that a movie—a movie about white people surviving the tsunami in Southeast Asia, for Christ’s sake—incited such a reaction in me. I remember earlier in the summer how I was really frustrated with work and with the lack of romance in my life and the bedbugs, and how all of that really freaked me out to the point where I was calling my mother at least three times a week and crying about how I couldn’t take it anymore. “I just want to have a break!” I said. “I feel like someone is punishing me!” And after weeks of that, my mother asked, “How do you think I felt when my father died a week after my husband? Don’t you think I thought I deserved a break? Don’t you think that I felt like I was being punished, that it couldn’t possibly be fair to have to take all of that at once?”
On the one hand, my problems are bullshit. I have a job, I have an apartment, I have a boyfriend, I have a mother and a large family that is healthy and happy and cares about me. There are other people in the world who are far, far worse off than I am. Even down the street from me, I’m sure! And on the other hand, my problems are mine alone. Sure, they might be trivial, but sometimes I get overwhelmed with them and lose sight of how insignificant they are. It doesn’t mean that my feelings aren’t valid, or that I can’t rant and complain about things sometimes, because those stupid, insignificant things are what impact my own life, my own happiness, my own sanity. But at the same time: I am so lucky. I think about the hurricane, how we all made jokes on Twitter until it was time to be upset about losing our internet connections, and I think of the people who are sitting in the cold right now because their homes are destroyed. There are even people who didn’t have homes to be destroyed, and they’ve probably been dealing with that far longer than the last two weeks. We’ve all got problems—some heavier than others. But we’re all in it together. We’re all on the same path. We’re all going to end up in the same place, wherever that is.
I’m really grateful that I have the privilege and ease to express that sentiment. It could be a lot worse.