A late summer night at the movies brings comfort and tears

My face is reflected in the deckhand’s mirrored sunglasses as he motions for me to start my car, a stony expression chiseled in his weathered face. I slip the minivan into gear, my dress shirt sticky with sweat. On the dock, in the full glare of early-evening sun, I pass a pair of chortling dusty-diesel busses crowded with a disorderly crush of sweltering commuters.

My cellphone skitters across the grey fabric of the passenger seat, chirping as it clatters between the bucket seats. Feeling for the phone amid the crumpled candy wrappers, fast-food receipts and something sticky I can’t identify, I reflexively gun the motor, grimly racing the other drivers to the top of the hill.

With my eyes fixed on the road, my right thumb dances on the phone’s lock screen as if tapping through an Arthur Murray Merengue diagram. I surreptitiously scan the text: “Half-way down on the left. Love you.”

Several minutes later, I slip the minivan into park, enveloped in a cloud of ocher dust. Shading my eyes with the back of my hand, I trot across the gravel in the sun’s interrogating glare, and in a triangle of shade in front of the theater’s ticket booth, I stoop awkwardly to speak through the stainless steel louver in the center of the window. “Hi, Eileen. Do you know if Maria left me a ticket?” Eileen confirms that my wife Maria already bought my ticket, and with a smile she hands me a pair of 3D glasses in a blocky-black plastic frame.

As I part the faded red velvet curtains, I see the feature is already under way. It’s pitch-black inside the cool, air-conditioned theater, and outlined in the red-cyan layers of anaglyph 3D, an animated dragon dances coyly across the screen. Just seconds out of the dazzling August sun, my eyes haven’t yet adjusted to the dark, and without 3D glasses on, the blurry stereoscopic images are making me cross-eyed.

I take several tentative steps in what seems like utter darkness. Calculating that I’m about halfway down the rows of seats, I turn to search for my family.

The theater is packed. And like some episode of The Twilight Zone, every face is half-hidden, anonymous behind clunky-black 3D glasses, like those black bars across the eyes in true-crime magazines.

Someone taps my hand, and in the inky blackness, a friend’s face swims into focus. She motions me to an empty seat in the middle of her row. “Thanks,” I whisper hoarsely, “but I really need to find Maria and the kids.” Our friend is insistent; there aren’t a lot of vacant seats. Again she gestures down the row, past a line of slouching kids to a single empty seat next to a woman in a pastel sundress and black-framed 3D glasses.

I’m still standing self-consciously in the aisle. Little kids are twisting in their seats, trying to see past me. Thinking pragmatically, I decide I’ll wait things out in our friend’s vacant seat. Maybe I can text Maria again. Pushing past pairs of knobby knees to the empty seat, I find that the woman in a pastel sundress and 3D glasses is rather attractive. She offers me her bag of popcorn. “Thanks.” I whisper.

I recognize her hands first. It’s Maria. She had been waving at me the whole time.

Relieved in one way, but really uneasy in another, I slouch low in the seat and slip on the 3D glasses. After the popcorn’s gone, Maria and I hold hands like high-school sweethearts. Our youngest boy curls up under my arm.

On the screen, good dragons battle evil dragons. A Viking mom and dad reconcile after decades apart. And against my will, I’m totally tearing up. Reminding myself that it’s a cartoon and that I’m a grown man only makes it worse. When the Viking dad gets killed by a good dragon gone bad, hot tears roll down my cheeks. Maria turns to face me, smiling tenderly. Ya big baby.

Looking down the row of seats, I see our youngest boy flailing toward us in the dark. The Viking dad death scene must have made him cry, too. I bet he wants to sit with his dad.

Oh, wait.

I look down at the boy still curled up under my arm. Someone else’s son looks back at me through a pair of clunky-black 3D glasses, several sizes too big.

Our youngest boy would rather sit with his mom. The whole row moves over one seat to make room.

Oh, well. I guess it takes a village to watch a movie. We file out the doors into a hot August night, still feeling like cartoon Vikings.

— Kevin Pottinger, his wife Maria and their four children live on Vashon.



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