There was a time when I had a laptop that only had enough space on it to store 2 movies at a . This was back when I didn’t have internet, so movies were a pretty big deal. My only way of getting new movies was by sitting in the corner at a 24-hour laundromat with free wifi hoping nobody would see me and ask where my laundry was.
I liked to get some form of vicarious emotional life out of the movies I downloaded at the laundromat. I told my therapist about that and she seemed as surprised as when I told her I like cats. Apparently, this information was quite evident on my face or in the tiny jagged rips in my skin courtesy of Moira the cat.
I remember the two movies I had on that computer the longest were Up and Wall-E. I had wanted to see them, but I was too cool of a teenage delinquent to be seen in public watching movies I had decided were for kids. I had also decided I was too cool to be seen sobbing in a movie theater.
When you have access to only two movies in the world then you split your time between watching those movies and watching your life fall apart.
I used to spend most of my time watching movies I’d already seen and trying to feel things. I wasn’t very good at feelings. Through an unpleasant cocktail of trauma, a natural lack of empathy, and probably a predisposition to be one cold motherfucker, I wasn’t a super emotional person. If my feelings were a relative, they would have said “keep in touch” and I would have blocked them on Facebook.
But I did get some kind of emotional gratification out of watching movies. I could vicariously feel things through characters on a screen because that’s what I’d been training my brain to do with books for years. Realizing movies and tv could give me feelings was the first step toward turning me into someone who measures time in seasons of Frasier.
Finding that I could feel something genuine if it was inspired by characters on a screen was special. It let me practice with feelings in an environment without consequences. Nobody cares if you cry when Jim and Pam get together or when two little robots hold hands because you’re just so fucking alone and broken. I was still the same emotionally vacant person to everyone else, but at home at night, I was someone who actually had feelings. That went on for a few years.
If we skip ahead to yesterday, there is evidence of some growth. My high school students graduated from their summer program. There was a whole ceremony even though most of them are coming back next year. Like any graduation, this ceremony teeters between excruciatingly boring–a 20-minute slideshow with pictures of every student at least 5 times–and emotionally devastating.
I’m really glad bullies aren’t really a thing I have to deal with anymore because if some of the people who made fun of me in seventh grade found out I almost had to run to the bathroom to cry because of a graduation ceremony for kids I’d only known for a month, they’d be relentless.
It is interesting to be able to recognize growth and change so clearly as the difference between only having feelings after midnight when actors told me to and having them at appropriate times with relatively appropriate intensity. Even as I was watching my shows and trying to understand how feelings worked, I wondered if there were other people like me: emotionally deafened and trying to figure their shit out. While it would make me happy to know other people went through the same stuff, there’s some comfort in not having to figure it all out anymore.