When I was in 9th grade, I gave myself a concussion by hitting my head on a backboard.
Man, that’s a great opening line, isn’t it? Especially when you consider that by that point, I’d grown to my full height of a whopping 5’7″ and couldn’t even jump to touch a basketball net, let alone a backboard. The story is pretty embarassing, in truth. What happened was this.
I was a very self-conscious teenager. I was overweight, I had short, curly hair when everyone else had long, shiny locks. I lived in fear of being laughed at. I obsessed over “what people thought.”
So, I was pretty stoked to have made varsity volleyball as a 9th grader. JV and Varsity traveled together, so the awkward JV’s got to be in the presence of the amazing Varsity girls. JV played our game (we won) and then it was time to get ready for the Varsity game. I have no idea why I was walking up the bleachers, but as I was climbing up, I caught my toe on one of the bleachers. As I teetered and caught my balance, I was so incredibly preoccupied with worrying that I looked stupid that I stood up, raced forward and WHAM!!! ran headfirst into a basketball backboard that was lowered over the bleachers.
The world spun, little sparklies appeared in my vision, and I sat down heavily as parents raced toward me. Setting aside the obvious question – why the heck was a backboard still down over bleachers? – by the end of the evening (after enduring a bus of laughing volleyball and soccer players and a visit to the doctor), it was determined I’d given myself a concussion. Needless to say, I didn’t play in that Varsity game.
Some things don’t change. I’m still overweight, and I still have short, curly hair while everyone around me has sleek, well-coiffed locks. But if you’d asked me yesterday morning if I was still terrified of looking stupid, I would have said “Well, sure, a little. But I’ve learned to laugh at myself when I do dumb things. If I wasn’t able to laugh at myself, I would have died of mortification years ago.”
That’s all well and good, but sometimes, it’s hard to keep that 9th grade neurosis at bay. Like yesterday, for example, when I went to see The Dark Knight Rises. I’d been looking forward to this movie. I was by myself, which is always an exercise in being self-confident (it helps to look everyone in the eye and secretly chant “Yes, I’m here alone, and happy about it”). I’d watched my eating that day so I could splurge on a kids popcorn (the smallest option, and the cheapest!) and I was ready to go.
I walked into the theater, which was pretty full, and started up the stairs. And then, you guessed it. I caught my toe, teetered for a split second, and then ignominiously doused the stairs with popcorn and soda as I took an involuntary knee. There was an audible groan from the full theater (I didn’t hear laughter, to everyone’s credit), and I did my best to laugh it off, smiling and thanking the crowd while trying to pick up popcorn. This time, though, laughing it off didn’t work. As I shuffled out of the theater to dump my now empty kids pack and find someone to clean up my mess, I felt 14 years old again. Face hot, tears welling up, voice wobbly. I kept it together, though, fetched the cleaning guy and then escaped to a seat in the front row to nurse my humiliation.
It took me a good 15 minutes to calm myself down and stop freaking out that the entire theater was looking at me and laughing. Once the previews started, it was easier, and then, suddenly, I found myself thinking about the Aurora shooting. Before I could stop them, my eyes darted to the exits and before I could stop it, my brain wondered if I should have picked somewhere other than the front row. Because, you know, in the front row, there’s nothing to duck behind. In true compartmentalizing style, I shut that unwelcome thought away and focused on the testosterone-laden spectacle laid out before us.
Maybe it was my state of mind, but all the destruction and action in The Dark Knight Rises seemed a little, well, unreal to me. Oh, I know, it’s not supposed to feel real, but really, how did Bruce Wayne get from the Far East back to Manhattan when all the bridges were busted? That’s not to say I didn’t love the movie. Christian Bale is an amazing Batman, even though I kept wishing he’d just quit trying to be the Bat and give the young guy the suit.
On a more serious note, ultimately, the legacy I’ve taken from the movie is the bleakness and despair of it. Even though Batman saved the day, the audience is really left wondering if saving the day was worth the price. Or if the day was worth saving.
I spent a lot of time thinking about my movie experience yesterday evening. Happily, I’m over the episode on the stairs, and can now, honestly, laugh about it. But I’m ashamed of myself for spending so much energy on my own humiliation and giving only fleeting thought to the people who died watching the same movie that I did. It’s so hard to reconcile life these days; the small things that seem so important in the wake of everything that seems so huge.
I guess all we can do is cling to the bright side. For the Dark Knight, it was the redemption that comes from sacrifice. For me, it was that my clumsiness saved me from eating the empty calories of movie theater popcorn, small size or no. But I don’t think it’s right to hope that the folks in Aurora could find a bright side to what happened. Maybe I’ll just hope that they find something bright to smile about, somehow.