Memory Lane

“I see your LSAT scores have been added to your transcripts. Your grades are solid, and you only need Research Methods to complete your core requirements. Stay on course and you should be set to graduate in the fall. Any questions?”

Gazing through the barely tinted glass of my dependable Saturn Ion, my quarterly checkup with my academic adviser haunts the edges of my memory. The rhythmic beat of the drum solo blaring from speakers fades into little more than static as does the chatter of my friend in the passenger’s seat. The sprinkle of sunlight filtering through the shaded green leaves of the oak trees lining the streets of Victory Drive barely register to my eyes much like gray clouds that linger on the horizon; it has been exchanged for the harsh fluorescent lighting of Dr. Cruz’s office. The sweltering humidity of mid-July has been replaced by the frigid air conditioning that seems to never rise above 60 degrees, of University Hall.

Three hours, two red bulls, and one parking ticket later and I’m still mentally seated behind her overly cluttered desk, staring into her silver-framed spectacles that make her emerald eyes look like something out of an anime cartoon. I listen half-heartedly as she runs down my list of achievements with as much enthusiasm and interest as a teller at the DMV office. It’s disgusting that earning a degree boils down to checking boxes on a form. I make sure to nod at regular intervals only to be polite and to give the illusion that I’m actually paying attention to what comes out of her mouth which is painted in a lipstick that is way too bright for someone her age. In fact, I’m much more fascinated by her wavy blonde hair, trying to determine if it’s her natural color than I am about answering questions of graduation. I’d rather avoid the subject altogether. I’m just not old enough to make this kind of decision. I’m not ready…perhaps I never will be.

My memory skips, interrupted by the bounce of the car as it runs over the cracked asphalt of Savannah’s ramshackle streets; indeed, these cracks serve as the only reminder that I am, in fact, in a car, driving home from lunch with Jessica. Questionsquestionsquestions… This simple word continues to echo within the cluttered caverns of my mind, sending shivers racing down the base of my spine- finding rest where the faded red ink of my rose tattoo taints my pale skin. I never gave life to the doubts that lingered in the pit of my stomach. I wanted to say I changed my mind. I wanted to say I wasn’t sure law school was for me, but I stayed quiet. What could be better than law school?  Instead, I felt the thin corners of my mouth involuntarily turn upwards into something resembling a smile; all the while I felt the chasm in my stomach grow wilder and a rush of bile sprung forth, rising to the back of my throat. I swallowed the putrid liquid but it left a taste most foul on the tip of my tongue.

“So have you decided? Stick with pre-law or switch to the great unknown?”

The raspy sound of Jessica’s voice echoed across the abyss, startling me out of my reverie. I suppress a laugh at her use of the phrase, ‘the great unknown.’ If she only knew. I thought quietly to myself while I scramble to form an answer, but words fail to escape my lips. The only reaction I can muster is a weak shrug of the shoulders. I felt like I was talking to Professor Cruz all over again. You would think that confiding to a friend would be easier, at least that’s what people say, but it’s just not true. People say a lot of things that aren’t true, Lying is the number one currency in America… well that and oil.  It doesn’t help that I know Jessica is just making small talk. She has little to no real interest in the answer – mostly because she, like everyone else, undoubtedly thinks that leaving behind a promising law career is crazy. Guess I’m ready to be fitted for my straitjacket.

Gabby, the name my cousin gave my car, rolls to a stop at the Abercorn intersection. “Oh come on! It’s not even red,” Jessica yells at the rust-colored Ford Explorer with the Virginia license plate that impedes our way. Her foot begins to twitch as she waits for the car to move, casting a frustrated glare in my direction as though I was the reason we sat motionlessly. My hazel eyes rolled in response, despite myself. Jessica’s impatience to traffic was legendary; apart from her odd Dr. Who obsession, demonstrated by her Tardis decorated scarf and backpack, and her purple streaked hair, Jessica’s lack of patience was her most noticeable trait. Craning her neck out the window, Jessica let out a loud “Damn it!”

Before she even slid back into her seat, I knew what she was going to say. “An accident huh?” The question was largely rhetorical; the sour tone in her gruff voice, the only feature that revealed her age to be beyond the mid-20s range, gave me the answer. Her voice also proved more effective than any anti-smoking commercial since it reminded me of what I didn’t want to sound like when I reached the age of 35. I really do need to quit; it would be much cheaper. I make a mental note to fully weigh the economics of quitting with possible legal repercussions of a nicotine-free existence. I won’t save any money if I’m stuck paying a lawyer to get me out of trouble when I inevitably fly off the handle. Yeah, maybe it’s cheaper not to rock the boat.  With a heavy sigh, Jessica nodded and reached for her purse that was swimming amongst a sea of schoolbooks in the backseat, reminding me that I had an essay due in two days. What possessed me to take summer classes I still couldn’t say and this film class required more reading and analysis than my senior seminar; beyond that, the class stirred something in me…something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

“Turn the music up,” Jessica asked, pulling out her phone, no doubt checking Facebook and blogging about the traffic jam. Suddenly, a familiar tune creeps inside my ears, piercing the eardrum membrane and crawling up the nervous system to a hidden part of my brain – reviving another memory, a memory that I thought was long dead. The song that blares from the speakers in ‘Dead Souls’ by Nine Inch Nails.  A new but familiar energy surges through my veins, waking me up from my anxious and self-conscious state of mind.

A change overtakes both me and my surroundings. Day becomes night; water poured from the sky. Colors fold and unfold. Shapes dwindled into blurry silhouettes before taking form once again. The cobblestones streets and brick buildings that characterized the colonial architecture of Savannah transformed into a desolate industrial graveyard. High archways with gothic statues appeared before my eyes. Time unwound and over a decade of years washed away. My skin became more flexible; old scars vanished, and my legs grew smaller. I was a child again, standing on a rooftop, watching a city being engulfed by flames whilst people scattered across the streets. Police sirens echo in the distance.

Instinctively, I feel another presence standing beside me. I turn to a man hunched on the ledge.  Stringy dark hair hangs over an angular face that is painted ghostly white; black makeup outlines his haunted brown eyes. The arm of a guitar rests in his left hand and a knife is clutched in his right. From jacket to combat boots, he’s dressed in black leather and spandex with a crow perched on his right shoulder, clawing against the sound of the rain. Instead of being terrified, I smile at the man. Though years have passed since I’ve thought of him, I would recognize him anywhere — he’s Eric Draven, an old cinematic hero of mine, and seeing him again is like seeing an old friend.

Sense memory: it’s amazing how music can take you back to another time and place.  I was ten years old when I first laid eyes on Eric on the big screen at my local theater in Dover, Tennessee. I spent the majority of my summers in that tiny four-screen theater; the movies released were always outdated and the air-conditioner was normally on the fritz, but it beat spending time with my mother’s family on the back porch of my aunt’s country house where the air was tainted with Vodka and the only sound that could be heard was the mindless gossip of old southern women. I’d personally prefer hell over that…or maybe that’s what hell is – stuck in a room with my relatives with no windows or doors to escape. What a dreadful thought!

That particular morning, which was worse than usual, my egg donor had finished off a six-pack before lunch – mind you, she’s only been awake since 10:00 am; she was sleeping off a hangover but whether it was from the booze or something harder, I couldn’t say. Three beers into her morning and she were already nagging about the non-existent dishes in the sink and my lack of respect when I told her just to have another drink. She launched to her feet, which was slightly impressive given her intoxicated state, but before the screaming match, that more often than not turned into something much more physical, could begin, my father, stepped in between us.

“Why don’t we just get out of here,” He suggested to me. We drove to the Waycross Cinema. Dad never really knew what to say regarding my relationship, and I use that word loosely, with my mother. His only remedy came in the form of watching movies together and really bad Sci-Fi television. It was his version of an olive branch, a way to keep me distracted so that I wouldn’t utter that terrifying two-syllable word: Divorce.

“What movie are we gonna see dad?” I never really got to pick the movie when we were together. My father, a hardened military guy, wasn’t really the animated cartoon kind of person. He hated them, though I wasn’t supposed to know that. I knew I could always guilt him into watching Disney movies with me, but that hardly seemed fair; besides, he was paying.

“I was thinking about The Crow.”

“You wanna watch a movie about a bird?” I asked as paid he for the tickets. I could only imagine the story of the film; a radioactive bird from outer space terrorizes a small, unsuspecting town.  Granted, at least the alien creature might look cool with Hollywood graphics instead of the cheesy effects made for television.

“That’s not what’s it’s about.” I could see by the look on his face that he had seen the film before; not that it mattered. Like me, Dad could re-watch anything. I, unfortunately, realized this after we started watching Babylon 5 for the fourth time. I, sadly, knew the dialogue of that show better than my math homework.

“Dad its rated R.” I noticed as we passed by the promotional poster which was torn and tattered at the edges, clearly, the film was older. The release date said 1991; the poster must have been retrieved from storage. I wonder if they ever thought of selling their old posters. A smirk crossed my lips, as I imagined my entire room covered in movie posters, concealing the leprechaun green color of the walls. Cindy would have an aneurysm and my problems would be solved.

“Only for violence,” he responded quickly as if to defend his choice. “You gonna see this kinda stuff sooner or later, might as well get used to it now…” he paused, I could see his wheels in his head spinning as he weighed the repercussions of exposing his kid to adult orientated entertainment. “Don’t tell your mother.” He added, rubbing his temples as he spoke. He must already be imagining the headache Cindy’s shrill voice would cause if she ever found out. Because letting your kid find you passed out on the living room floor after an all-night bender was so much better than letting said kid see the horrors of fake blood and Hollywood violence. Yep, that was Cindy, mother of the year.

I tried and failed, to contain my excitement at the thought of seeing my first adult film. The nerves in my legs fell into spasms, causing me to bounce uncontrollably as we walked to the concession stand where, Bobby, the manager, waited to greet us. For a moment, I froze as I stared at the manager. I was certain he was going to tell my father that I couldn’t watch this movie, that I was too young or too immature or whatever lame excuse adults give in these situations. Bobby merely smiled and told us to enjoy the film. I don’t even think he looked at the ticket, probably because we were the only people there that day; it was no secret that theater was struggling to do business. Dad often joked that if it weren’t for me, Bobby would be flipping burgers. No matter how many times he said it, I could never suppress the laugh that giggled up from my stomach.

The theater room was already dark when we found our seats. I nearly tripped on a section of bunched up carpet and my popcorn was almost a goner. Luckily, dad with his immeasurable strength and lightning reflexes caught my arm in time. I never fell down around my father, he always caught me. It must have been the army; it molded him into something sturdy and unbendable, a force stronger than steel. As the film started, I felt the room fade away; the theater was gone and I was plunged completely into the narrative, fighting corruption and conquering death with the film’s protagonist…this how I met Eric Draven.

Everything about the film, from it’s gothic scenery to its soundtrack, completely captured me, but nothing struck a chord with me more than Eric. From the moment, he crawled out of his grave and took to the rooftops of Detroit whilst ‘Dead Souls’ played in the background, I felt the seeds of hero worship beginning to grow. I wanted to be him, to be free from rules or even the confines of gravity.  As he soared from roof to roof, I knew there was nothing he couldn’t do. He was invincible, mysterious and looked like an 80s rock musician. Death could not defeat him and the gangbangers who killed him and his fiancé were made to suffer. The violence in the movie was righteous; he was going to bring justice to a city lost in chaos and ‘set the wrong things right’ as Sarah, another film character narrated. Sarah, Eric’s pseudo-child, reminded me of …well me. Looking at her was like looking in the mirror. We were the same age; we both dressed in torn jeans and a black hoodie … we both had a mother who was an addict. Eric saved Sarah, forced her mother to reevaluate her life and her relationship with her daughter. I wondered if he could save my own mother. I wasn’t strong enough but perhaps he was…Perhaps…

“Ashley!” The memory ended and it was daytime once again.  Images bled together. People crossed the street. Car horns blared in the distance. The sudden jolt of being pulled back into the waking world left me dizzy. Images bled together. People crossed the street. Car horns blared in the distance. I turned toward the direction of my name only to meet Jessica’s confused stare. “The accident has cleared let’s get out of her before it starts to rain…” she paused, disdain crawled into her tone before continuing.  “Again…” Her sentence ended abruptly as she rolled up her window after flicking her cigarette into the street.

“It can’t rain all the time,” I reply amused, thinking of what Eric said to Sarah in the film. Jessica ignores me, shaking her head at small chuckle that escaped my lips. She doesn’t understand the joke — she’s never met, Eric. I don’t bother trying to explain the reference. I just turn the volume up on my speakers and we continue the ride lost in the music.

Sundown is approaching by the time I make to the two-story red brick structure that I have called home for the entirety of my life. I left once, moved into a lousy dorm room with a roommate whose existence made me contemplate the positive side of eugenics. Then, Dad fell ill and someone had to take care of him. Turning Gabby off, I load my computer bag up with the film books from the backseat. I still have that damn essay to write, I remind myself as I attempt to walk upstairs without falling over due to the weight of my bag. Opening the door, I loudly announce my presence and see my father standing in the kitchen.

He didn’t even acknowledge me; his hearing, much like his hair, is disappearing more every day. His arthritic hands shuffled through the cabinets searching for the sugar that I had thrown out days ago. Ever since his doctors diagnosed him as diabetic, I’ve had to keep a close eye on his diet, making sure he eats what he is supposed to eat. His stubborn nature doesn’t make it easy. I suppose that’s where I get it from.

I stare at him for a moment, not taking the time to put down my black bag of doom, despite the fact that it weighs a tone. With his gray hair, overweight waistline, and skittish movements, it’s hard to believe that once I thought he was made of steel. Indeed, he bears almost no resemblance to the man I remember – the man who took me to the movies, the man who always caught me. Now, our roles are reversed. He leans on me when we walk downstairs or travel to new surroundings. We don’t go to the movies anymore. His energy comes in random spurts, never lasting longer than thirty minutes at a time.

Looking at him now, my mind recalls another line from my favorite film: “childhood is over the moment you know you’re going to die.” It’s true; as a child, I never paid much attention to that speech – especially since it came from the villain of the story. There was so much more action and adventure to focus on in the film that the line failed to make an impact on me. But now, I think I finally understand. As I stare at my father, I see my own mortality reflected back at me. One day, age will catch up to me, like it has my father, and Eric won’t be able to save me from the reaper that will be waiting to collect his due. He waits now, sometimes I think I see him standing over my father with his scythe in hand. Shivers run up my spine at the thought. I push the morbid thoughts out of my mind.

Giving up his search, my father leans against the counter, catching his breath. The simple act of reaching for the top cupboard tired him out. It never struck me how short my father was until now. I remember being tall like the oak trees the line downtown Savannah. But then again, memory is a fickle thing, prone to all sorts of distortions. Without dropping my bag, I rush to his side. I help him to his bed and turn out the lights so that he can sleep. We say nothing to each other. We forgot how to speak to each other years ago; once Cindy left our lives, our bond became strained since we no longer had a common enemy. These days, I’m more of a nurse than a daughter. I can’t help but wonder when we became strangers. Was there a definitive moment or did this disease creep in silently over the years? Perhaps, I’ll never know.

Retiring to my room, I drop the bag on my bed, watching as my books and graduation forms spill out upon the cranberry and beige colored comforter. David Bordwell’s Film Style and Meaning stares up at me, daring me to riffle through the wisdom contained in its pages. Plopping down alongside my books, I pick up the checklist that Dr. Cruz gave me. It’s time to make a decision. All I have to do is sign my name and date the form; the boxes have already been checked. I reach inside my bag for a pen, but then I hesitate. I can feel eyes watching me. I scan my room to see different faces staring back at me, pleading with my conscious to make another decision. My eyes drift from face to face, poster to poster.

I know them all: Fox Mulder, Buffy Summers, Harry Potter … Eric Draven, all my heroes judging me as I uncap my pen. Their stares make me uneasy, and I think that perhaps it’s time I take them down. A pain rises in my chest, but I ignore it. I’m not a child anymore; it’s time to move forward with my life and leave them all behind. The pain increases. My eyes settle back on the form and my hand begins to shake. I… I can’t do it. I look up again into the face of my very first hero and I can hear Eric’s voice in my head telling me that everything happens for a reason. I let the form slip from my hand and fall to the floor. I smile at my old friend, silently thanking him for giving me strength. Picking up the book on film style, I begin to read for my assignment, plotting out my essay that will change the course of my academic career.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s