August 4, 2010

Movie Memories: John Q

If the name of this film is unfamiliar to you, don't worry. It's a lame Denzel Washington drama/thriller that's completely forgettable - to everyone but me, that is. For you see, what was just another paycheck to Denzel set the backdrop for a milestone in my adolescence.

It was February or March 2002, and I was 14 years old. I'm pretty sure it was a Monday, even though I hadn't gone to school that day - a snow day perhaps? February vacation? At any rate, I was just lounging around in my pajamas when I got a call from my boyfriend Andy. Now Andy was my boyfriend only so far as a 14-year-old could be anyone's boyfriend. The grounds of the relationship was that we declared ourselves to be dating, and talked on the phone almost every day. We were comically mismatched in every way imaginable - isn't it just always the case that at that age, you confuse the notion of "compatible suitor" with "available warm body?" (and you can't blame hormones, because these were typically very chaste relationships). So anyway, Andy calls and asks if I want to go to a movie. My first official date.

We decide on John Q somehow, and make the necessary driving arrangements with our parents. I hurry to get ready, throwing on my favorite shirt - a little airbrushed and rhinestone-studded number that says "FREE" across the chest for some reason. It's all so sudden that it takes a little while to realize what this night could mean. I have never been kissed before, and I'm quite aware of the long legacy linking movie theaters with hanky-panky. It's not long before I'm insanely nervous.

We get chaffeured to the theater by my mom, and soon the movie starts. Now, apparently this movie is terrible and boasts a whopping 22% on Rotten Tomatoes, but at the time I had no way of judging it objectively. For all its flaws, it's almost preposterously tense and manipulative. The suspense of Denzel running around a hospital with a gun and trying to save his dying son melded with my intense fear that I might experience my first kiss. Not anticipation or excitement. Fear. So imagine Mia Wallace immediately after the adrenaline shot in Pulp Fiction, but sustained for two hours. As far as date movies for 14-year-olds go, it couldn't have been more appropriate - they were plentiful opportunities for being jolted into clutching the other person.

So the climax of the film comes and goes, and I find myself literally paralyzed with terror, a terror so palpable that I can almost feel it again as I write this. I truly cannot move. Andy, meanwhile, is all too aware of the opportunities that this outing might provide, and he's staring at me with his face so close to mine that we're almost touching, albeit in a perpendicular fashion. I'm so terrified that we end up watching the entirety of the credits this way. Yup, right from Denzel to the very last intern, with Andy joking that I must find these credits exceptionally fascinating. Finally, the lights come up and the theater staff comes in to clean. I made it! A huge feeling of relief comes over me and I leap up to leave. Andy follows, and we make for the exit. But then a very unexpected thing happens.

We're in that narrow passageway that you have to walk through to get to the seating in a typical multiplex theater. I'm a woman on a mission, bolting for the door. Suddenly I hear Andy say "Wait," and then softly grab my arm and pull me in for a kiss. Now, admittedly from an outsider's perspective, this all sounds very suave and romantic. For me, however, it was a nightmare. He went in for the kill, and my body froze. I think it's fair to say that I did not participate whatsoever. We both had braces, which could not have helped matters. When my gal pals later asked if tongue was involved, I said I didn't know, which was the truth. It seemed to go on for hours, and yet it's as if I blacked out. One thing was for sure, however - the second it was over, I knew I didn't want to be his girlfriend any more. It had nothing to do with his kissing skills, but I guess that moment just crystallized that we had nothing in common and no spark.

Andy went on to date my best friend for four years (we had an amicable breakup, so I hardly considered it betrayal) and now he's in the Marines. I'm not in touch with him anymore, but no matter what, he'll always be my first. It happens to everyone - for me, it was Andy and John Q.

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