I sent E a text message tonight that the VCR was dead, and wondered if he'd like to replace the machine, or just replace the tapes with DVDs, which might actually end up being cheaper. Out of curiosity, I went through the titles and pulled out the ones I was sure I'd want replaced. It was a smaller number than I expected, but what was interesting were the ones I had loved, but that I didn't think I would watch again. Or rather, I didn't think I could watch again.
- Untamed Heart—Christian Slater dies, living his girlfriend Marisa Tomei behind.
- City of Angels—Meg Ryan dies spectacularly awfully at the end, leaving her love Nicolas Cage behind.
- Heathers—Wanton murder
- Fargo—Gory wanton murder
- Sommersby—Richard Gere is hanged on principle, leaving Jody Foster behind.
- Dead Poets Society—Suicide of sensitive young man.
- La Bamba—Untimely death of Richie Valens
- Fried Green Tomatoes—Mary Louis Parker dies, leaving her partner Mary Louise Masterson behind.
- Somewhere in Time—Christopher Reeve wills himself back in time for love, only to be forced back to his own time, where he wills himself dead in his grief.
That last one I've probably seen 50 times, maybe more, since it came out in 1981 and I was just a child of 10. I have long loved that movie, and thought often of Christopher Reeve's character sitting unmoving in a chair, staring blankly out the window after losing his love, until he finally died of grief, in the early days of my own grief. But I have not watched the movie since well before A died. I haven't dared. At some point, your grief becomes largely under your control, and you become reluctant to create your own ambushes. You cannot avoid all the triggers, all the tiger pits, but you can be smart enough to avoid the ones that announce themselves with big flashing neon signs. Which is why I haven't watched Titanic in years, either.
I saw most of these movies as a much younger woman, before I was ever married, long before I ever met A, before I ever knew that people I loved could die far too young, and I cried through them then. I was sobbing so hard at the end of Sommersby that my chest hurt, and I couldn't see through the tears and my swollen eyes. I was a mess. And I was just a 22-year-old college kid, happily engaged, not a care in the world. Now I'm a 37-year-old widow, and I don't even think I could get through any of them without falling apart. It's just too much. It's just too close.
I have found that my sensitivity to death and violence in my entertainment has increased a lot since A died, even though he didn't die a violent death; he just slipped away, as far as I know. But the senselessness of it was—and remains—so hard to wrap my mind around. I can find no entertainment value in death now, and I wonder how I ever did.
I used to be really into vampires. Loved vampire shows and movies. For many of the same reasons, I loved mafia movies, too. Mobsters and vampires seemed to operate by similar codes, and maybe that's why I liked them. But since being widowed, I just have no taste for either. Empty, meaningless death inflicted by selfish animals is how it comes across to me now; there is no romance in death. Not now that I've suffered the death of a romance.
It's not that I avoid, or can avoid, death in everything I watch. But I feel it so sharply now. I comment on the violence, the gratuitous gore, of what some people refer to as “murdertainment.” And in storylines where someone just dies of an accident or a disease, I just cry through it all. Because even for a fictional body, I imagine a fictional family to go with it, one who feels the horrendous pain of losing someone they love, and I wonder, “This is entertaining?” I've spent years now trying to recover from such a pain; I haven't found a moment of it entertaining in the least. Death isn't funny; it isn't amusing; it isn't diverting; it isn't glamorous or glorious. It is, for the survivors, nothing but sheer misery for a long time, and then a pain that never entirely goes away thereafter.
I understand that the stories we tell are the lessons we as a culture must teach, and learn; we must confront death in our art, because it is the scariest unknown we face. It's not really that that I object to; it's the exploitation of it, the numb, unthinking acceptance of its commonality with no consideration for the toll it takes in so many ways, that bothers me.
Maybe I'm just hypersensitive now. Maybe there's no maybe about it. And maybe that's the natural result of being touched by death, and I couldn't avoid it if I tried. I don't know. I know my mother has been the same way since she lost her mother and her sister over 25 years ago now. But it's a change I've only recently recognized in myself, as I questioned why I wasn't interested in the latest vampire craze. I am just now beginning to recognize the seismic shifts that have caused permanent changes in me. Previously, my emotions changed so constantly as I grieved, that I soon realized that to assume any feeling or observation or thought I had should not be taken for the new status quo. And as that all swirled through and around me, I couldn't see that my foundation was settling in new and very different ways. I assumed it was, but I couldn't see the topography of it until the dust settled. There are cracks, to be sure, and whole sections of me have shifted.