The theater’s always dark. Sometimes it’s empty. Sometimes it’s packed. Sometimes you’ll see dribs and drabs of people scattered throughout. Sometimes they talk or look at their phones which irritates and forces me to shush them. Often I’m alone, but sometimes not. My Sno-Caps are usually gone by the end of the trailers. My small Diet Coke makes it about halfway through the film. The movies is not a means of escape. My mind remains present. Always critical. Always analytical. I don’t get swept up in movies. I’m too busy appreciating or disliking editing, cinematography, score, acting, directing, etc., but this doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy what I watch. It doesn’t mean I can’t get blown away by something truly amazing up there on the screen. I also worry too much about what others think of the film and my opinion of it. Too often my opinion gets lost in this obsession to be right. Regardless, what’s most important is that when I’m in a movie theater my anxiety level decreases to the point where I can breathe. The movie theater is my safe place. Just being there releases the choke hold anxiety has on me. Even if it’s just for a little while.
Not too long ago my wife and I met with our financial advisor because we’re having money issues. He chastised me for going to the movies. “You know you can just wait for it to hit cable or Netflix or on-demand? That’s what I do.” His words slapped me and in that moment I hated him.
“You don’t get it!” I wanted to yell. “I don’t get that same sense of relief, of freedom. “I’m a stay-at-home dad with depression and anxiety issues. Sitting those 2+ hours in a darkened theater helps my chest loosen. I don’t have many hobbies. I don’t spend money on clothes or collections. I’m with my daughter every single day. Isolated. Alone. Doing my best to mask my depression and anxiety. I love her so much, but sometimes I need out. I need a dark room with a large flickering screen. The more anxious I get (and I’ve been highly depressed and anxious the past 6 weeks) the more I want that darkened theater. The more I want to see Wild, Whiplash, Birdman. The more I want my Sno-Caps and small Diet Coke. Seats that aren’t always comfortable. I DON’T CARE!! DON’T TAKE AWAY MY SAFE PLACE!!”
I hadn’t realized the movies is my safe place until we met with our financial advisor. Not until I felt it yanked away. I feel safe with my wife, but sometimes I can’t see her eyes or feel her hugs past the chest constriction. That’s when I need to get out. To get in the car, drive to one of my regular theaters and let my mind follow Eddie Redmayne’s Oscar-caliber performance in The Theory of Everything or the positively mind-blowing editing work in Birdman as my chest slowly decompresses. That’s when I need my safe place.
Elaine, my wife, told me that when I had my last nervous breakdown I was too afraid to go back to the movies. I don’t remember this at all. She thinks it’s because I was too afraid to let myself enjoy any aspect of my life. Instead I lay in bed shaking and crying and stuttering until one day I moved to couch and planted myself in front of the television. I don’t know when I returned to the cinema. Maybe I finally heard the calling of the gorgeous Landmark Loew’s 1930s movie palace just blocks away from us in Jersey City, NJ, a place that feels frozen in time. Red velvet walls. Golden staircases. A giant screen on which you can watch anything from silent features (complete with an organ accompaniment) to 80s classics like The Goonies. At some point I went back. At some point the movies became my safe place.
Now in Queens, NY, as I continue to slog through my depression and anxiety, as I raise Sienna to best of my abilities, the cinema remains my Fortress of Solitude even if I happen to be with someone or the theater is packed to the gills. I crave those evening when Elaine comes home at 6 and I can catch a 7:30 show. The darkness, the trailers, the Sno-Caps, the small Diet Coke, the film, the seats, the screen. They all combine to alleviate my anxiety for a few hours until those credits roll.
I can’t give it up. We’ll have to budget accordingly, but I can’t give up the movies. It’s too important to my mental health. I’m thankful Elaine supports me on this and in fact is the one who pointed it out. I’m lucky to have such an understanding wife who knew immediately that the financial advisor hit a nerve that sent my mind to the edge of an abyss – no more movies…EVER. She is the one who called the theater my safe place. And so it is.
What’s your safe place?