All these years later, I know the triggers. I just didn’t expect to feel their impending impact at Brighton MJR Theater with nine friends.
We went to see Ocean’s Eight, which I recommend. Like Ocean’s Eleven, each featured performer is a gemstone. The sparkles of humor are terrific and the sequencing is quite nice. For a $5 movie night, you can’t beat it. Smuggle in some mini wine bottles and kick up your feet. (Little puns intended.)
But when we arrived, a man was already sitting in one of our ticketed seats. He was probably in his early to mid seventies and he said, “You can sit anywhere!” This is not strictly true, because these are ‘luxury seats’ and are ticketed, but the theater was quite empty.
I took the seat beside him to put space between him and my daughter, and so that my friends could file in behind us. You won’t be surprised to hear he was a talker, all through the trailers. Did you see this? I don’t like that. I might want to see that, if only for the music.
Once MJR ran its PSA reminding patrons not to talk during the movie, he piped down. But he continued to speak in nonverbal ways: hands overlapping the arm rests, legs draped over the foot rest, arms stretched up over his head, legs akimbo and hands inside a hoodie pocket. He took up as much space as he could, loudly announcing his presence without saying a word.
What was this no-nonsense, assertive person doing? Practically crawling into my daughter’s lap. I leaned to the right throughout the whole show. Mentally, I played out all the scenarios. If he stepped over the line, I would castigate him in front of the entire theater and deliver him from our presence. But he really never did.
This is my own personal reaction to abuse, no matter that it happened decades ago. In my early and mid twenties, I had one man sit across from me and try to jack off through his pants in a WMU library. While living in LA, another man sat by me on a bus and proceeded to pull out his erect penis. Both times, I fled. The last time, a man jumped me from behind on the way home from a bus stop and grabbed my breasts. This time, I started swinging and swearing. He ran.
I said, when our pussy-grabbing president took office, that four years is a long time to be afraid. I do believe, whether true or not, that our Commander in Chief’s words encourage action in many people. I believe, founded or not, that we are less lawful because of his unflinching disregard for authority, expertise, basic human rights to dignity. An elderly white man, now, from my own conservative Republican community, has become a threat likely outside of proportion.
Four years is a long time to be afraid and I am not alone in wanting to dispel the fear, as witnessed by #MeToo. I cannot speak for the lingering ghosts visiting other survivors, particularly those on whom violent abuse was perpetrated. Women are becoming braver about speaking out. But, we are also in the strange realm of having to consider if we’re overreacting.
Ready to go full-on crazy, the movie ended without injury. I tried to summon up my common courtesy for people who attend movies alone and who are chatty, indicating a certain loneliness, and asked a how he enjoyed the show.
Then, I practically ran down eight friends in my rush to leave the theater. I pushed Anne in the back to get her going and when I explained myself, she said, “Mom, I know. I wanted to tell him to check his space the whole time.” And I do believe she would have.
This is the best I can hope. That, even though the fear is still there, we are raising a generation of women who continually space check and stand strong.