I'm going to do this in two stages. Before and after. It's quite a tale.
It’s Friday night as I write this. Towards the end she was more anxious than I was - nervous about fitting in, keeping up, being different, being safe. The last one is always in the back of my head, and I put faith in the fact that all the kids come back. And there are a lot of Rotary kids who go to Brazil.
So how do I know it will be better than I thought? Because I drained the grief on Friday afternoon around 2:40 PM, and when everything was empty I found there was something hopeful written at the bottom of the pitcher. I went to work on Friday, I did the podcast, I did all the normal things; talked and opined and wrote, but in my head I was just pacing and rearranging things and straightening objects that were a tad askew, and then I had coffee with a co-worker, Tad Askew, and fixed his tie for him. Always bugs me.
I was tired and raw and raked, because this was it. You can tell people that parenthood isn’t over after they go, and in a sense, a distant attenuated sense, it’s true. For some it’s a relief; the heavy lifting is done. But Natalie never required any work; the occasional mood aside, which all humans are entitled to deploy, she was a constant joy. I’m not sure if she realizes how much time we spent together. The whole flowers-for-algernon thing. They forget.
But the character of the days accumulates unseen, and helps creates who they are. For some reason she is not heading out as Daddy’s Little Princess, convinced the world owes her attention and affection, and I’m not sure if that’s a nature or nurture thing. She knows she was loved beyond measure, and I suspect that’s helpful. Teens live on the second floor and give little thought to the foundation if they trust the house will stand.
Do I wish she’d spent her gap year differently? Of course. But that’s selfish. It would have always come to this. It always comes to this, if you do it right. They go.
The measure of your success is the ache, the pride, the setting aside of the happy day-to-day moments of domestic life for the knowledge that they’re off on their own journey, and if you will excuse the rare profanity, this is the bullshit I tell myself. But it’s true! But it’s useless! At least against the loss of her presence. The imminence of the loss has been the silently screaming thing that has eaten at me for a few years - my God, I used to get the sluice of cold dread when I would settle down for a nap and think, unbidden, that there were but two Christmases left.
I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but I steeled myself to this long process a year ago when I got off the plane from the Crossing. That was the end of the bad month that began on August 4th when Scout vanished, and pitched us into that strange hellish month of phone calls and signs and hope and screechy-tire drives to follow leads. For a dog. Of course for a dog; we loved him. Then Natalie and I went to England, the two of us, and had a perfect time. I left her at Heathrow and trusted her to get home; hours later I found myself in a hotel in Southampton tracing her progress through the Iceland airport, sweating that she wouldn’t make the connecting flight, calling up transportation websites and hotel rooms if she had to stay over in Reykavik. But then she made it. Huzzah! I fell asleep, exhausted. Woke.
Went out to the cigar bench outside the hotel, opened my phone, and got a message from my wife that she’d found Scout.
Hours later I was in the lobby trying to fix my glasses, because a screw had popped out, and I couldn’t see anything through the tears. My throat was raw - and it turned out to be a cold. I crossed the Atlantic shivering and coughing, but by the time I was back in the states I was well. The Chromatics were playing in my headphones when I got off the plane.
For the last time. Walking through the airport, I thought this is the start of the end. This is the year your life as you’ve known it concludes.
For the most part. I mean, wife, house, career, all that - but my 18-year identity as a father, the daily work that entails, the duties (which are nothing of the sort; I have treasured the very fact that I have to be somewhere and help, pick her up, get her there, worry about this or that) - it’s done.
And around 2:40 I was facing the day I had dreaded for so long. There was nothing I could do about it. It wasn’t like confronting your own mortality; I would face that with cheer, everything having been such an amazing gift. What I was dreading was losing what mattered and still having to plod on.
I drove home. Birch was happy to see me. I gave him some food. Wife and daughter came back from the last shopping trip, and she got to packing. I napped.
And I dreamed. I was driving past on the sidewalk on an electric scooter, and asked if she needed a ride. She said she didn’t. And that was fine.
The evening was a normal Friday, with pizza, except she was packing. I despaired over her packing. HAVE YOU LEARNED NOTHING. But I was no better at her age, I’m sure. Printed off all the documents that she might need, set up a Dropbox for communication, gave her a flash drive with books and comics, made an album of family photos she can show her Brazilian Hosts, made sure she had all the proper cords and adapters. Put the passport and cards and money in the Mission Critical pocket of her backpack. Tomorrow when she’s not looking I will put in a note that says: I always said “never wish away time,” but you’ll forgive me for going against my own advice. Can’t wait to see you again.” It will be attached to the UNO card that has four colors and a plus, the best possible card you can have.
We used to play UNO on rainy afternoons. The Four-colors card is the thing she wanted me to get tattooed on her wrist.
Here’s what I found at the bottom of the empty vessel: you are done counting the days until she leaves. You may now begin to count the days until you see her again.
I’m going to end it here because something else happened, and it was a trial and a gift, and it was the reason I was driving down the highway at 2:45 AM, radio loud, laughing. But that’s tomorrow.
(BTW: yes, she went, and yes, she's there, and yes, life is different and yes we're all fine.)
Not a review. Just some notes and images. Let's go right to the opening, shall we?
It’s “A Star is Born.”
Or rather, “A Star is Born” was “What Price Hollywood.” You probably know the basic idea: female star rises while the director who discovered her sinks. We meet her before she's famous, but obviously radiating star power, 30s style:
She reads movie magazines, and of course I had to search the hell out of the internet to find this one.
You'd be surprised to find out how many hits you get when you search "Movies Magazine." Wallace Beery, Marie Dressler - real stars, of course. Which puts this movie in a different world than most. Our world.
It’s a smash hit! It’s terrific! It’s a great Hollywood picture about Hollywood, even if it isn’t 10% as cynical as you know it could be. Two things:
1. This montage that shows her rise to fame: quick, efficient, with all the glamour of the medium.
A nice little FX shot - real theater, animated sign.
The wedding. The couple is mobbed outside the theater, and we get some - gasp - real people.
It reminds you of the “Day of the Locust” sequence, a bit.
It’s based on the Rod La Rocque / Vilma Banky wedding, which was a sensation, as they say.
There are early behind-the-scenes shots, which show how the magic is made . . .
And, of course, mittle-Europan archetypes. I miss movies that had unironic men who had that hair, those glasses, and wore black suits everywhere. They were often Herr Doctors, I suppose.
The Rise Montage, at the end, is paralleled by the Fall:
Holy crow, that’s harsh.
Hey, matchbooks! There's a stunning surprise.