A/N: I posted this several months ago, when I still worked for the Fire Department. One of those weak-chinned, weasel-eyed tattletales that every work place seems to have at least one of bullied me into taking it down again. I no longer work for the Fire Department, GloryHallelujahAmen, so I’m re-posting this, just because I can. Suck it, Chinless Dude.
John Green’s tragic teenage love story The Fault in Our Stars was released as a movie last year and I couldn’t wait to see it. I love to cry during movies. I cried during The Help, and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, and The Ultimate Gift. During The Hunger Games I sobbed aloud in the theater when Rue died. Every time I watch The Notebook I end up weeping and pounding on the arm of my chair, and howling “it’s so beautiful!” like a demented creature. Is it just me? Please say it isn’t just me.
I can’t explain why women like this kind of thing, but a lot of us do. All of the women (and a large percentage of the gay men) reading this are nodding and saying well of course, sister. The rest of you (straight men) are scratching your heads and wondering why anyone would ever choose to cry on purpose. Isn’t crying bad?, you ask. To which I answer, no. No it is not. Women want to cry over movies, my brothers. And the harder, the better. I wouldn’t lie to you; just roll with it.
Anyway, recently I finally got my hands on a copy of The Fault in Our Stars. Here, by the way, if you are one of the four people in North America who hasn’t heard of this movie, is the synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes:
Hazel and Gus are two extraordinary teenagers who share an acerbic wit, a disdain for the conventional, and a love that sweeps them – and us – on an unforgettable journey. Their relationship is all the more miraculous, given that they met and fell in love at a cancer support group. THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, based upon the number-one bestselling novel by John Green, explores the funny, thrilling and tragic business of being alive and in love.
I saved the movie for an afternoon when the office was empty and all my work was finished. I fired up my laptop and brought up the movie. I turned down the lights and leaned back in my chair with a jar of Nutella and a spoon. There was a box of Kleenex in easy reach. I was going to wallow in emotion and angst like a pig in slop. I’d thought of everything.
Music. Opening credits.
The first scene is a cancer survivors’ support group. There are some funny lines, some likable characters. Then the first of many heartstring tugs, a close-up shot of a line in Hazel’s favorite book that reads: that’s the thing about pain; it demands to be felt. I have just opened my mouth to gasp at the profound beauty of this truth, when the phone rings. It’s a mundane question posed by one of those annoying-as-shit people who refuse to identify themselves, insisting you should recognize their voice. A game of “guess who this is” ensues, while I struggle to play along and not be rude. I finally hit on the right person by blurting out the name of the most irritating person I’ve met in the last year, and behold! I am right. I answer his question and hang up a little harder than necessary. Free once again, I hit Play and settle in to suffer with Hazel as she goes heroically about the business of dying.
Music. Scenery. Glimpses of a sunrise filmed through tall grass.
“Hey, sorry to disturb you! I need to get a burn permit.” The guy in the doorway doesn’t look sorry. Not sorry enough, anyway. He looks aggravatingly cheerful and very, very talkative. Turns out he’s both. While I wait for the right person to come in and sign the permit he talks relentlessly and loudly about the weather (hot), the desert (sandy), the selection of groceries available at the PX (deplorable) and the state of the economy (ditto). He is not contributing to the mood of bittersweet poignancy that I am trying to build here, and I am itchy with frustration by the time he finally leaves.
I settle back in. Play. Hazel meets a cute guy named Gus, also a cancer survivor. Gus charms her, gets right past her defenses, gosh darnit. My heart melts a little. How beautiful is that? The phone rings. “Hi, there’s a Dumpster on fire by the Taco Bell…”
I smash down hard on the Pause button and dispatch the Fire Department. An hour later I finish my report and the dozen phone calls that go with it, and I sit down to watch my movie again. Where was I? I don’t remember. Just restart the damned thing.
That’s the thing about pain; it demands to be felt. Still a stunning and powerful line, though I barely have time to wrap my head around it before a shadow falls across my doorway. It’s a firefighter. “Ma’am can I sign out the key to the Supply trailer?” I hand him the key and send him on his way. He is barely gone when another firefighter takes his place. “I need the key to the SCBA room…”
And so it goes. I watch three minutes of the movie, I hand out keys. I watch another three minutes of the movie, I hand out more keys. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. For an hour and a half my life boils down to a hamster wheel of key distribution, and the Rewind button.
Eventually the fire guys run out of things to unlock, and I make it to the part of the movie where Gus falls in love with Hazel. She, in a fit of nobility (because she is tragically dying) insists they stay just friends. Oh Hazel, Hazel, you silly girl, can’t you see that this is Fate?
“Hey, you look like you could use some company!” It is Alarm Tech Dude, the world’s most talkative human being, and an expert in everydamnthing. I have never gotten him out of my office in under thirty minutes. Today, I am sure, will be no exception.
“Hi,” I say a little desperately. “I’m just trying to watch a movie here. You know, it’s a real tearjerker, and I’ve wanted to see it for a long time and…” My headphones slip out of my ears and dangle just beyond my reach. On screen the characters are soundlessly mouthing words at each other. Deep words, I feel sure. Words that would wrench at my heart and make me cry and cry, if only I could hear them.
Alarm Dude is oblivious to my pain. “I’ve been meaning to show you how to do blah blah blah with our fire alarm system. Now would be the perfect time! Here, pay attention, I’ll show you. This is going to take a while.” I stare at him in dismay, then peek at the clock. He has at least another hour before he leaves for the day. And he’s standing, oblivious, between me and the Pause button. Craning to see around his hip, I watch helplessly as the movie rolls on without me. Gus and Hazel have what appear to be several amazing, if soundless adventures together. Adventures I am not in on. Adventures building up to the Great Tragedy, no doubt; the Great Tragedy at which I have planned to sob theatrically until I run out of tears.
I’d better not miss the first kiss, I think bitterly.
“You see,” (Alarm Dude is in full lecture mode, and I am his captive audience) “an OS&Y valve—that stands for Outside Stem and Yoke valve—operates on a different premise than your basic butterfly valve…”
I cannot listen to this, not when True Love is happening just beyond my reach. In self-preservation, my mind drifts. What was the last movie I actually cried at? Was it The Notebook? Surely not. Surely it hasn’t been that long since I saw a really good, sad movie. Did I cry at Forrest Gump? I can’t remember…
On screen, Hazel appears to be in the hospital. What happened? I lean forward. What did I miss? Why is she in the hospital??
Alarm Guy is still going. “So, when your duct detectors get dirty, the alarm system mistakes the dust for smoke, and then you’ve got a problem…”
I always cry when I watch Dead Poet’s Society, I reflect, staring now over his left shoulder and nodding as though I am enthralled by his words. Probably more so now that Robin Williams is dead. I need to watch that again. On screen, I can’t tell what Gus and Hazel are saying, but it looks terribly romantic. Don’t kiss yet! I mentally screech. Wait for me!
“Of course then you have the issue of beam detectors in your fire alarm systems. Many people think they’re not necessary in open buildings like aircraft hangars, but my feeling has always been…”
I must have sinned in some past life. My mouth is fixed in a wide, false smile and I am nodding earnestly, desperate for him to leave so I can rewind the movie and have a do-over.
“You know, these fire alarms report in through actual phone lines and so blah blah blah,” he is relentless. I want to weep, but I am saving my tears for the movie.
I’ve never cried at Casablanca or It’s A Wonderful Life, I recall. In fact, I don’t even like those movies. I never like the classic movies that everyone else likes. Miracle on 34th Street? Blech. I did cry at Gran Torino. I wonder if other people did. Maybe I’m just wired wrong. Wait, why are Hazel and Gus getting on an airplane? What did I miss? Where are they going? What did I miss??
“Also,” (Like the Energizer Bunny, Alarm Guy is unstoppable) “one thing we’re finding as we reconfigure all these alarm panels on base, is that the original installation… drone drone drone…”
This continues until it’s time for him to clock out for the day. He stands up.
Oh dear lord Jesus, thank you that he’s leaving, I think. Hazel and Gus are standing in some kind of attic now. They lean in toward each other. They lean in… she lifts her face… DON’T KISS, DO NOT KISS, DON’T YOU DARE KISS WITHOUT ME!!! I shriek at them. Silently, because Alarm Dude is still here.
They kiss. Of course they do. Dammit.
“Well,” he says brightly, as though my entire heart has not just been rent in two, “it’s time for me to head out.” He turns to go and then pauses at the door and looks back. “I really like talking to you, Claire. You’re a good listener.”
Flowers for Algernon, I am thinking. Was that a movie, or just a book? I cried so hard at the book I still remember the headache I had afterward. I give him a distracted little smile and a wave, and pick up my headphones.
I press Rewind again.