• Zach Youngs

Not Lonely in the Dark

The first time I remember going to a movie by myself was October 6th, 2006 for a screening of The Departed, the U.S. remake of the great Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs (2002). It was a time when I was alone in a new place. I was starting my freshman year at Eastern Washington University and we were allowed free bus rides to the nearest big city. I was nervous. My first time on public transit in Cheney and Spokane, two cities I was unfamiliar, didn't help with that anxiety, but when I had my butt in that seat, I was in the only place I wanted to be.

I had this freedom now, this way to feel connected. Going to a movie alone made me feel less alone because I was surrounded by other people as I eavesdropped on their conversations and became a background player in their lives. Of course, the one oddity in the bunch, the only time I've truly been alone in a movie theater, did happen late in my time at Eastern when I took in a showing of the Will Ferrel comedy Semi-Pro in 2008 and was the only one there.

I would see about a movie a week in a theater. There were droughts. The doldrums of the late 2000s and early 2010s Januarys and Februarys left me cold. I could have seen films that held over from the glut of prestige pictures in December, but it's rare that I see movies more than once in a theater. I can only remember doing that eight times not in a movie marathon situation. (A couple friends and I went to one day of the two day AMC Best Picture Showcase in 2011. If I remember correctly, I'd seen all of them but Toy Story 3.)

The first I can remember is in the summer of 2007 when I lied to may parents about what movie my girlfriend and I were seeing and saw Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix without them and then when they were able to go, I pretended it was the first time. It was easy because The Order of the Phoenix made me excited about that franchise again.

The second was in the fall of 2007 when I had seen Dan in Real Life before coming home. I saw it a second time with my girlfriend on some weekend I came back. I remember this one well because I had work up the courage to quiet down two rowdy teens. It was the scariest thing I'd done and despite being six foot six inches at that point in my life, I still didn't want to be in a fight and knew the tough guy facade would fade as soon as we were on the street.

The third was definitely The Dark Knight in 2008. Though, I can only remember what the experience was like the second time when I took my dad to see it. I think I can only remember this one because I was so intensely engrossed in that film that I don't remember anything about my surroundings in either of the situations. Nothing took my eyes off that screen.

The fourth was, of course, Inception in 2010. This one, again, the details are fuzzy, but I'm positive I saw it once alone because that summer I was finishing my last credits to graduate from Central Washington University (Yes, I transferred schools, more on that later). The second time was definitely with my dad, but I kept my eyes glued to the screen again as I couldn't look away and I was hankering to catch details I missed the first time.

Side note: Just in case you're wondering I watched The Dark Knight Rises (2012), Interstellar (2014), and Dunkirk (2017) only once because by that point I was living on my own and movies in Seattle aren't cheap. Despite my love of Nolan's spectacle, I couldn't justify the cost.

The fifth was The Avengers in 2012. The first had been a solo adventure, but the second had a strange path. I invited my friend and crush to go with me to a showing of Safety Not Guaranteed (2012), at the Seattle International Film Festival. The showing was at the SIFF Uptown in the Queen Anne neighborhood at around six and I, stupidly thought we had enough time to get from our job in Bellevue to the venue. (If there were little traffic, that journey would take less than an hour, but there was always traffic and never any parking.) No, I was late and she got stuck in even worse traffic than me. I had to come up with another plan. I'd finally gotten a chance to see her outside of work and I wasn't going to let it go, so we met downtown and walked into a showing of The Avengers. I barely concentrated on the movie. I was far more concerned with excitement over being out in the world with the coolest person. We stayed through the end credits and I, non-mansplainingly, told her who Thanos was and why he was a big deal. It was a really good night.

The sixth was Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014. I had been working at a new job for a few months at that point and was missing my old team, so when the text came offering a hang out, I absolutely jumped at the chance. I met my friend for the late night showing, which was still packed. Word of mouth did a great deal for this movie. About a quarter of the way in, she fell asleep. I was then left with the warm glow of the film and the reactions of an audience seeing it for the first time and crying much more heartily at the "We are Groot," sequence despite knowing it was coming. (Vin Diesel has made me cry in movies three times, here, in Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and in Saving Private Ryan (1998).) She woke up at the end and we laughed about her inability to stay awake.

The seventh was Parasite last year (2019). I drove up to Seattle for the opening weekend, trekking first to the Angle Lake park and ride and then by rail up to the SIFF Egyptian in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle. It blew my mind, even if the guy in front of me laughed at the wrong parts and then tried to repeat what characters were saying because he liked the sounds. I couldn't stop thinking about it. I told every one about it. I reviewed it. I still thought about it, so when my mom was bummed because none of her friends wanted to see it, I just volunteered. We saw it at The Grand Cinema in Tacoma during its third run there and afterwards I got to live that incredible shock again through her and actually talk about everything I couldn't spoil for other people. It was incredible.

The eighth was Portrait of a Lady on Fire from earlier this year (2020). I made the trek up to Seattle again, to the SIFF Egyptian because I had to see this movie critics had been absolutely raving about alongside Parasite since the two premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last year. I was expecting to enjoy it, but I wasn't expecting it to completely invade my being. Immediately after that screening I was hooked I knew I had to see it again and I did... the next weekend. I took mom back to The Grand for the film's premiere weekend there and confirmed that this is a film I will need for the rest of my life.

That last one was at the end of February. I already had tickets to see two movies the next weekend, Onward and Emma. as well as tickets for future showings of Mulan later in March and No Time to Die in April. Movie theater unlimited plans, and before that MoviePass (R.I.P. MoviePass), had changed the way I saw movies. I was able to have freedom and to pick out dates, make plans and know when I'd be seeing certain things. Then things changed as they've changed for all of us. The virus closed the one place that lets me feel less alone.

Last month I was in a tail spin. As releases were postponed and things popped up online, I was helpless and unable to process what was happening. Then, when the event I planned for, looked forward to, and used as a panacea for dark times and a mood enhancer for good called it quits I was lost. The Seattle International Film Festival is an even that has been in my life since 2006 and since 2009, has been my annual retreat. My tail spin became a nose dive. I had to let the real world in and be reminded of how alone I feel all the time.

For the last twelve years I've been single. I haven't even kissed someone in that time. In the harsh words of a man from Tel Aviv, "[I] wasted all of my twenties and [my] sexual prime." He also stated that I may not be a bisexual because I've never had sex with a man and if I wasn't so frustrated as to have deleted my account on that site I would have written, "How do straight people know they're straight before they've had sex? sexuality is attraction, asshole." But I couldn't help wondering if he was right about missing out on my prime dating years.

At a certain point many of my friends, acquaintances, coworkers, family members, strangers I follow on social media, began pairing off, then breaking up, then pairing off again. It looks really easy, effortless even, but there's always been something inside me that stops me from saying something, from letting my feelings be known.

Even before that horrible breakup of twelve years ago, the signs made me scared. In that relationship I was terrible. I was possessive, jealous, emotionally manipulative, selfish, and controlling. I hated myself in that relationship and what I was doing to the other person. I have no doubts I'm the reason that relationship ended because I wasn't what she wanted and she really wasn't what I wanted and I tried to force it to keep going. What if I did that to another person?

Every time I thought about taking someone out, romanticized a relationship with them, I'd flash to those nearly two years of pain. I lived most of my romantic life in my head because of that. I've had crushes (My god, the crushes! So many crushes they could literally crush me) and when I'd felt I could ignore the nagging, evil thoughts in my head, I went on dates. In the last twelve years I've been on five dates.

The first one was in college. I had transferred to Central Washington University for my junior year in a last ditch attempt to save my relationship. (She declined to enroll that fall, so I never saw her on campus.) Yet, it ended up being a really great decision. I made friends, loved the English department, was part of a fun water polo team, got to assist the budding women's team, it was great. I was on top of the world at the end of fall quarter of senior year and asked out my seat mate in Asian American Literature who I'd been flirting with. The date went pretty well, dinner, Blizzards, The Venture Bros. Then my roommate (crush) and her boyfriend walked in. The boyfriend kind of derailed it all with his, "You guys are on a date, that's cute," behavior. I took her home after that. We texted over the holidays, but never saw each other again after that as she was on a different track of the major.

The second date was a few years later when I was working at my second Apple store. I left the first one for a promotion because I wanted to challenge myself and really grow in the role (That excuse is bullshit. I was heartbroken my crush fell for someone else and I needed to get away from seeing her everyday.) I threw myself into OKCupid (This is where the man from Tel Aviv decided to contact me) and getting a date to jumpstart my home life since my career was flourishing (kind of floundering actually. I gained a lot of weight and stopped taking care of myself that year.). I found a very attractive woman and she matched with me, we wrote back and forth, but through experience I knew that the longer we chat with out a date, the more potential for ghosting (that's when you just disappear on someone without a trace.). We went to Pies and Pints in the Roosevelt neighborhood of Seattle (R.I.P. Pies an Pints). She suggested a walk after dinner. We ended up walking around Green Lake, through a weird forested area (I totally thought she was going to have someone assault me and take my money), over to the Woodland Park Zoo and back to Green Lake, then the restaurant. We must have walked five miles and I was a sweaty, huffing and puffing mess. I knew that was the end. People love hiking for some reason and that was my hiking partner try out. I failed. We left it with a hug and a promise to get together soon. We never did.

The third one was after I had quit Apple. I took another job, got more responsibility, and come out as bisexual to most of the world. On the dating apps, being a bisexual man seeking a heterosexual relationship is poison. My prospects with women plummeted and my prospects with men skyrocketed after I came out (New meat as it were). Though, this woman was willing to take a chance ("I have a ton of gay friends! Have you ever been to (insert name of gay club)?") and so we met at a small bar in the Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle. We chatted for a long time and she told me a lot about her job as a nurse for children with life threatening illnesses. I had a hard time trying to commiserate, everything I could bring up was nothing like what she was experiencing and so she was a little dismissive of me until we changed the subject. We left the bar with a hug that she lingered on a little to familiarly for my liking with phone numbers and a chance to meet again. We texted for a while and made some firm plans, but I panicked. I couldn't help, but think of my inadequacies at comfort and that I had nothing at all in common with this woman. There was a threat of getting stuck again, just getting comfortable and letting it fester. I cancelled the plans to, which she cooly replied, "You should have told me earlier, I could've made other plans." In my panic I immediately texted someone else (crush) and asked her to dinner. She was picking up her boyfriend from the airport and couldn't. I stopped panicking and just felt alone again.

The fourth was with a woman I met on Tinder. I was really depressed at work and planning my exit, but cuffing season (the period when the winter months set in and people get desperate for cold weather companionship.) was in full swing, so why not? I set the date after an awkward conversation about my sexuality. She told me on the date that her friends had warned her against bisexual men. We met at a bar called Bill's on Broadway, which is next to the SIFF Egyptian in Capitol Hill. She was a little late so I was watching the crowd gather for a late showing of The Disaster Artist (2017). The line was getting really long. I looked on the bright side that if she didn't show I could try and get a ticket. She showed up, though, and we had a pleasant time. We talked about everything and despite my reservations, I set a second date.

This was the fifth date and only the second, second date I've been on. I was determined to keep it this time. I had a shitty work experience in between dates where I had to take an emergency trip to Buffalo, NY on the same weekend as the inaugural Podcon in Seattle. I got sick on the plane on the way back from Buffalo, but I made it to Podcon and I made it to the date that night. We had great ramen at a place I can't remember the name of in Capitol Hill. I was a little more quiet because of the pounding in my head and the soreness of my throat. We had space where we weren't saying anything to each other. The holidays were coming up and I didn't want to get her hopes up about a third date before then, so I told her I would call her after that. I still remember the look on her face. She'd been told that before. She'd been told she'd get a call and she knew then as I knew in the back of my mind there would be no third date. I felt like garbage physically and emotionally. I spent most of the next three days in bed before my boss called me begging me to come in and at the end of that day telling me I really looked like shit. I formed a plan for my exit then and there.

Since the physical meeting places have closed, I've been swiping fruitlessly on an app I don't trust with people I doubt I'll ever meet. In this frustration and continual dry spell, my loneliness has come to encompass all aspects of my life. If losing movie theaters was depressing, this was just the nod into the acceptance stage of my grief.

I don't know how this ends. I just know that I can't let the distraction of attempting a normal life after all this keep me from opening up my heart to something other than the enticing fiction in the dark. I have to develop the same feeling for a date as I do for an anticipated release. Maybe I just need to set the date now.

Maybe Christopher Nolan's impending release, Tenet, which hasn't been postponed as of this writing (please don't postpone the rest of the July slate, please!), may be the linchpin in a new chapter, one that I see Nolan films multiple times again with the right person. I'll be putting it on my dating profile today as a way to break out of the loneliness and try something, anything. Everything, pandemics and loneliness included, have to have an end and I want to be there to accept what's there when I open the door.

(Craig, I don't know if you're reading this, but you were going to set me up with your sister about seven years ago. Is she still single? I'd be happy to put on a shirt and tie for a Zoom date.)

Recent Posts