June 9, 2022

Sometimes, I Wonder if the Fear will Ever Go Away.

A few days ago, I walked into a movie theater for the first time in three years.

My boyfriend and I were there to see “Top Gun: Maverick.” (8.5/10—a little long but would totally recommend.)

We’d waited almost three years to see it, since it was originally slated to come out during the summer of 2019 and then the summer of 2020, when we all ended up in quarantine. And considering that my boyfriend and I have jarringly different tastes when it comes to movies and music and pretty much everything, it was exciting to find something that we were both equally looking forward to.

The night began like any other. We bought our tickets, ordered a mini pizza and a large popcorn with way too much butter, and waited as the bartender poured our beers. (I bow to whoever decided to put bars in movie theaters—genius idea.)

We walked down the carpeted hall, movie posters lining the walls, and I got that giddy sensation I used to feel every time I walked into a theater, something I did regularly with family and friends growing up.

We found our seats and I, who has been cursed with the smallest bladder, quickly ran to the bathroom so I wouldn’t miss the trailers, my favorite part of going to see a new movie.

When I returned to the theater, I settled in to my comfy recliner, took a swig of my blueberry hard seltzer and a bite of too-hot pizza, and readied myself for two hours of Tom Cruise and fighter planes and 80s nostalgia.

Then the lights went down.

Almost automatically, I felt a tightness in my chest. My breathing became shallow. And the theater that at first felt appropriately chilly suddenly felt hot and humid and suffocating.

I noticed my hands gripping the arm rest as I scanned the room for the exit signs. There are only two, I thought, as I tried to figure out which one we could get to the quickest if we needed to.

In between trailers for “Jurassic Park 500” (not the real title and not something I’ll spend money on) and “Avatar: The Way of Water” (I’d buy tickets now if they let me) I debated whether I should pull my phone out and text my mom. I didn’t tell her what theater we were at. If something happened, she wouldn’t know. I wouldn’t have time to say goodbye.

I scanned the exits again, my heart racing every time someone new walked in to find their seats. A mom and her kids. A couple whispering as they walked up the steps. A lone man holding…a soda and bag of popcorn as he searched for his row.

I know the signs of a panic attack well. And while on the outside I probably looked completely fine, inside I felt terrified. I was sure that at any moment a man with a gun was going to walk into that theater and, while we were all distracted by Tom’s iconic jacket and the sound of the military planes blasting off, this man would systematically start blasting each of us away.

I noticed my right leg bouncing uncontrollably and began praying: to stop the frantic movement, to stop the intrusive thoughts, to stop the bad guy with a gun.

The fear flooded my body. And in the small crevices that it couldn’t reach, sadness settled in.

I used to love going to the movies. And in the almost 10 years since the Aurora movie theater shooting (and the 23 years since I was a high school sophomore watching coverage of the Columbine High School shooting…and the almost 10 years since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting…and the four years since I marched in Washington D.C. with survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting…), I’d been to see countless movies. With zero panic attacks.

But something felt different this time. This room that once felt like freedom, like a ticket to a far-away place in someone’s imagination now felt like it was closing in on me. It felt like target practice—and we were all sitting ducks.

I wanted to sit back and enjoy the movie, but I was scared to stay.

I wanted to run out of the theater and head home where it was safe, but I was scared to leave.

It’s been two weeks since the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and I cannot get the faces of those babies out of my mind. Maybe it’s because they look like me. Maybe it’s because we keep getting new information daily about the horrors they (those who died and those who survived) endured and will continue to endure. Maybe it’s because my heart has had it with innocent people being slaughtered while doing the most basic of things—like sitting in a classroom or going to the grocery store or watching a movie.

Whatever it is, I can’t ignore the fact that it’s scary. And I’m scared. And I don’t want to be. I don’t want to have to be. I don’t want this feeling to be normal. For me or for anyone.

But without large-scale change, what do we do? Without federal gun reform, what do we do? Without people caring more about people and less about f*cking guns, what do we do? Without leaders on both sides who actually give a damn about those we’ve lost and those who desperately want to stay alive, what do we do?

I wish I had the answers but all I know is that I spend way too many precious moments of my day wondering: What if the fear never goes away?

~

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