We spend the summer devouring Disney movies together. They are our babysitters when our parents are at work. By the time fall rolls around, Sidney has become a bonafide impressionist. “He kin call me flow-er if he waaants to.” Her voice is soft anyway, but there is some deliberation behind her impression of Flower, the skunk from Bambi. She is careful to place the appropriate pauses between each word, to give each syllable its proper emphasis. She affects a vaguely Southern accent, sounding like a sweet hillbilly child. The adults love listening to her. There is definite sincerity to their laughter, a “we-get-that-reference-and-thank-you-for-making-it” tinge to their chuckles. I am not a fan. “Teen-age-uhs. You give dem an inch, dey swim all ovah you,” I say one day, trying to change the subject. My interjection is met with confused stares. Little Mermaid impressions hold little currency with these people.
My mom keeps eating peanuts, pushing them one by one into her mouth, while I try to describe my new favorite movie, Badlands. As I speak, she nods her head and offers, first, “Oh,” and then a more pensive, “Oh?” Although both “ohs” are delivered at arbitrary moments, I latch onto them. I will exploit her willingness to feign interest in me to enlighten her. Hoping that it will all somehow seep into her brain, even if it’s only subconsciously, I tell her about the whimsical musical score, how it contrasts with the film’s violence; I tell her about the dreamy, singsong narration, how it turns this crime spree movie into a beautiful fairy tale. But then I notice that she’s stopped looking at me. She is more invested in this OxiClean commercial than in anything coming out of my mouth.
I ditch class for the two days Jason is in London to spend time with him. We go to the British Museum. We eat lunch. We talk about Blow-Up, a ’60s film by Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni that I’ve seen five times this year. “I love that one,” he says. I tell him I want to visit the park from the movie. “You know the one I’m talking about, right?” He nods his head. He’s the only person I know who’s heard of this movie. At night, we get wasted and dance until our clothes are sopping and the slicked-down curls at the temples of my head have frizzed out. We walk in the middle of empty London streets, our arms around each other, propping each other up, his clammy hand tugging gently at the skin hanging over my waistband. Our friends are loud, their laughter echoing around us, but the two of us are quiet. Before he leaves the city to continue his post-graduation trip across Europe, he kisses me. I’d dreamed of kissing this boy with disconcerting regularity for nine months, but we were friends and that was it. When he pulls his lips away from mine, I feel like he’s given me a gift, but he’s the one who says, “Thank you.” When I’m back at school in the States after my summer studying abroad, and he’s off being an adult somewhere far away, I’m given something else from him. “Jason told me this was for you,” a mutual friend says as he hands me a long cardboard tube. Inside is a Blow-Up poster. Somehow, this is more satisfying than the kiss.
I’m sitting beside my two-year-old cousin, watching Wayne’s World in my grandparents’ living room. The toddler mimics what he hears. “Rib fer plej. Ewww…” he giggles, scrunching up his nose as he hits that last syllable. We work on pronunciation. “Ribbed for her pleasure. Ewww…” I say slowly, ever the patient tutor. I happen to be fluent in Wayne’s World, occasionally abandoning my mother tongue entirely for the film’s language—its words and syntax, more closely aligned with my heart than ordinary English. Other times, Wayne’s World and my native English overlap unconsciously, creating a lexical mashup so seamless that the linguistic shifts I’m making are practically imperceptible. “If Benjamin were an ice cream flavor, he’d be pralines and dick,” I said to my mom when I was eight years old and first experimenting with this new vocabulary. She was not impressed with my burgeoning bilingualism. But I will encourage my young cousin in his brazen attempt to learn a second language before he’s even mastered his first. “Rib ferrr plejjj. Ewww…” he repeats back to me. “Ewww…” I say. “Ewww…” he says back. He is a promising pupil.
It’s gray and drizzling outside, which is a Pavlovian trigger for me: “We have to watch The Goonies,” I say. But as the two of us lie entwined on my bed, I start to think that it might be too soon in our relationship to watch this movie together in this position. Our bodies are swooning and stupid and rebellious. The pull toward each other is too great. I stare at the TV screen as Laurence lifts up the right side of my shirt, his fingertips lightly grazing my skin. The odds of us making it through to the end of this are slim, but we try anyway. Goonies never say die. ♦