Hiding in Other People’s Stories

Here’s something I’ve recently discovered about myself: When I am sad or overwhelmed or afraid or any other emotion that would cause me to gravitate towards comfort, I watch my favorite old movies or shows. I’ve never really done this before that I’m aware of, but lately my entire family is forced to tolerate this new and effective coping mechanism. 

It started a few months ago when life came to feel a little more uncertain. I’ve always had a strong affection for Pride and Prejudice (the Kiera Knightley version), Kingdom Come, and Gilmore Girls. Then I re-discovered Runaway Bride and watched it 3 times in the same week. The entire month of December was riddled with Hallmark movies, but not the new ones. I went for the old ones that I could nearly recite by heart. Then, on to Adam Sandler. Other Half has always been a huge Adam Sandler fan. When we first got together I was sort of take it or leave it, but now it’s a matter of emotional survival. Grown Ups and Grown Ups 2, Pixels, 50 First Dates…these are a few of my favorite things. 

I was thinking about it, and I think I hide in these stories for a couple of reasons. Number one, they remind me of happier and simpler times. I look back with joy on the days that my teenage friends and I would watch these movies together, or when my mom and I would lose ourselves for a couple of hours in laughs and predictable plot lines. I still remember going with one of my girlfriends to watch Pride and Prejudice the night I met Other Half. And the one New Years Eve when my boyfriend had something better to do than hang out with me, so my mom and I watched the Gilmore Girls boxed set. Or when my friend Nat and I couldn’t get enough of Kingdom Come, and how to this day I quote that movie at inappropriate times. It’s like a hug just when you need it most. 

But here’s the thing—new movies don’t do the same thing for me. I cannot sit and watch a new and uncharted movie to save my life. First because, for reasons I don’t completely understand, Netflix and Hallmark and Amazon Prime are incapable of constructing a plot line that doesn’t involve death. Either someone’s mom died when they were young, or just died, or their spouse died, or their brother died or is dying. There can be no new movies without death. I dared Mary Ann to find one new movie that didn’t involve death on some level and told her I would watch it with her if she did. She couldn’t do it. And so, we watch The Choice and Safe Haven, both of which involve death, but the kind I already know about. The kind with a happy ending. 

This brings me to the number two reason why I can’t stop hiding in these movies: I know how the story ends. Right now I am firmly in the middle of my own story which feels unpredictable and uncertain and unclear and I freaking hate it. There are zero things I appreciate about change. I don’t like the excitement, it doesn’t energize me, it doesn’t make me motivated to rush forward into a brave new world. What it makes me is tired and afraid. By the end of every day I’m so done with life from the exertion of keeping it all together that I immediately fall asleep because my brain just cannot process anymore new information, having exhausted itself with the effort of seeming to be normal all day. Since I don’t know if my own ending will be happy or sad or bittersweet, I lose myself in these stories I already know. Stories that remind me that no matter how scary the middle might look, there’s always redemption in the end.

Today, for example, Mary Ann and I decided to re-watch Safe Haven for the millionth time. I love this movie because it’s Nicholas Sparks, and he was the first novelist I ever loved enough to seek out every book signing, every year. And I love this movie because it is filmed in one of my favorite places in the whole world: South Port, North Carolina. 

When I was a kid, my parents always took Helen Keller, John Wayne, and me to “the old people beach” as we called it. Back then, it was known as Long Beach (now the trendy name is Oak Island), and there were no restaurants, no stores beyond a Maxway and a gas station, no nothing. We had to buy groceries to cook every night and we stayed in this small house with a big open room on the second floor filled with a collection of mix-matched twin sized and full sized beds, no air conditioning, but a beautiful view of the ocean which was right across the street. We would usually take a ferry boat from where we were staying to Fort Fisher and check out the aquarium every trip, and then sometimes we would go to South Port.

On the last big family trip we took with all of us (mom, dad, all the siblings with spouses and kids), we went to South Port. It’s the cutest town. Beautiful side walks and Cape Cod style houses overlooking the water, a year-round Christmas store, and some amazing places to eat. The trip was full of all the ups and downs you would expect from “too much togetherness”, but the highlight was taking all these photos together with all of us feeling content and happy and together.

I remember thinking then how odd it was that, at such a young age, my parents were able to see all of their children married and settled, and the pessimist in me wondered if that was something God allowed because they wouldn’t be around to see any of it long-term. At least for one of them, that became true. But it’s still a silver lining to me that we had this trip together in this special place, laughing and eating dinner, fighting and complaining. The things families do. So the comfort today was in seeing Julianne Hough stroll down the streets of this special place, imagining our little family in the background (minus Helen Keller’s husband from the photo below, who was probably forced to take the picture). 

I know I can’t hide out in other people’s stories forever; eventually I’ll have to submit to the whims of my own. But for today, Safe Haven is an actual Safe Haven, and me and Mary Ann will be hiding in South Port if you’re looking for us. 

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