I just got back from the movie theater, and it was a profoundly shocking experience. How can a film adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars be so memorable as to obliterate the movie from my memory immediately? Well, for starters, we never got to the end.
My friends F and A and I decided that since we had all read the book, it would be fun to go together. F’s husband J and The Chancellor decided to see A Million Ways to Die in the West, a parody of a Western–so what transpired did not even faze that theater.We were only about five-ten minutes away from the end of the film, when we heard loud popping noises coming from what we thought was the theater next door. It’s pretty typical to hear a boom or two from the theater, especially an action or drama, but it kept happening. The theater began buzzing, as people began looking at each other, the movie completely forgotten. F, A, and I were not sure what was happening.
And then, it happened. A young woman, completely frightened, started screaming, and bolted. What ensued was a theater full of teens and adults pouring out of their seats in droves, exiting the theater and jamming the exits. I didn’t know what was happening. Was there a shooter on campus? Were those gunshots? Was The Chancellor okay? F, A, and I looked at each other as people began cramming the aisles, and our training kicked in. We crawled down and curled up behind the seats, waiting. Waiting. I felt calm and completely disconnected from my body, my adrenaline surging. I thought of very little except a prayer, that I would be calm for whatever happened next, and that The Chancellor would be okay.
It felt like forever, but was probably about the three longest minutes of my life, when several theater officials came in and told us that it was okay. That a hotel down the street had decided to let off fireworks in celebration (of what? we were not sure. A wedding, perhaps?), which caused the loud popping noises. The movie had been paused at this point, and the house lights slowly came on.
As we sat up slowly, processing what had just not happened, I began to cry. The fears and anxieties that surround us when we hear of these shootings, of the violence that sneaks up in our world, had pressed on my heart for a moment, and my mind was filled with images.
Of broken bodies, of blood, of guns, of hate, of terror, of fear.
It was too much.
While we were down, A had quietly called 911, and then explained about the fireworks the minute the theater officials came in. We glanced around the theater, and in the crammed full arena of about 300, only about 20 of us had stayed. The rest had panicked and fled. Had this terror been real, most of them would be injured or dead. That is frightening to me, truly more so than the actual realness of the event.
I am glad that F (a teacher), A (a chaplain), and I (another teacher) let our training and logic kick in, but I am sad that so many followed the herd.
It’s a sign of our times, that when we hear fireworks, we think of something much worse. We panic and flee, and risk trampling each other on our way out the door.
I’m still in a bit of shock, to be honest. But I have resolved a few things: first, to talk to my supervisor about getting some training for incoming teachers this fall and to reinforce safety protocols should this ever happen. And second, to tell my students this story, to teach them not to panic and run and risk their own lives in the process. To be safe and smart in scary situations.
Needless to say, I remember almost nothing about the film itself.