The other day I watched My Girl on Netflix.
On purpose. #gluttonforpunishment
I’d been eyeing it for a while.
It kept popping up when I scrolled through my Netflix options – taunting me.
I’ve seen it before.
My brother and I saw it when it was first released in theaters. I believe it was a Thanksgiving weekend, and I was home with the family. We saw the trailer, thought we had chosen a comedy starring Macaulay Culkin (a trailer used to hold the plot of the film secret), and were excited to see something funny together.
Boy, were we wrong.
This is a story about an eleven-year old girl named Vada who lives with her father and grandmother in their home that also serves as a funeral parlor AND an embalming center (pretty much exactly like my own Mississippi family’s business.) Vada’s mother died just two days after she was born, leaving her devastated father to raise the baby alone.
He did the best he could, I think, but certainly little Vada grew up feeling the loss of her mother… and blamed herself for that loss.
Vada had one friend – a little boy named Thomas J. They did pretty much everything together and told each other all the intimate details of their inner lives – as much as any eleven-year old girl and eight-year old boy can do.
Tragically, and completely out of nowhere for the viewer, Thomas J is killed by an allergic reaction to the dozens of bee stings he receives after messing around with a hive.
By the time all the adults have gathered for Thomas J’s funeral and Vada, completely devastated, disrupts the ceremony with a brutal breakdown over the loss, my brother and I were completely undone. Like, moaning with sobs kind of undone.
So undone that I had to pull my car over to the side of the road as we were driving home. It’s not super safe to drive when you can’t see through your tears.
I’m sorry if I’m spoiling the movie for you, but this has been out since 1991, so I’m not that sorry.
Of course My Girl opened the floodgates of my usually locked-up-tight emotions. I knew it would. In fact, I watched it for that very reason. I needed the release I knew it would bring.
Every once in a while I’ll do the same thing with Steel Magnolias. Or Fried Green Tomatoes. Or E.T.
Dear God…E.T. When Elliot is ripping off his heart monitor and blood pressure cuff while screaming, “He came to ME! He came to ME!” I just can’t.
There’s something about familiar pain. Especially when it belongs to someone else.
I struggle to access my own emotions. Well, that’s not entirely true. Anger is always within reach. I can grab hold of that one with alarming ease. But other emotions – particularly the emotions that spring from sadness – feel inaccessible most of the time. I have a tendency to lock that part of myself up and forget where I hid the key. #sorrynotsorry
Not that I don’t sometimes cry. I do.
But not often for myself.
Sometimes, though, I can use the familiar heartache I feel for Vada as she tries to wrap her 11-year old self around the loss of her best friend, Thomas J, as an access point to the repressed grief and anguish of my own heartaches and losses which for some reason don’t feel familiar to me at all.
It’s a decent work-around.
And maybe someday my own child self will feel familiar enough to me to allow me access to those emotions without the work-around.