Mike’s Movie Bonding Experience
Hawkins, Indiana, 1975.
Mike - 4, Nancy- 8.
Breakfast at the Wheeler’s house consisted of a lot of delicious food on the table like bacon, eggs and waffles. Dad had his face buried in a newspaper and Mom was talking about her plans for the day. Mike sat next to his big sister, Nancy. She was in a hurry to eat because she didn’t want to be late for school. Mike hated it when Nancy went to school because that meant he had nobody to play games with for a long long time.
Mom said Mike only had to go to pre-school three days a week but Nancy had to go to big-kid school for five whole days. Even when Mike went to school, he was always home before Nancy. So that meant he had to spend more time by himself.
This morning, in particular, Nancy was eating faster than normal because she had show and tell. Last night, Mom helped Nancy look for the perfect item. After eight thousand hours of searching, they finally settled on a beautiful necklace that Nancy had since the day she was born. The necklace was a pair of ballet slippers, which was supposed to represent beauty and luck.
Mike didn’t care about beauty but ever since Nancy started school, she seemed to care about her appearance. She was always asking Mom if she thought she was pretty. Mike didn’t care if his big sister was pretty or ugly. He just wanted her to be happy and to pay attention to him.
“Nancy look.” Mike said for the millionth time that morning. He had organized his eggs into a smiley face. The piece of bacon he resisted eating was curled into a smile. Truly, he had out done himself. This was a work of art. But Nancy wasn’t paying any attention to him. She was too busy talking about her stupid school.
“It’s just, what if Rachel brings in the same thing? A necklace isn’t that uncommon.”
“But a necklace with ballet slippers is uncommon. I doubt she will have that.”
“Can you help me pick out what clothes to wear?” Nancy’s eyes were desperate, as if her life was at stake based on her outfit choice. “I don’t want to embarrass myself.”
“Of course, sweetie.” Mom agreed.
“Nancy. Look.” Mike tugged at her purple pj sleeve.
She merely swatted him off like a fly, not even bothering to look at him. “Do you think we could go shopping together, after school? I love shopping with you, Mom.”
Mike could see his mother’s heart flutter. She smiled, a genuine smile. Putting her hand to her chest. It was no surprise, she agreed to take Nancy shopping.
Giving up on his eggman, Mike bit the bacon mouth in half. It was salty and crunchy, just the way Mike liked it.
By the time breakfast was finished, Mom put the dishes in the sink, and Nancy ran upstairs to get her backpack. Pretty soon they were out the door, leaving Mike alone with his father.
Maybe Dad will want to play with him. Most of the time he doesn’t want Mike to bother him. But every once and a while, he would set up a model airplane or train and he would let Mike play with it.
“Hey Dad? Can we play with the choo-choo train again?”
Ted sighed, pushing down his glasses and peering over his morning paper. “I would have to set it up, son. It would take too long.”
“I could help set it up.” Mike suggested, “Maybe it would go faster.”
“But Dad -“
“No means no.”
“What if I set it up myself?” Mike tried. He was never one to give up easily.
“You will not touch my model train without my permission, understand?” Mike nodded quickly. “Why don’t you go play with your legos?”
So Mike did. He built a house, and a fire truck, and he even had a superhero. It was actually his Batman action figure, but Mike called him a different name, one he made up all by himself so it would fit the fireman story. He called him Jumping Flames. He loved making up names and stories. The only problem was, it was no fun to make up a story if no one else was going to listen to it.
With this in mind, he wondered back downstairs to find his parents. His Dad was nowhere to be found, so he was probably at work, and his mom was sitting at her desk making phone calls.
When Mom was sitting at the desk, she considered that her ‘office space.’ According to mom, she was at work when she was sitting at her desk and Mike was to never, ever disturb her unless it was an emergency.
But she didn’t look busy. Besides, this was an emergency. Mike was bored.
“Momma. Do you want to hear this amazing story I created?”
“Not now, Michael. Mommy’s in the middle of something.”
“But it’s really good. I made an entire town out of legos and then I made a story about it. I figured I could act it out while I tell it to you so it will be like watching TV.”
“Michael!” His mom was using her stern voice now. When she turned to him, she had a finger over her lips, while making a shushing sound. The phone was glued to her ear.
“I’m sorry, what were you saying? Oh that would be perfect. Let me write down your name and contact information.”
Rolling his eyes, Mike stomped out of the room all the way to his bedroom. He slammed the door shut for emphasis. His mom didn’t even bother to scold him for it.
A few more hours passed and Mike was busy playing with his race cars. He loved making them crash into things. But that simple task could not keep him occupied, so he went into the living room. The TV looked tempting. The screen was pitch black with the promise of cartoons. A glance at the clock on the wall confirmed Mike’s suspicions: the X-men were on.
He watched TV all the way until Nancy came home.
Mike heard his sister scream, so he took off running. When he reached the kitchen, he saw Nancy hugging mom. She pulled away, to grab mom’s hands, then jumped up and down with her, screaming again.
“It was amazing!” She squealed like a mouse. He watched as the two walked side by side towards the living room couch.
“I want to hear all about it.” Mom said. They sat down on the cushions, so Mike figured he would join them. He tried to squeeze himself onto his sister’s lap but she gently pushed him.
“Not now, Mike. I’m talking to Mom. Go play somewhere else.”
Mike slowly trotted back up to his room, where he sat in his bed and stared at the wall. Stupid wall. He kicked it for good measure. Some more time passed and Mike ended up taking a small nap.
When he woke, he heard Mom shouting to Dad about how she and Nancy were leaving to go shopping.
“Make sure you watch Mike.” Then the door closed.
Mike stared at the blank wall for a few minutes, sulking, before an idea stuck him. He smirked at the blue wall in his bedroom, then he leaped off of the bed.
He went to the kitchen and searched the drawers. It took him a while to find them, but he spotted them at last. The crayon box was shoved hastily underneath a heap of magazines. Once he snatched them, he made his way to his parents bedroom.
Immediately, he fished his favorite colors out of the bag. Blue and green and red. He looked at the boring white walls. That was just not appealing. He needed to make it look pretty, like Nancy likes to do with her dresses. He decided it was time to decorate.
For a while, he colored attentively, careful not to mess anything up. He loved pounding the crayon against the wall. It made a fascinating sound, something Mike’s never heard before, and the crayon was more bumpy, not smooth like when he colored on paper. He was making a rocket ships, stars, and the moon. Most of his drawings looked like scribbles, but he had a few good stars in there. His pre-school teacher said he was good at making shapes.
He was so invested in his drawing he lost track of time. Before he knew it, the sun had set and Mom’s car made a honking sound in the driveway.
But he wasn’t done yet. He only colored part of their wall. The whole rest of the room had to be decorated. So Mike had to quickly color on different parts of the wall. He settled for dragging one crayon with him as he ran around the room. Then he did it again with another crayon.
“Ted, I bought some fried chicken. I figured we could just heat it up since it’s so late.”
Mom’s voice was getting closer. Suddenly the door opened, and Mom physically jumped back. Her mouth went slack, and her eyes widened with surprise. It only lasted a second though. Soon Mom’s face turned red, and she was clenching her jaw tightly.
“TED!” She boomed. Mom’s voice echoed through the entire house, sending shivers down Mike’s spine. Why was Mom using her angry voice?
Mike watched as his mother entered the room, and went to inspect his drawing. She threw a hand over her mouth, her eyes glistening.
When Dad walked in the room a moment later, he had the same surprised expression. “Oh my.” He whispered. Then Dad turned his eyes on Mike.
“What is wrong with you?” Dad yelled, causing Mike to flinch. Why was Dad angry? “You know better than to color on the walls! We told you to never do that.”
They did? Mike didn’t remember them telling him that, but Dad was angry and Mom looked disappointed so Mike must have messed up badly. His lower lip started to wobble.
“Don’t yell at him, Ted.” Mom said. “I told you to watch him.”
“Oh this is my fault.” Dad yelled.
“Yeah. You were supposed to watch him!” Mom screamed louder than Dad.
“I did watch him.” Dad shouted louder than Mom.
At the increased volume of the shouting match, Mike started bawling. Both of his parents were shouting and it was all his fault.
“Obviously, you didn’t watch him, because our walls are freaking green!” Karen clenched her fists. “I’m not even mad about the walls. Whatever. We can paint over them. But what if he was playing with the electrical outlets? Or was playing with our cleaning supplies? Or God forbid he touched one of the knives in the kitchen, since he apparently got into the kitchen cabinets for his crayons.”
“The knives were nowhere near his crayons. Besides, he knows better than to play with that other stuff.”
“He knows better than to color on the walls too!” Mom groaned, tugging at her hair. “You’re not understanding the point of this. He was your responsibility tonight.”
“Maybe you should have taken him with you when you went shopping.”
Karen scoffed, walking hastily towards Mike. “Next time, I will.” She said, as she scooped Mike up and held him to her hip.
As she walked down the stairs, Karen noticed Mike’s crying was increasing.
“Shhh. I’m not angry at you. But crayons aren’t made for the walls, honey. No more drawing on the walls, okay?”
Mike nodded vigorously, and Mom sat with him on the couch. She started bouncing him on her knee, a gesture that calmed him most of the time. Mike smiled politely, with wet eyes and trembling hands, before he nuzzled his head into his mom’s neck.
“It’s okay, Michael. No one is angry at you.”
“I d-didn’t me-mean to.”
“Shhh. I know,” His Mom was rocking him now. Mike could see through a thick batch of tears his big sister poke her head out from the dining room. He felt like he had to tell Nancy and Mom why he was coloring on the walls, so he gave the best explanation he could.
“I was bored and no one wanted to spend time with me anymore, so I thought if I decorated your room...you would want to spend time with me again. I didn’t mean to make you and Daddy hate each other.” He croaked, and Karen all but whined his name as she engulfed her son in a hug. Her hands found Mike’s back, fingers slipping underneath the hem of his shirt, and drawing circles to sooth him. Tiny droplets of water fell from his face onto Mom’s neck.
“Hey, hey, hey, you did not make Mommy and Daddy hate each other, okay?” Karen explained. “We were having a disagreement, but that is not your fault.”
“I’m sorry I told you to go away today,” Nancy chimed in, tentatively walking into the living room as if she was afraid to intrude. “I guess I wasn’t there for you, and I should have been.”
“No it’s okay, Nancy.” Mom said, wrapping her arm around Nancy’s shoulder. “I should have played with him today too. But I’ll make it up to you, Michael. How about a mother and son movie night, tomorrow? Does that sound like fun?”
Mike sniffed, rubbing at his eyes with his fist. “Yes.” He whispered. “Can we watch any movie.”
“Sure,” Mom agreed. “Any movie you want.”
A smile crept through on Mike’s face and his mom kissed his forehead. “Next time, I’m taking you with me if I go out for an errand.” She muttered to herself.
When Mike went to the table to get ready for dinner, he overheard Nancy and Mom talking.
“What did he do?” His big sister asked.
“He colored on my bedroom walls.”
“Oh thank God he didn’t go into my room.” Nancy mumbled earning a playful swat from mom.
“Is he gonna have to sit in the corner?”
“Nah. I think he was traumatized enough. Besides, I really don’t think he knew it was wrong. But if he does it again, he’ll be living in that corner.”
Dad came downstairs fifteen minutes later with a wet sponge. “Most of it came off already. It’s no big deal, you just have to scrub really hard. You’re giving me a workout, son.”
On Friday evening, Karen and Mike walked into the Hawkins Cinema. She was holding his hand, making sure he didn’t run off and touch anything he wasn’t supposed to. Everything in the theater was shiny and new to Mike. His senses were going crazy, and he almost felt too overwhelmed. After wanting to pull his Mom in a few directions, he settled for clinging to her side. There was a loud group of teens laughing so hard they looked like the joker with his excessive smile. Mike moved even closer to his mom’s side when they passed the group of teens, but he couldn’t take his eyes off of them.
“Okay, Michael. What do you want to see?”
Mike realized Mom was standing in front of the list of movies. Luckily for Mike there were pictures so he could see what movie he thought looked interesting.
When he saw the picture of a shark, his mind flashed to Nancy’s friends talking and giggling about this scary movie called Jaws.
Barb said she hated it, and was terrified the whole time. But Ally said it was the most thrilling movie ever with great climatic suspense (whatever that means) and awesome music.
“I want to see that one,” Mike pointed at it, then looked to his mother with hopeful eyes.
“Jaws? You want to see Jaws?” Karen started laughing. “Michael, that’s a horror movie.”
“Ally and Barb saw it.”
“Well Ally and Barb’s parents must be crazy. I would never let Nancy see it.”
“But Mommy, you promised I could watch any movie I want.”
Karen bit her lip, realizing quickly that she dug herself into a hole. “Don’t you want to see Escape to Witch Mountain?”
“No. I want to see Jaws.”
Of all the movies, her four-year-old son has to pick a horror movie with a killer shark. She really shouldn’t let him see it. But she was trying to teach him the importance of a ‘promise’ and keeping your word, so she figured she pretty much had to let him see it.
Walking over to the ticket desk, Karen purchased two tickets to Jaws, a large popcorn and two icees.”
“Momma, look!” Karen glanced at him, watching as Mike walked into the theater on the lit up path of lights as if it was a tightrope.
“Ok. Come on.” She pushed, growing tired of his antics.
“It’s loud.” Mike mumbled when the previews came on. He followed Karen obediently and sat when she sat, his little bony legs dangling off the seat.
She passed him the bag of popcorn and helped him take off his jacket. She bent down and pulled out a few baby wipes from her purse. “Here sweetie.” She said, grabbing his buttery hands within her own.
Soon the lights dimmed, and Karen sat back in her seat, grabbing the popcorn. The screen flashed brightly, and the music was even louder as the movie began.
They sat, engrossed, barely noticing the popcorn that failed to make it to their slack mouths. When the screen fell to black Karen’s body became rigid. Silences never lasted long at the movies, merely tools to heighten the drama. The next moment was maximum intensity: loud, bright, fast, shocking. Karen was back in her seat, eyes open wide. She was so intrigued by the movie that she didn’t pick up on her son’s shaking posture.
When he let out the tiniest whimper, Karen turned her attention on him.
“Michael,” She whispered gently, “If this is too scary for you, we can leave.”
Mike’s larger than life eyes, landed on his mom, but he shook his head. “I’m okay, Mommy.”
He turned back to the screen to try and bear it, but when a person was eaten by a shark, Mike couldn’t handle it anymore. Nancy’s friends were full of pudding because this was not fun at all.
“Mommy,” Mike tugged at her sleeve, “Can we go?”
“You really want to leave?” He nodded. Karen grinned, a satisfied ‘I-told-you-so’ grin. “Okay honey. Let’s go.”
When they were out of the theater, Karen was holding his hand and walking towards the exit. Mike was about to throw his popcorn away at the trash can, but Karen stopped him.
“I have an idea. We can still spend time together and have a movie night, but we can do it at home.”
“And we can watch a nice movie, and not a scary one.” Mike suggested, and his mom kissed his forehead.
“That sounds good to me.”
Once the Volkswagen pulled into the Wheeler’s Driveway, Karen unbuckled Mike from his car seat and told him to pick out a movie. The little boy raced inside, clutching his icee tightly as he ran.
Karen closed the door quietly and locked it behind her. “Ted?” She called out, noticing he wasn’t in his typical chair.
She looked towards the top of the stairs and saw Nancy standing there.
“Oh you are home,” Nancy said. “I thought I saw you pull up. How did your movie go?”
Karen snorted. “Oh I have a story to tell you later. But first, let me have some alone time with your brother, okay? We have to finish our movie night because it was cut short.”
“Okay. Sure. I can’t wait to hear about what he did this time. But I am organizing the books in my bedroom anyway so that should take me a while.”
Karen smiled. “Alright. I’ll come up to say goodnight and then we can talk.” She said, watching as Nancy nodded her head then disappeared down the hall.
“Alright, Michael. What movie did you pick?”
“Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” He said, handing her the VHS tape.
“Oh, I think that’s a wonderful choice.” She said as she popped it in the VHS player. The static screen changed to a bright blue and then soon the picture came into focus.
Karen sat on the couch with Mike and handed him the container of popcorn. “Round two.” She said, snuggling close to him. Mike smiled, absorbing all of the love he felt like he missed out on yesterday.
“Momma, I like this better.” He said, rubbing his face against her side.
“Me too.” She agreed.
They focused on Charlie and his family, cheering for him when he found the golden ticket.
Mike was feeling so happy it was like he won the golden ticket himself.