Finally, we have seen "E.T." This was no small undertaking. We had to go all the way to the Outer Banks of North Carolina to find a movie theatre that didn't have a line all the way to the parking lot of people wanting to see "E.T."
I had been warned by friends that everyone cries at "E.T.", so I was prepared to bring the Kleenex. But no one warned me about what would happen to my daughter.
Our first attempt to see "E.T." began on a rainy Sunday morning early this summer. It was the kind of rainy Sunday morning that promised to turn into a rainy Sunday afternoon. Soon, I was consulting the movie guide. Determined to outfox the crowds, I packed up the younger children and took them to the 11 a.m. movie. It is a well-known fact of suburban life that no suburban parents take kids to the 11 a.m. movie on Sundays. This, I can now report, is wrong. By the time we arrived at 10:30 a.m., the line had extended across the shopping mall and an usher was breaking the news that the 11 a.m. show was sold out. We never succeeded in seeing "E.T." the rest of the summer, and the chorus of voices demanding that I keep my promise got louder.
We did not, of course, go all the way to the Outer Banks simply to see "E.T." I went for solitude and relaxation. The older children went for sunworshipping and action. By noontime on the fourth day the action was in the blackened sky. "Let's go to see 'E.T.,' " my 6-year-old suggested brightly.
To which my husband responded: "There are now 10,000 families on the Outer Banks deciding to take the kids to see 'E.T.' " The next show was at 2 p.m. We dispatched a delegation of teen-agers to get tickets. At 1:30 they returned with the news that on the Outer Banks, they don't start selling tickets until a half hour before the show starts. (You might be wondering why one of the teen-agers didn't stay behind to get tickets, which only proves you have never had teen-agers.) Soon, we were off to the theater, convinced the 2 o'clock show would be sold out. We wheeled into the parking lot. It was almost empty. A miracle occurred: We got in.
My daughter the 3-year-old sat clutching her blanket, her eyes never leaving the screen. It was hard to tell how much she understood, but she was being quiet and what more can the mother of a 3-year-old ask for? My son the 6-year-old sat on the other side of me, entranced. Suddenly, on the screen, the little boy and "E.T." flew on a bike. Silhouetted, they soared across the full moon and headed toward the ground. At that moment, a piercing wail filled the movie theatre.
It was my daughter.
"What's wrong?" I said, panicking. Tears streamed down her face. Anguish filled her voice. "They hurt themselves," she hollered. Not until she saw the little boy and E.T. go merrily off did she calm down. Soon, I was again lost in the movie, and soon, as E.T.'s condition deteriorated, so did mine. The first tears gathered and soon I was weeping copiously. Suddenly, another enormous wailing sound filled the theater.
It was my daughter, broken-hearted that E.T. was dying. I, having not seen the movie before, could only assure her that it is supposed to have a happy ending. Gradually, she quieted down. When E.T. came back, she was overjoyed.
But when E.T.'s rescuers came to get him, she fell apart. As the rest of the audience wept silently in the tender farewell scene, she wailed as though her heart would never mend. No assurances that E.T. would be happier on his own planet would do. As the lights went on and the audience filed out, she wept on and on. Minutes passed and still she cried, sobs wracking her little body, her eyes awash with tears, at times getting herself together enough to choke out, "I don't want him to go home." The deluge lasted nearly 10 minutes.
"E.T.," said my 6-year-old, was a love story, and it was clear my daughter had fallen in love. Two days later she heard a bar of the theme music on the radio in the beach house and rushed into the room where the music was coming from. "Where's E.T.?" she asked, staring expectantly at the radio. Explanations about what movies are and how radios work are meaningless to her. Her heart has been captured by a gentle, funny little creature. He is by any standard ugly, but it is part of the magic of childhood that she, like the little boy in the movie, never noticed.