Someone once told me you should never threaten divorce unless you mean it. Well, I meant it when I said it. But an hour later, I didn’t mean it so much anymore. My husband, Bruce, and I were still in Wabash, Indiana, visiting my mother-in-law’s hometown, when we had an argument. It was our second day there, and I’d like to attribute the fight to the stress of travel, but Bruce and I can argue in a box, with a fox, on a stair, most anywhere. The only difference the trip made was that I could feel the presence of his parents, who are proper, conservative people. It made our arguing, even if his parents didn’t hear it, seem vulgar.
The fight, once again, was about how Bruce doesn’t listen to me. I don’t remember the specifics, but what usually happens is he’ll ask me about something I’ve just told him minutes earlier, revealing that he wasn’t listening. If it happened once in a while, that would be one thing, but it was epidemic. In most instances, the passage of time seems to dissolve the discord, like running warm water over a bucket of dried plaster. Other times, the conflict seems insurmountable, and I feel I can’t possibly spend the rest of my life with someone who would do or say such things. That’s how I felt that morning when I said, “Well, I want to make this clear. For the record. I hate that you don’t listen to me. It’s not right, it’s not fair, and if I one day leave you because of it, don’t say I never warned you.” As soon as I said it, I knew I shouldn’t have.
By early afternoon, we managed to put the argument behind us and went on a tour of Wabash with his parents. That night, we decided to go to a drive-in movie. The drive-in was operated by the Honeywell Foundation, and at a dinner party the night before, we’d met the man who ran it. In fact one of the treats he has as the foundation’s executive director, he said, is that he can sometimes play around with the drive-in’s old film projector.
On the way to the movie, Bruce and I got into another argument, about whether we had been going north or south on Route 13. We’ve been arguing a lot lately. And every time we do, I think about how we shouldn’t do it in front of our 15-month-old son, Eddie, and how shrill I must sound. A man and a woman can argue, but it’s often the sound of the woman’s voice one remembers.
When we got to the drive-in, we paid $7 each and pulled into the lot. We tuned the radio in to the appropriate station to hear the movie. We had arrived about 15 minutes late, but there were still some decent parking spots left. We pulled into one and following the lead of those around us, we got out of the car and lay down on the hood to watch the movie. Eddie was already asleep in the back seat of the car.
The film was The Avengers, and it was awful. About 20 minutes in, there’s a scene in which an orchestra is playing classical music, and you know the evil-doers are about to strike. Suddenly, a big black blob runs across the screen like there’s been some kind of attack, but it turns out it was the film getting caught in the projector and burning. We could see it bake and sizzle on the screen. The damaged piece of film remained on the screen for about five minutes. A few wispy bits of burnt acetate blew back and forth like stray hairs. Bruce took about 16 pictures of it with his telephone camera.
After a few minutes, there was an announcement that they were having technical difficulties. They were going to try to get the film running again but that it would probably take about 10 to 15 minutes. The announcer said if they couldn’t get it fixed, they would be refunding everyone’s money.
“Can’t they just show the next feature?” said the woman parked next to us. She was an obese woman sitting on a folding chair in front of her car. Her son, who was also large, sat next to her drinking soda out of a huge plastic cup.
Moments later, a second announcement came on saying the film could not be fixed and the theater would be refunding our money. Someone in the parking lot yelled, “What the crap?!?”
Before the announcement was even finished, cars began to line up at the exit. Within minutes, there was a sea of tail-lights about 100 cars long. We were at the theater for such a short period of time, it felt like we rushed to get there just in time to sit in traffic.
“I think we’re going to be here for a while,” Bruce said. “I wonder if they have enough money to refund everyone, or if there’s going to be a run on the bank because they spent all the money already.”
Bruce said he had been looking forward to walking to the concession stand and smelling some Indiana air.
“Now, all I smell is exhaust,” he said. “And we had the good fortune of meeting the man who’s responsible for this projector last night.”
Indeed, the executive director of the Honeywell Foundation was proud that the theater still used the old reel projectors. They were also more affordable. Replacing them with newer electronic ones would have cost about $60,000, he said.
I pictured the burnt bit of film on the screen.
“I guess there’s a fine line between an old fashioned projector and a heater,” I said.
I sat up and looked over at the line of cars. Just as it would get shorter, another 10 cars that had been waiting for traffic to subside would get on it, making the line grow longer again. On the other side of the parking lot, about six teenagers stood outside of their car and tossed around a glow-in-the-dark Frisbee.
I turned around and lay back down on the hood of our car. I listened to the sound of the cars on the main road outside the theater. They would swish as they went by. It sounded a little like the ocean.
As Bruce and I lay there next to each other staring up at the sky, he took my hand.
“There’s the Big Dipper,” he said. “Wait. Is that the Big Dipper or the Little Dipper?”
“I can never tell,” I said.
We continued to lay there staring up at the stars until almost all of the cars had gone.