Instincts

“Excuse me, excuse me,” I hear to the left. It’s the guy, carrying nothing but a plastic shopping bag. He pushes past a family of five at the end of our row, and then sidles by me and stumbles over my purse. He pitches forward.

memoir

“Excuse me, excuse me,” I hear to the left. It’s the guy, carrying nothing but a plastic shopping bag. He pushes past a family of five at the end of our row, and then sidles by me and stumbles over my purse. He pitches forward. “Oh my gosh I’m so sorry!” escapes me automatically. He just looks up at me. I search for his eyes behind his round glasses. They reflect off his greasy skin and balding head and light being thrown from the big screen. Then he moves on, and plunks down in a seat two to my right. I look at Sam to my left and she shrugs, a little wary.

Tension creeps from the back of my next down my back all the way to my toes. I’m rigid. Weird. I don’t know why, this guy seems a little off. I tell myself to forget it and watch.

Yeah except he’s giving off the worst vibes, more threatening than anything I’ve ever felt. I’m suddenly hyper aware of everything he does. I keep trying to look right at the screen, but I’m completely overtaken by the urge to see what he’s doing. I stare straight ahead, my eyes as wide as I can make them.

He keeps shifting around. I glance sideways. He’s on the edge of his seat his head moving back and forth looking around at the crowd. Then he rocks back. Then forward again. Looks around again. Why isn’t he watching the movie…

My brain struggles to rationalize his behavior and override my body’s instinctive reaction. After all I’m supposed to be a mature adult. Surely I can handle myself.

He must be looking for someone. He really must. Why else would a middle-aged man come into a preteen girls’ movie three quarters of the way through and sit in the most crowded row? Wait, did I just decide he’s dangerous or something?No, because that would mean I was in danger, which didn’t make sense.

Then again there are weird people out there. Like people who do bad things. Things I’m trying so hard not to let come into my brain because I’m trying to not freak out.

“Hi, um, one ticket for Twilight Eclipse,” I had said to the girl behind the counter an hour ago.

I flipped my head around meeting Sam’s eyes. We shared that look, the one that’s stereotypical for best friends, the one that let me say, “Ok, that ticket was embarrassing to buy…” without having to say it out loud.

You know those last years of high school? The ones where you feel like you’ve outgrown your parents and your town and you want to be treated like an adult because you’ve started shopping at Express instead of Aeropostale and are becoming aware there’s a world out there greater than the 15-mile radius encompassing your house and favorite coffee place? That’s where I was when my dad dropped off my best friend Samantha and me at the movies. We weren’t even old enough to drive past nine, but we kinda ran away from the car so we wouldn’t be seen with a parent. I always wondered if people thought I was old enough to drive to these places myself.

Of course watching Twilight movies was a guilty pleasure, not because we thought they were actually good, but because we thought tearing apart the shitty writing, Kristen Stewart’s lazy eye, and the awkwardly intense fans was hilarious. After all that’s why the 10:45pm show on a Tuesday was so convenient...hopefully we wouldn’t disturb too many people with our smart-ass remarks.

Through the doors, the smell of popcorn engulfed us. I showed my ticket to the ticket-taker. God I wished they didn’t have to read what movie I was seeing. For some reason it mattered that this random kid didn’t take me for a Twilight superfan. “Theater 14, straight ahead then take a left,” he mumbled, looking at the floor.

We found seats in the middle. It was super empty like we hoped.

People continued trickling in but it was still under a quarter full.

There were a few previews and the telltale mellow-dramatic song.

About three quarters of the way through is when I noticed the guy come in, wearing cargo shorts and carrying his plastic grocery bag.

And now the guy rocks forward again and rustles in that bag. I hear the plastic crinkle. I listen as his feet shift on the sticky ground. He rocks back again. I force a breath into my lungs. Hadn’t realized I was holding my breath. God this was dumb right? It was just a guy in a theater. I repeated this over and over and over.

How many times can you call yourself dumb before it becomes annoying? Pretty sure I blew by that mark.

Okay, but what if he pulled something out of the bag? I was going straight over the row in front of me and running out. Might as well make a plan, even if I’m overreacting.

Yet as much as I tried to calm down, I couldn’t help but think that girls who get kidnapped or people who are victims of subway bombings or shootings, well they probably weren’t thinking that would happen when they left the house that morning. That’s just something you read about in the papers and then feel sad for eight seconds before running out the door. I don’t want to be in the paper.

The movie is coming to an end, and I’m still a statue. If this guy is as dangerous as my instincts say, he’s running out of time to do anything. They talk about dying in the movie and my chest constricts. The screen goes black between scenes. That black screen is agonizing. Since when do they put three hour breaks in between scenes? The next scene starts. Made it.

I can see Sam’s eyes now. Just like me the movie has become nothing. We share a look, like before not needing words to convey what we’re thinking. But this time it isn’t so light hearted.

She nudges me. “Wannamove?” she whispers. I hesitate.

I feel awkward, like moving would acknowledge there was something wrong. I’m supposed to be able to handle myself.

Sam knows me well though. “Come on, don’t worry about it,” she hisses. We slowly collect our stuff and get up, and invigorated by our own boldness we hurry to get to the aisle.

Okay okay we’re moving this is fine.

The guy gets up right behind us.

What the fuck, I think. This isn’t real.

We leap down the stairs and sprint down the tunnel. I look up. He’s followed us to the aisle and is peering over the staircase, watching us leave.

We run and we don’t stop.

“Ohmygod” Sam keeps saying. Is he still following us? We need someone in a uniform. That lowly ticket taker suddenly looks like a superhero, but he’s not far enough away from that guy. We keep going. I don’t think my mind really registered what my legs were doing. My body felt electrified, not in a good way but in a fried, frazzled way, in a way had overtaken me completely. That me of two hours ago probably wouldn’t have been caught dead running through a public place, calling all that attention to myself. This me? She didn’t give a shit. She just needed to get out of here as fast as possible.

We’re at the ticket office.

“There’s a guy in there.” The words are tripping over one another. “He followed us he’s just...” I don’t know what to say. We’re still kinda moving. Seems our bodies won’t let us stop. We must have looked really freaked out because the guy directs us to mall security. A thought crosses my mind, one I never would have imagined thinking.

“Thank God for mall cops.”