The First Act

The First Act

 

In a park, the author as a young girl is shown with her father, who lifts her off the ground above him, one arm in each hand; a green conversation bubble reading "¡Sorpresa!" is imposed above their heads; trees and amusement-park rides are in the background.

As I waited in line at the checkpoint in the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport I looked back and saw my dad. In that moment he became a living reminder of everything I was about to leave behind for the next five months: my family. That was the instant when the excitement that was running through my veins mixed itself with a cold, unexplainable feeling that I was unfamiliar with. I knew that the sensation came from the fact that I was leaving my family in one of their most vulnerable states ever, mainly my dad.

At the time, he was working a sixteen-hour shift every day at the hospital only to go back to Naguabo to a house without electricity. His sole form of entertainment came from his Nintendo Switch, which he used to charge while he was working. While planning my arrival to New York, I was constantly worrying what would become of his health and emotional state during my absence. The fact is that my dad works too much to have such a thing as a social life. Most of the time his only interactions come from his coworkers and me, his only daughter.

So, as I stood in line, I wondered how our dynamic would change during my time away, but the one thing I felt sure I could always count on was our mutual love for movies.

I was very young when my parents decided to separate, so I did not understand the reasoning behind their decisions regarding my daily life. The only thing I knew for sure was that I was going from living with my dad to seeing him only some weekends. Even though I know that this must have been hard on him, I find our weekend visits at the time one of the most memorable parts of our relationship. During this time together, our bond began to grow greatly, and so did my love for movies. We would spend our days together either watching a rented movie at home eating a bowl of ramen or just going out to the movie theater.

Most of the time we would watch movies meant for children like Cats and Dogs (2001), Brother Bear (2003), and The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl (2005). However, there were moments when my Dad grew tired of this and presented me with a new genre. This led to my dislike of horror. He decided it was a clever idea for me to see things like Final Destination 2 (2002) and Seed of Chucky (2004) at an age where I still was sleeping on a bed that was not my own. One particular film, the only exception to my dislike of the genre, that got me into a lot of trouble with my mom was Van Helsing (2004). For some strange and unknown reason, I was obsessed with the Hugh Jackman movie to the point that I would watch it repeatedly on a weekly basis. It got so bad that I started having awful nightmares about Richard Roxburgh dressed as Dracula every night. After that, and the earful he got from my mom, Dad started thinking twice about the movies I would watch with him.

Dad also introduced me to a different type of animated movie at an early age, international ones. He grew up watching anime and movies based on it, so that meant that, as his only child, I would too. When I stayed over, and we did not have a rented movie to see, we would watch hours of anime. At the time, I did not know English, so I could not read the subtitles or understand the Japanese dialogue. I was stuck in front of the television wondering what the characters were saying and what was going on. At first, I pretended that I knew because my Dad seemed happy to be seeing something unrelated to the Barbies, but over time I grew familiar with them and even got to enjoy them. We did not watch the classic Japanese animated films like Spirited Away (2001) or Princess Mononoke (1997). Instead, we repeatedly watched Naruto the Movie: Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow (2004) until I understood what was happening from seeing it so frequently. Because of this, my Dad got what he wanted, I became a fan of the genre without knowing what fandom was. To this day I still keep up with some of it.

When I started middle school, our dynamic changed once again. I stopped staying over at his house on the weekends as much as I used to, which is something I regret now. Things like his work and my desire to spend more time with friends intervened. However, I was able to see him every Thursday at the local movie theater in Las Piedras, which had become our second home. We would go every week on opening night and pay six dollars each to see the latest blockbuster, whether we knew about it or not. One summer, on the week he had off from work, we saw every single movie at our theater just because we could. At this point, Dad guessed that I was old enough to see more mature movies, since he stopped bothering to check the ratings. The new adjustment to our movie-going was that whenever a shocking and explicit scene came around he would just cover my eyes until it was over. He seemed to forget about my ears.

It was also during this time that I became a teenager, and that brought even more changes to the father-daughter relationship that we already knew. At this point, I wanted to see more movies of my own choosing, different from the ones that my Dad usually selected. There were also moments when I started to imagine what it would be like to share my dad with a sister or brother. This came from the fact that I am an only child on my father’s side, but also the youngest of three on my mother’s side. I would watch my siblings go out with their dad and have each other as company while I had no one near my age to share all these moments with Dad. Even though I loved going to the movies with my dad, I wished it were not just the two of us. I started to compare us to other families and found that what began as something fun suddenly turned awkward for me for the first time. There was a new sense of distantness in the air every time that we sat down in the theater. Despite that, we would still manage to find common ground in the movies that we both enjoyed. I remember watching Grown Ups (2010) with him and having such a good time because I had never seen my father laugh so hard.

When I got to high school, things got even more complicated, as they tend to. We still went to the movie theater, but I was no longer fascinated by his choices. Action movies, like Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014), turned repetitive, boring, and even void of life in some cases. The movies that were meant to be funny, like A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014), were dimwitted and humorless. Nevertheless, I found myself charmed by musicals and drama films. I remember having to beg my Dad to go see Saving Mr. Banks (2013) and Cinderella (2015) with me.

It was only when he fell asleep in the middle of Into the Woods (2014) that I realized that we were losing common ground in what was once our thing. When Toy Story 3 was released in 2010 we exchanged roles. I refused to go see the movie for some reason that I do not remember, and he was the one doing the convincing. Until this day, I still have not seen the movie, but my dad did, with his friend, which is something he likes to remind me of every once in a while.

Just when I thought that our movie-going days were over, Marvel came with its superhero flair and saved them, literally. Dad grew up reading comics, so when this golden age of superhero films came to be, to say that he was ecstatic would not be enough. I guess that for him it was the closest thing he had to relive a part of his childhood and he wanted to share that with me. He took me to see every single Marvel movie on opening night starting from the first Iron Man (2008) to Logan (2017). With every film that I watched from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the other unfortunate subdivisions, I came to have the same excitement for the franchise as my dad. Because of this, every time we went out together all our conversation ended on the topic of comics and their portrayal on the big screen. Over the years, we formed the tradition of going to all the Marvel premieres together and with no one else. If my brother asked me to go with him I would tell him no. If my friends invited me to go with them, I would politely decline and proudly inform them that I was going with my dad. It got to the point where my friends and other family members stopped asking me altogether. Little did I know that this was a very sharp double-edged knife. On the week that Doctor Strange (2016) came out, I was too occupied with my first year of college to go on opening night. My dad decided to go without me and watch it in 4D. At the time, this was the greatest offense he could ever make, and, to tell the truth, just thinking about it revives that old, immature anger. I responded by not speaking to him for over a week. The worst of all was that I never got to see it in a movie theater. I saw it on Netflix.

What I find funny was that he realized that I was no longer a child while watching Deadpool (2016). During the four-minute-long sex scene, he tried to cover my eyes, only for me push his hand away. When he turned to face me, I could see the disbelief in his eyes, to which I responded in a whisper, “Dad, I am eighteen. I think I know how it works.”

Coming to New York has been hard. The weather is always indecisive, and the movie tickets are more expensive than I thought they would be, but mostly I just miss my family. Before coming here, I thought that living in New York City was going to be a fun experience, and it is. I just did not realize how I isolated I would feel most of the time. While being here, I learned how distancing a phone call can be and that a video call is not nearly enough.

While I began to write this, my dad called and, sure enough, we started talking about the latest movies that we had seen individually. In both of our cases, it was Ready Player One (2018). I am content that despite the fact that we are so far away from each other we still find a way to connect, even if we talk for just a few minutes.

For most people, watching a movie is just a simple hobby, a fun pastime to do occasionally. But for me, it always been and will be more than that. It is what connects me to my dad. I got to know him through the movies that he liked, and he got to see me grow up in a different way than my mom did. Me being so far from home has been difficult on both of us. I find it weird to go see a movie without him. Every time I do, the first person I call or text to talk about it is him. We may no longer like the same movies, but the bond that was created because of them will always be there. I can proudly say that no matter how many years pass and how many fights we have, Dad will always be my favorite person to see movies with. I am so grateful to him for introducing me to the magic that is motion pictures, because without them my life would be more tedious than it is.

A selfie of the author, now a teenager, and her father, in a video store; racks of DVDs and video games are visible in the background

 
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