Sunday, February 7, 2010
A Manufactured Life
Today, while getting ready for my job as a hostess at a chain restaurant that entails me pulling on a uniform that makes me look like I should be scanning your Tampax at Target, I got sucked into a favorite movie from my youth: An Officer and a Gentleman.
For those of you too young to know, (and I can’t believe I have friends too young to share this knowledge with me)…but the actor Richard Gere used to exist without gray hair. He used to be kind of gritty and dirty and vulerable in a real enough way that made him believable in this life-changing part as a guy from the wrong side of the tracks who does right and becomes a charming Naval Officer.
But I’m not here to talk about how good Gere was in this film and how he went from being an Officer to a Gentleman, even though he did a great job at being both.
I’m here to say that as I stood in my bedroom in my own uniform, flat-ironing my now-graying hair, I heard the young Debra Winger character say something to Richard Gere ‘s soon-to-be Officer character that stopped me in my tracks.
She was talking about the factory in which she currently worked with her best friend. A factory just outside of town. I don’t even think the screenwriters ever tell you what it was the factory manufactured. Just that it was a factory where people worked their lives out, and where they presumably toiled until they died.
The line that stopped me was a line I’d never heard before, even though I’ve seen this movie approximately 15 times in my life. The line was:
“My mom is almost thirty-nine years old and has been working in this factory for her whole life.”
I know writers are always yammering on about how someone’s heart stopped. How her heart stopped, or his did, or the cat’s did or the whole world’s did.
And I know it is cliché.
But mine did too. As I stood there, almost thirty-nine years old, stepping into black, hideous, non-skid shoes, a pair of tan pants, and a threadbare red t-shirt, on my way my own factory… mine did too.
I hadn’t heard that line before, or cared much about it, because it wasn’t relevant to me, and now, suddenly, it was. And it made me view that film in a whole new light. Not as a hopeful, young and naïve girl, waiting for her hero to come to the factory to sweep her away from the hopelessness, but as a 38-year-old woman who knows better.
This woman who knows better finally understands that no officer or gentleman, or soul mate, or pr-job, or overseas adventure, or 401-k plan, or god for that matter, can ever truly change the rules of the game. A woman who knows better knows that no matter what happens, the compromised life she climbs into is hers, and hers alone, as long as she continues to choose to climb into it.
The Officer and a Gentleman movie now made me mad and irritated and snarly, for all of the right reasons---which is how most truths tend to come at you. Truth tends to rise from the shit festering way out in left field, where the seepage and roughage of life tends to settle.
And from there it beckons and taunts and dares you to wear it, like an armor.
And if you are courageously dumb enough to do so...that shit might one day, when you are not even looking for it, when you are not even caring about it,...when you are not even remembering why it even existed in the first place... but that truth, cloaked in the most foul-tasting shit, may set you free.
Tara Elizabeth Callahan