I saw Heathers again last Friday night. I remembered how I went to it twice the first night it appeared in theaters. My friend Libby and I drove out to it in her ancient and enormous Cadillac DeVille, and as we left the theater, looked at each other in amazement and said, “Again.” And then after a cigarette, went back in.
Watching it, hearing the familiar phrases my friends and I had quoted so intensely over the years, as the characters said them, it was weird. It was like they were copying me and my friends, who had, of course, been copying them.
I was back in Amherst for the weekend, to drop some things off in storage that hadn’t fit into the apartment I share with my partner in New York (I prefer calling him my boyfriend as partner still sounds like maybe we just go home and look over contracts together). Fitting things into our apartment was a sort of miracle. Dustin, my boyfriend, was filming a short horror film in Concord, not too far away, and at the end of the weekend I would join him for the closing dinner and drive home the next day. He’s very talented, especially with the things of this world, and he can look at them and see ways of resolving their conflicts that are just not apparent to me or many others. Anyway, these things I was taking to storage were simply outside the realm of his considerable abilities but also mine. There was nothing to do with them except put them here.
There are things, as I said to friends at lunch today, that you both cannot have around you and cannot throw away. “Do you imagine a future where you bring them back into your life,” asked one of these friends. “Sort of,” I said. “If we get a house, sure.” My questioner was almost twenty years younger than me, and I know he thought I was some sort of hoarder. “Get rid of them?” he asked.
I shrugged. It’s no use explaining some things to people in their twenties, when time and the world will team-teach it to them all the same.
People kept asking me if I was enjoying the fall weather. Sort of, was the answer. The spectacle of the changing leaves was lost on me for most of the weekend, as if it was just too much to bother with, to enjoy it. I was busy. I was seeing friends, meeting babies for the first time, I even raked a friend’s yard out of some sort of mix of the desire to just do something physical and outdoors and repetitive and the pleasure of cleaning something.
As I left that friend’s yard, I drove down her dirt road toward the paved one that would take me back to town and stopped, as a wild turkey delicately stepped into the road and gave me the long eye. It was followed by approximately thirty others. It was hardly the first time I’ve seen one, but I felt a visceral pleasure at the sight of them. They wandered into the road, and I waited patiently as they crossed, one of them even pausing to give me what could only have been the wild turkey version of a flipped bird. And as they hauled into the woods, glossy and dark and headed who knows where in their huge numbers, I drove off, and as if they’d pulled a veil off my eyes, the fall and the sun setting and the light in the trees were all beautiful to me, and I became excited, even. I bought my boyfriend a pumpkin and some apples, drove to the storage place and realized, as I pulled in, that I had not remembered the number of the locker, having been there just the one time back when I was moving and leaving town.
The storage place is behind a motel there, and the clerks run both. The motel easily dated to the era of Heathers, and standing there, I felt like I was a character somewhere out of the sight of the main characters. If the filming had required extras to play things never filmed, in some insane theater of method acting that required, say, the world outside the film set to also be in on it, that was where I was. The desk clerk there had no power, he told me, to go into the manager’s files to find out what my number was. “It’s no problem,” I said, which was my way of not saying, That sounds super sketchy. The image of all of my rental fees going to the manager where he could skim them filled my head. “I’ll just try my key and I’m sure the lock it opens will be the one,” I said.
Twenty minutes later, as I stood looking at someone’s stuff that wasn’t mine, lit up by the headlights of my car, I understood that Masterlock keys will open locks that are not yours. I think they have just counted on the idea that no one would ever try to open someone else’s lock with their key. The sight of their Rubbermaid containers filled me with sadness, that I could even accidentally see them.
I went back to my clerk. He called his manager, and while he’d been very friendly to me, and acted as if of course everyone did this, he was instantly dismissive of me in the third person to his manager in tone. “Yeah, uh, there’s this guy here who forgot his locker number…” I said nothing because of course there was no way he was paid enough for the amount of acting he had to do with me and his manager. I couldn’t mind seeing behind the curtain.
As I went to lock my own locker up, I wondered if I minded, that someone else could just open this locker up. They would of course have to know the secret I had just discovered. It was just incredibly heavy and sturdy modern furniture you couldn’t steal without a rental truck, boxes of literary magazines, old notebooks. My key hadn’t opened all of the Masterlocks I’d put it into, just one besides mine. It would take someone else a series of tries with several different keys. It wasn’t exactly like it being safe, but it was good enough for now. I stopped in at the clerk one more time. “Tell people not to use Masterlocks,” I said, as I told him my story. His eyes went wide in a horror I didn’t feel, as if I’d told him all the lockers were just sort of…open. I saw him about to ask me which locker I’d opened. He didn’t. I didn’t offer it. It seemed like an invitation of a kind to tell him, that the people whose locker I’d opened would probably just accuse me of stealing something, when I’d just put the lock back on, and he seemed to realize this also as he stopped himself. And so I just waved goodnight, enjoying our mutual recognition of the way people are, and drove off to bring my boyfriend home.
*When I drafted this post, without a title, it came up with the randomly assigned post number “1989”, the year Heathers came out. Make of it what you will.