The third in my Love series...
It's been 4 days since Arrival and I've hardly left the bed.
After crying hysterically for an hour in the theatre and the quiet victory of discovering a fellow yellow brother wrote the genius fueling this decade's alien movie, I've lapsed into a hermetic stupor.
Yes, this film spoke to my multilingual identity the way single-language plebes will never understand. But this film messed me up not due to its Sapir-Whorf crisis, or to the plight of growing up colored and code-switching in a country that everyone else just realized was racist last November (seriously, who was in denial that long?)
No, this movie destroyed my mind on a much deeper level.
I've only been asked twice in my life about the event in my life so severe that it marks the B.C. and A.D. of Sophia Chang. It doesn't come up often - you have to get me talking about the biggest regrets of my life before I'll tell you why I am the way I am now, why I had no choice but to change and be changed, irrevocably.
It is that I lost the love of my life and I am still recovering from it.
SPOILERS AHEAD - BUT THEY'RE WORTH IT
I'll be discussing the spoilers of my own love story more than the movie, but do watch the film because it will change you.
In the briefest way: in Arrival, Amy Adams plays a linguistics professor named Louise who learns from the aliens to view time non-linearly. Once you understand that twist, the inevitably of time clamps down on you and you are struck on all sides by the rage, the grief, and the peace of acceptance.
I caught on to the reveal about thirty minutes before the rest of the audience, and I spent the end of the movie huddled in the corner of my seat, sobbing uncontrollably. All I could do was hold a futile hand to the screen, unable to watch, unable to stop time from unfolding, unable to stop what already has happened and is happening simultaneously and will always happen.
The realization is nearly too much for a human, particularly one who regrets nearly every moment of her life.
The question Louise faces upon the moment of realization is this:
If you knew what your decisions would result in, would you still make them?
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MAKING THAT CHOICE
The film prepares us to make this decision in the most stunning, visceral way. We watch Louise replay the moments that make a life what we sign up for: the birth of your child, the heartache of divorce, the smiles of the people you love the most in life, the acute coldness of lying alone in a bed (without the covers on, natch.) Even kissing your child goodbye at last to cancer, and then the inexorable days of surviving afterward on your own.
Director Denis Villeneuve walks us through this repeatedly, yet when our own moment comes at the end to make this same decision, it steals your breath as cold as a drowning river all the same.
The Things We Can't Change
For the last 4 days I've lived my version of the film. Every low and highlight of my last 8 years since I met that man played in sharp relief, simultaneously, as if I speak heptapod now too.
And I kept asking myself:
Would I make the same choice still?
If I had known the path it would take me down, would I make the same choice?
Azrael is not the first love of my life and, God willing, will not be the last. And I know he'll protest but secretly enjoy being called his gaming moniker: Azrael, angel of death, the harbinger of destruction, who bathes in the tears of Lord Vader and all sides dark.
People laugh when they hear about Azrael. He's short, heavyset, with a wicked temper and very distinct features. There was something about him - I left a boyfriend for him, and then dropped out of a fully funded grad program in my hometown of New York to go back to LA - a city I dislike - to be with him. I have met and been loved by truly wonderful men in my life, and Azrael is one of the best. If he called me up to bury a dead body with him in the middle of the night, I would already be shrugging my puffy jacket on.
But if you had told either of us what we would be asked to go through in order to be together, both of us might have run screaming in the opposite direction before our first DJ AM concert. Just today I cried remembering the worst things I've said to him and how I begged for his forgiveness years later. When I remember the ultimatum he gave me that I ultimately had to walk away from (one that he does not even remember, but will haunt me for the for the rest of my life), I know all too well the inevitably of time.
And how some things you cannot take back.
We have been apart now almost as long as we were together. I stayed many months with him as roommates during #nomad2015, which not everyone knows. He was at my birthday this year and both of our friends are familiar with each other. After living with each others' music for so many years, we still do concerts well together.
Where exes can be
On Halloween, we went to see Danny Elfman conduct the Nightmare Before Christmas at the Hollywood Bowl, one of his favorite movies. We laughed while waiting for sushi and I told him one of our former coworkers who had tried to steal me from him years ago (karma?) had actually asked me to the same concert tonight but I had declined. I didn't hesitate to say yes to Azrael.
"Hey, you're a free person," he said, "You can go down that hell if you want."
I shook my head at him. "He does have better seats than us."
We can laugh about this now.
Later we finally saw an Oogie Boogie cosplayer and chased her down so I could take a photo for them.
"That's my favorite," he said.
"I know," I told him. 'I handdrew and made you a card of Oogie Boogie our first Chirstmas because he's your favorite." Handmade paper is one of the things I do for people I love.
"You did?" Azrael looked sheepishly at me. His memory is terrible and he's not as sentimental as me to begin with. He'd always been the pragmatic one who kept the insurance paid and the Netflix subscribed. We love differently, but both very fiercely as only two fire signs can. My two favorite lessons from this love story is 1) learning how to love someone 2) learning to see how someone loves.
We nearly killed ourselves learning these lessons. And while I don't have the courage to go through it if you tell me in advance, now that I'm done, I hold on to these lessons like little purple hearts on my collar.
we dont have to make the decision
After a week of processing the movie's final question - would we really make the same choice all over again - I draw the same conclusion each time: you don't make this decision. You will never be able to say, "Yes, it's worth it' or "No, I can not, please don't make me".
You don't make the decision. You just gravely face it, inevitably, because that is what time does and in the end, it always wins. You are but a human constrained to live in a temporal way.
The best we have, without heptapod language, is hindsight. And with that you can choose to live in the regret. You can rehash it like I have for years. You can remember the pain.
And you do.
You also remember each hard won moment. Each goodness. The pain and the tenderness of family, heartache, heartbreak, love, loss. The love of my life that I am not all the way done grieving, and may never be. Because I believe some things you don't get over - and love just may be one of them.
The movie didn't make me realize I would choose the same story again, but that I must. Simply because it is mine and it is the one I was meant to live.
Because it is not, in the end, for me to bat around the strings of fate like a bored cat. But for me to bravely face and presently live with everything I have been given, so in the end I can say I fought the good fight, I loved as best I could, and I truly lived.