My dad took my mom and me to a movie in which a beautiful actress played a pregnant woman whose journalist husband was beheaded for no apparent reason in a scorched city without traffic laws or addresses. It was a true story. Throughout the movie, my mom put her face in her hands and murmured, no, no, and my dad comforted her shoulder. I ate a box of chocolate covered raisins and cried and felt useless and stupid. I should join the Peace Corps, I thought. I should read to blind people.
During the credits the moviegoers exited the theater rubbing their eyes clandestinely, not wanting to be the first to admit having felt anything, and by the time they reached the fluorescent lobby they remembered what country they lived in and where their cars were parked. The moviegoers felt safe and terrorized, exhausted and anxious, grateful for life, however brief. The next day they would not be able to remember the names of the man and his wife, but they would feel confident that the actress who played her would win many awards.
“Thank you for that,” my mom told my dad in the car. She was still wiping her eyes with napkins and putting the used ones back in her purse to throw away at home.
“I think the lesson we can all take away is, ‘Never enter journalism,’” my dad said. He glanced at me in the rearview mirror. I stared back at him.
“Paul,” my mom said, “don’t say that.”
“It was a joke.”
“She’ll think you’re serious.”
“I don’t think he’s serious.”
My mom turned in her seat. “If you ever wanted to be a journalist, we would support you 110%,” she said. “You know that.”
“I feel sick,” I said. “I should adopt a Cambodian baby.”
For the rest of the ride home I stared out the window at all the gas stations that had become empty lots while I was away at school, all the empty lots that had become new gas stations. They tore down McDonalds and built a new McDonalds in the exact same spot. They closed the bowling alley and fenced it in. Every time we passed a streetlight, I saw my face reflected back at me, dark-eyed and pensive. I pretended I was a model in a luxury car commercial.