The American Beauty of Nineteen Ninety Nine

You’ve always had this thing about watching really sad, morbid, uncomfortable situations, about staring until it would make most vomit or at the least squirm. Some people use the phrase “it was like a horrible car accident, I couldn’t look away.” No. No, it isn’t like that. The contrast between something sad happening to something beautiful… The feeling you get when they find pristine, crisp, white sheets at a murder scene. What is that? Something being so clean, so fresh, so delicate and beautiful thrown into such a twisted, gruesome end. What is that? It’s the red against the white. It’s the look in somethings eyes. It’s the awkward angles and the tiny details. It’s dark bruises on pale thighs. It’s a skeleton in a wedding dress in a coffin under dirt and grime. It’s Syliva Plath with her head in an oven set to three-fifty. It’s a billion plastic bags littering the world, dancing erratically in the wind. It’s that last breath. Those soft, sad prayers. That awkward twitch.

American Beauty came out in ‘99 and you were just a round faced nine year old that year. You were smart (“Wise beyond your years” your mother had said) and dark (“like Poe or some shit” said your father). For a handful of years and even now it’s perfectly likely to find that movie on tv once a month. And for so long that’s what you had to work with. Being a nine year old and wanting to watch movies for adults was a bit of a problem. Adults didn’t want nine year olds watching movies with them. Adults didn’t want nine year olds watching those movies without them either. It was a lose, lose situation hands down.

It wasn’t so much that your parents sheltered you. That was definitely something your parents did not do. In fact that was the furthest thing from what they ever wanted for you. They didn’t stop you from doing most things you wanted to do. They didn’t stop you from saying most things you wanted to. They certainly didn’t stop you from believing whatever you so chose. You never had absurd requests though, so a bit of your ignorance surely came from that. Stemmed from your lack of desire to experience anything out of your own mind, your own world. You didn’t like being told no. So sure that your parents would deny your plea to watch Kevin Spacey not giving a fuck, you watching in between channel flips. Back and forth, back and forth. One above, one below. It didn’t matter if it was on HBO, Starz, TNT, you did not care. One above, one below. The sounds of channels changing pulling the wool right over your mothers eyes. Like some awkward flipbook with missing pages. Tiny time lapses. 

For years you played that game, the back and forth game. The channel changing game. But then you began to notice that your mother truly paid no mind. At least not until she heard a word or two strewn together that she couldn’t stomach. You could watch episode after episode of Ren and Stimpy and she wouldn’t have any clue what you were being exposed to. But if Stimpy were to ever drop and F bomb… Oh god. It was almost as if your mother had super sonic hearing. She could be in a dead sleep for hours, but if in the background someone on the television said “fuck you, you simple minded puke of a prick”, she would be wide awake to tell you to turn that garbage off.

You heard worse leave your own fathers lips at a much younger age, but you never argued. It is what it is. It was what it was. Your mother means well.

American Beauty didn’t need sound to be ground breaking, to be life altering, to be emotionally draining, to be captivating, and so you watched it on mute. Years and years of silent screaming matches between Spacey and his perfect little mid-life, cookie cutter wife. Years of teenagers doing stupid teenager stuff. Years of Ricky, arguably the most moving character, filming plastic bags and getting the shit kicked out of him by his disgusting, former army turd of a father. Years of hitting, screaming, crying, fucking, cheating, lying, all on silent with you on the couch, staring in. Eyes wide and bright, brimmed with tears more often than not.

When you were finally old enough to watch what you pleased, the film you had been so terribly obsessed with for years was considered a cult classic. It could be purchased anywhere that sold movies, or just about anyway, and so you did. You bought American Beauty at Walmart for five dollars out of some cluttered bin that was filled with other movies less deserving of your silly green paper and your time. You picked it up and at that moment in time, it was the closest you had ever felt to theivery You would have gladly paid five times more for the film, but lucky for teenage turd you- Walmart had no clue. That’s what unlucky people call winning.

You watched the movie alone. In your room. In the dark. Repeatedly. Again and again until you could see it on the backs of your lids before you fell asleep at night. Again and again until you remembered every scence down to such exact details that you could dream the film if you wanted, if you tried. You felt you could anyway. Every swinging fist, smoking joints, videos of plastic bags, Jane stripping awkwardly for Ricky in front of her window as if on display, Angela Hayes and her flat, gorgeous stomach. It was all there behind your lids, time and time again.

That was years ago now. Somehow still as fresh as yesterday, those memories surface often.

Yesterday you watched a moth swing dance wildly between the beams of the small, room sized structure that encased your parents hot tub. This tiny one room building was your preferred place to smoke marijuana and more often than not, to think as well. Reflection has become a big part of your life quickly and it turned out that you did most of it stoned. Sitting in that room sized building. Sweating to the tune of the hot tubs jets and motors. 

The windows are tinted and slide open with some difficulty. It was stifling in there without at least one of these things open. You got a bit panicy when you felt like you were drowning, surrounded by nothing but air. The wood of the structure, the meat of the fixture, it’s this light pine. It isn’t anything special or expensive. It doesn’t say refined or wealthy; it says affordable and comfortable. It says, it’s okay if you miss with your cigarette and stain the wood. It says, it’s okay if you get terential downpours, if I rot I’m easily replaced. It says, it’s okay. And you always liked light pine for that reason.

The outside perimeter had an ocean theme, all lobster traps and life preservers. The inside has no theme, it is bipolar unlike any other… thing ever. Two hook fingers to hang your belongings on, a plaque for the outdoorsy type; complete with hooks made out of bone or antlers (something sturdy to get the job done), a fake plant, this hanging heart decoration that is fairly trippy when the right gust of wind comes, a couple of dragons that were carved out of wood, god knows what else you happen to be forgetting.

Nothing really matched. It was like an extension of your home. So many nicknakcs with nowhere to go but they got arranged anyway. You liked to sit and follow the beams in the ceiling, pretending in your heard that there was no decor. The thin pine walls are bare and there aren’t any creepy fingers coaxing you to hang your hat or towel. Just pine and the smell of heavy chemicals. Just pine and treated water. It was clean and warm and strong.

More often than not you were only in there to sit on the cover of your parents oversized, extra hot ridiculous bathtub. You weren’t a fan of sitting in such heat and it grossed you out to think about sweating in a vat of water while someone else was doing the same. Even when you went in, you went in alone. This specific night, the night of the moth- you would do that because you ached from head to toe, inside and outside.With the cover off, in was the only direction to go. Forty degree celsius, thats nearly one hundred and ten degrees of the kind we are all used to. That’s what most people considere unbearable. 

You ignore the temperature though and once settled, surrounded by heat and moisture and pressure from each and every side, you continue to watch the moth. Enveloped in bubbles, you remember what your father had said about exceeding ten minutes. About the bubbles that could occur in your bloodstream. You imagined it something like a pot of hot water. You imagined that the imagery goes hand in hand with “that got my blood boiling”. It’s disgusting and creepy and makes you smile. Already in your journey ten minutes felt much more like a lifetime and it had only been three thus far. How do people do this daily?

Again and again, relentlessly, heavily, the moth bashes it’s body into pine beam after pine beam after pine beam. The thud almost hollow with a sligh echo. Like the little sister noise of when a bird hits a glass window, it was making your skin crawl. Over and over, thud and thud. The same awful, haunting, drunken mess of a dance, elegant and painful. It left your bones feeling even more brittle with even deeper of an ache. Over and over, thud and thud, again and again until finally-

Finally with one last collision, the flyer misses a beat and plummets with some unspoken pride to the pot of boiling water beneath. A small, surprising splash and there you are, staring at your dead friend. Tonight menu includes moth n’ you soup. Season with salt, call it a day. With slow, percise movements you cup your hands beneath the moth in the water. Rising out of the heat with a bed of chemicaly perfect water, the moth lives a moment again in your hands. Feeling the wind on it’s dying, tiny bug head once more. With sadness, you dispose of him out the window you cracked earlier, right off the edge of the deck into the grass. Into the dirt. To be eaten or to be forgotten.

In that moment, that heavy rain cloud of a minute, you realize that something you have always been drawn to was perfectly explained in the film you had loved unconditionally since you were nine. As beautiful as life is, it is just as sad if not moreso. That’s why Ricky Fittz got knocked around by his closed minded, arrogant fuck of a father. That’s why places like prisons exist and murder happens. It’s why breathtaking writers and brilliant minds off themselves. It’s why some people choose that terrible way out instead of taking deeper breaths. It’s why. It just is.

“It was one of those days when it’s a minute away from snowing and there’s this electricity in the air, you can almost hear it. And this bag was, like, dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes. And that’s the day I knew there was this entire life behind things, and… this incredibly benevolent force, that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid, ever. Video’s a poor excuse, I know. But it helps me remember… and I need to remember… Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it, like my heart’s going to cave in.”


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