I was scrolling through my cable guide one evening this week and I came across the movie, Love Story. This has happened before, of course, and my normal response is to keep scrolling. This time, though, I felt the urge to take a look. Suddenly, I wanted to remember why this movie was such a phenomenon back in 1970, when people (including me and all my friends) stood in lines that snaked around city blocks just to see it. It played at the Five Points Theater, which in those days was a swanky movie palace with one huge Cinerama screen, one of only two in the whole city of Jacksonville.
I cringed a bit as I clicked the remote and then, there they were: the rich preppie boy and the poor but smart scholarship girl, trading curse words adorably and strolling through the snow while that unforgettable score played in the background. I heard that music and I was sixteen again, feeling powerful because my friends and I had arrived long before the box office opened and we were at the front of that line that snaked around the block. When we got our tickets and went inside, we trooped up to the balcony.
At the time, I had a friend named John who was more of a brother than a friend. His home life was not happy, so he spent more time at our house than he did at his own and my parents accepted him as one of the gang. I have pictures of family Christmas gatherings that show John sitting by the tree, helping to hand out presents. John went with us to the Five Points Theater the day we saw Love Story. He brought a box of tissues.
My favorite memory from those days is of sitting in the balcony of the Five Points Theater, watching John drop tissues down to the people weeping in the regular seats during Love Story. I like to believe they were grateful. I know I was grateful to have something to laugh about during that heartbreaking movie. Of course, we were young. We saw someone die young on the screen but we didn’t believe it could happen to any of us. We could weep for poor Oliver, a widower at twenty-four, but we felt safe in our teenaged invulnerability.
That was forty-five years ago. I didn’t think Love Story could make me cry again after all this time, but I was wrong. Oh, I could get through the manipulative story just fine, if it didn’t bring back so many memories. I will never be sixteen again and I will never again be able to enjoy John’s quirky sense of humor. Like so many creative people who were full of life in the seventies, he did not survive the eighties.
I won’t forget Love Story and I won’t forget my friend, that inimitable elfin spirit named John.