Me and Sarah and the movie about the dying girl
Sometime this summer, I made the conscious and sober — though somewhat hungover — decision to go see “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” alone. To schlep to Atlantic Avenue in the pouring rain just so I could slouch down in the red, faintly itchy seats of the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s modish movie theater and sob violently into the sleeve of my own dress at an Indie flick about a teenage girl who gets leukemia her senior year of high school.
In other words, to challenge a hypothetical freight train full of feelings to a game of chicken.
Mid-afternoon that gray Saturday, I informed two childhood friends of my conquest within the confines of a group chat most often reserved for double chin selfies and screenshots of texts we think are bitchy. Though both strongly encouraged that I “do me” and that it might be “oddly therapeutic” (one later retracted her statement and said it would have been “completely fucking masochistic” to sit through that movie alone), they both offered to keep me company if their schedules so allowed.
Soon, my friend Sarah and I were under one umbrella, en route to BAM for the 6:45 showing.
After walking two blocks too south (we grew up here, I swear) and reiterating not twice but three times to the concession stand clerk that we wanted butter on our colossal popcorn, we sat back, relaxed, and grew fond of a character we hoped hard wouldn’t die in the end.
Whether or not she did is neither here nor there.
Whether or not I kept my cool through the movie is also neither here nor there.
(I did not. I lost my shit.)
But, what is here and what is there is that, for the first time since losing both of my parents to cancer, a film about the disease did more than just remind me that other people’s loved ones can kick the bucket, too.
The dramedy, directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and based on the 2012 novel by Jesse Andrews of the same name (which, yes, I read after seeing the movie; please don’t let that be the only takeaway here), trails Greg Gaines — an awkward, self-loathing high school senior on “low-key good terms with everyone” — as he is forced by his “very Jewish, ex-hippie” mother to leave a life of coasting behind and befriend Rachel Kushner, the girl-next-door-with-terminal-cancer.
Madness ensues. Greg and his “co-worker” Earl accidentally get high. Tears fall. Et cetera.
Towards the end of “Me and Earl,” a tattoo-clad history teacher tells a down-and-out Greg,
“Even after somebody dies, you can still keep learning about them. Their life, it can keep unfolding itself to you just as long as you pay attention to it.”
(This is the part of the film where I swan dive out of the way of said figmental freight train.)
In the almost-eight years since losing my father, I’ve uncovered more about him than I ever even thought to ask about when he was still around (turns out, he cooked kielbasa every other Sunday because — unbeknownst to me ’til 2010 — we’re a teensy, tiny bit Polish. Plus, he loved a good kielbasa).
In the two years since mom died, I’ve committed even more to memory (like her affinity for redheads and unique inability to part with old paperwork, no matter a 1993 postmark).
I’ve learned that my father never did live down dropping the ninth-inning, game-winning ball at a little league championship game and that he once grinned his way through dinner with one badly broken bone after sneaking out to play football. I’ve learned that, like me, mom enjoyed filling photo albums with vignettes of her and her girlfriends drinking wine from the jug and that, like me, she swore by to-do lists (many of which I’ve had the distinct pleasure of keeping).
I’ve grown to understand just why my father placed his closest friendships on a pedestal and just what it was about “Dancing WIth the Stars” that touched my mother so very deeply.
Moreover, I’ve learned that my mother’s parents — my grandmother dead 14 years and my grandfather long gone before I arrived — were everyday globetrotters. They lived life to the fullest up until their last respective breaths (and Loretta’s last seniors-only dance class).
While I still have questions (like who are all the people in these boxes of old photos and WHICH ONE OF YOU WAS LICENSED TO FLY THAT FUCKING PLANE?!?), their lives have yet to stop unfolding.
And, for once in my own life, I’m all ears.