My father, at the time, was the pastor of one of the small, isolated churches in the small, isolated town. Our church did not approve of drinking, smoking, dancing . . . or pretty much any secular experience. No movies, no TV, no music. My basic repertoire of cultural knowledge is still playing catch-up from this era of no input. (No, I haven’t seen Back to the Future yet . . . but, soon, I promise!)
I was the only child in a family that didn’t exactly put social status at the head of its list of priorities. I arrived at this high school in my sophomore year, among a group of kids who had largely grown up together. The few other kids who also attended our church were already established in the social scene and seemed to find ways to fit in with much greater ease than I did. While I had individual friends, becoming one of the group, any group, was a puzzle that I found nearly impossible to unravel. I was an odd girl out, without the benefit of cultural touchstones to connect me to anyone.
One bright window to the world, however, was my Yearbook class. Our teacher was one of the first true geeks I had ever met, although I didn’t know what a geek was at the time. He had a truly epic collection of movies and brought many of them into class to watch, always with the intent of educating us about the cinema he loved so much. I’m pretty sure many of these screenings were fairly clandestine and would have gotten him into trouble with the school administration, if only for the sheer amount of time they took away from the actual purpose of the class. (Thankfully, putting together a Yearbook for 60 people wasn’t terribly time consuming.)
The day we watched Footloose, which had been out for several years by that time, was certainly educational for me. I’m not sure I was aware what the storyline was about before title sequence rolled, but if there was any confusion for me, it was quickly cleared up by my classmates. A running commentary, comparing me to bad-girl Ariel, my father to John Lithgow’s Reverend, my mother to the mousy Dianne Wiest, continued throughout the movie. For weeks afterward, I was asked when I was going to get some red cowboy boots. Every reference pushed me a little further into the solitary closet I occupied.
Then, our teacher brought in Alien and Aliens. While most of the kids in class had already seen Aliens, he was very excited to give us the vital back-to-back viewing experience. Again, I was completely unprepared for what was coming. But, this time, that was probably the best thing that could have happened to me.
It was my first experience with a horror movie. The truly remarkable thing, I realize now, was that everyone in the room was being horrified right along with me. It didn’t matter that everyone else was street-smart and I was ignorant, these movies took us all to the same vulnerable place. We were 100% unified in our reactions from the first face-hugging, chest-popping moments to the final, no-holds-barred, “Get away from her, YOU BITCH!” ultimatum. We were undivided in our support of our heroes . . . male and female . . . adult and child . . . human and feline. Ripley was a gritty goddess, Vasquez a badass, and Hudson . . . well, we were all Hudson. There was no false bravado, no mocking comparisons, no belittling teasing.
We were in love with these movies as a group. We quoted and reenacted and relived them for weeks afterwards. They weren’t, of course, some skeleton key that would forever open the door for me to popularity. But now, I knew that these formerly incomprehensible people were just like me . . . at least in the cold, dark silence of space.
And, I discovered a world of mind-blowing imagination that had the power to connect me to the world I physically occupied. It was the beginning of my love for Science Fiction, space travel, monsters, alien races, and so much more. It would lead me to Hitchcock and Ray Bradbury and Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica and all things zombie. It would lead me to the ever-present community of Geekdom.
Who would have guessed a high school girl’s best friend could be a tall, lanky, acid-dripping Xenomorph?