November 26, 2010
My daughter, Sierra, was seven when she read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It was summer of 2000 and I was hearing great things about the books, as the fourth in the series had just been released. I bought Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for my daughter, eager to get her involved in actual chapter books that didn’t have 14-point font and knowing that she was reading books far below her comprehension level. By Christmastime that year, Sierra had read the entire series.
“Read them, mom,” she insisted. “I think you’ll really like them.”
I wanted to, but one thing or another kept me from doing so. Finally, when Jim, my soon-to-be husband, read the first book and agreed that Sierra was onto something, I read it. Within a year, Jim and I had both read all four books as well.
Jim and I were married in June 2001 and Sierra was adopted into the family by the end of that year. I gave birth to my twin sons on Valentine’s Day 2002. Life went on. A long festering tension between Jim and Sierra developed, especially as she entered into adolescence. 9/11 happened. Distances grew.
Sierra was nearly eleven when the fifth book, Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix, was released in July 2003. My family awaited the release of the book with giddiness, and we were among the first in line to purchase it. We took turns reading it, rushing to finish so that we could hand it off to the next person waiting. When we were done, we three had something meaningful and stress-free to talk about together over dinner.
Over the next four years, Jim and Sierra’s relationship devolved fully. Sierra adapted poorly to her life as a teenager, attempting suicide more than once. Running away from home. Ditching school. Jim and I, too, found ourselves growing ever more distant as the struggles to raise children, run a household, make bills, and communicate well became obstacles we couldn’t overtake.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was the last book we read as a family. The last book, perhaps the last thing entirely, that ever bonded Jim, Sierra, and me. The last dinnertime topic of conversation to stir shared excitement.
By the time Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final book in the seven part series, was released on July 21, 2007, my marriage had been over for nearly a year. Sierra was nearly fifteen and mostly absent from my life, even though we shared physical space in my tiny new home. I read the final book by myself, as did Sierra. I assume Jim read it, too. There was no conversation. The epic ended with loneliness, both for me and for the characters in the book, who I’d watched grow with my daughter, and, finally, seen die with my marriage.
Yesterday was my fourth post-marriage Thanksgiving. My second ever without my children. My first where I felt totally at peace, the anxiety and loneliness of previous holidays completely absent. I spent the morning cooking food and talking to family, in my pajamas and robe, music playing in the background. In the early afternoon, I joined some friends for four hours of absolutely delightful conversation and the best meal I’ve eaten in months. The time flew quickly, and when it was time to go, we all hugged and gave thanks to one another. Time has moved on. Life has evolved. Things – they’re okay.
After dropping my friend off at home, I decided to go see part one of the final installment of the Harry Potter series. While I’ve never been much of a fan of the movies, this one has generated a lot of buzz, and most reports indicate that the performances, for once, supersede the special effects. But all that aside – I’d seen all the other movies. I’d read all the books. Of course I was going to see it! And, honestly, I couldn’t wait.
I was startled to find the theater packed. I located a seat near the front and was soon joined by an older man, also alone.
“I’ve never seen these before,” he said.
“You mean you’ve never seen any of the movies?”
“None,” he said.
“Have you read any of the books?”
“No. Can you catch me up on what I’ve missed?”
“Well, not really,” I said.
Normally I would be irritated by this type of intrusion, but here we were, the only two singletons in a room full of families and couples on Thanksgiving night. I felt a surge of tenderness and attempted to give my neighbor a very brief synopsis of the Harry Potter Universe. The previews started and I found that he wanted my opinion of each one. The movie began and I found myself explaining what horcruxes were. About twenty minutes into the movie, I found a new seat.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I really does offer some fine performances. Either Radcliffe, Watson, and Grint have finally learned how to act or Yates has finally learned how to direct, or both. And the three stars have grown into fine young adults – especially Radcliffe. (This is where I reveal my kind of creepy but finally not inappropriate-to-admit uber-crush on Daniel Radcliffe. I mean, have you seen his photos from the play Equus?) The movie is a short two and a half hours, and I, an ADD-prone magpie, didn’t notice the time passing and was disappointed when the credits rolled.
At one point, midway through the movie, there is a remarkably beautiful scene with Radcliffe and Watson. They’re alone in a tent, Grint’s character having sulked off into the cold winter night after suffering a particularly bad bought of paranoia due to a horcrux he’s wearing around his neck (no, I won’t tell you what a horcrux is). The two characters are sad, despondent. Hopeless. Radcliffe’s Potter stands up, takes Watson’s Hermione by the hand, and forces her to dance with him. She’s reluctant at first, but slowly comes round and puts in a little effort – for Harry’s sake. For her own sake. The two dance and you can see the love they have for each other – these two characters who have grown up together; these two actors who have as well. At the end of the scene, Hermione’s face falls once again; she pulls away. The dance is over.
I sat in the dark theater alone, watching this scene, thinking: my, how these kids have grown. What a hard, dark road they (the characters) have ahead of them. Then, immediately, I thought of my daughter. I pictured her holding her baby son, my grandson. Her struggling marriage. The sound in her voice when I ask her how she’s doing. How all of them have to go it alone, and I just have to sit back and watch, an observer in an audience. I wept.
The movie ended. I collected my belongings and left the theater, alone.