Published on October 8th, 2013 | by S. Lynn Alderman1
The E.T. Story By S. Lynn Alderman
Warning: This story contains spoilers about the movie “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” in case you haven’t seen it.
The bedtime ritual at our house is: A book, a story and a song. Every night. A book, a story and a song. We have a million books and I’ll use any excuse to sing, but the story part can be hard. I usually tell stories about when I was a little girl. Or when my mother was a little girl. Or when my grandmother was a little girl. About anyone who once was a little girl, to my almost-four-year-old little girl. At the end of a long day, it can be really hard to think of a story. And right now I am five months pregnant and extra-tired. A few weeks ago, I couldn’t remember if I had ever actually been a little girl, much less any details I could string together into a story. So I decided to tell her the story of E.T.
I hadn’t watched E.T. since I saw it in the theater as a kid. Basically, these kindly alien botanists come down to collect samples and one gets left behind and makes his way from the forest down to a neighborhood and meets a lonely boy, Elliot, and they become best friends and try to make a phone to call E.T.’s people out of a Speak & Spell and some other junk with scientists in hot pursuit. It was a much longer and more complicated story than I had anticipated, and it got later and later past bedtime. But my daughter was riveted. The next day she was speaking in an E.T. voice, talking about E.T. and wanting to hear it again. I finally told her it was a movie. That we could just go rent it! She was thrilled. Movie night!
As she and I were getting ready to watch it a few days later, I remembered that the one time I’d seen it had been with my dad. It was 1982, the summer I turned eleven. My brother was about seven and the three of us piled into the truck and went. It was so exciting back in those pre-VCR/DVD/Netflix days to see movies. We didn’t get to go that often, but every once in a while my dad would take a look at the big, sometimes full-page, movie ads in the newspaper and pick one without us even begging him to. It is strange, looking back, to think that my dad was the one who always had the idea to go see Star Wars or Indiana Jones or whatever. He was kind of a stoic guy, career army, Vietnam vet, raised in the coalfields of Southern West Virginia. He didn’t talk much about feelings. I think that watching those stories unfold in the darkened theater together was how he would connect about the soft stuff. It was so fun. And he would get excited right along with us.
E.T. was a huge hit that summer and every seat was packed with kids and adults, buzzing. There is this point in the movie when it seems like E.T. dies. First, this plant he had nursed back to health starts to wilt, so you think “Oh, no!” and then E.T. gets really sick and it appears that he has died. This completely blew my mind. I was devastated. Me, everyone in the seats around me, we were all sad and shocked and I looked up and said “Dad! Is he dead?!” And my dad looked down and he had tears in his eyes and said, “I think he is.” He was as upset as I was. So we just sat there together, drained and shattered. Then you see the little plant look like it is coming back to life and you start to think “Oh my gosh! Is he going to be okay?!” And then a few seconds later, Elliot, the boy in the movie, also realizes that E.T. is alive and he shouts with joy and my dad yelled “Hey, HEY!!!” and everyone in the theater screamed, “YAY!!!” It was great.
So, I’m sitting on the couch with my daughter, and the same thing happens to her. “What’s wrong with him? Is he dead?!” “Well, looks like it,” I say. She is devastated. Then we got to shout “Yay!” and it was so fun, again.
One person I didn’t notice so much as a kid is the mom in the movie. Elliot’s mom, who has been left by her husband and is raising three kids. She is young and cute and flawed and really trying. She only finds out about E.T. almost at the very end and, of course, gets totally freaked out. But she comes around and helps Elliot and E.T., who have managed to communicate with E.T.’s people through the toy-radar-device. In the final scene, she arrives at the mountaintop alien rendezvous point, just in time to see Elliot say goodbye to E.T. She watches her kind of nerdy, awkward, sort of square-peg kid have his heart broken by saying goodbye.
As a parent, I feel like I am watching all the time for that inevitable moment. When something happens that breaks that magical bubble my daughter is in right now, within which nothing truly heartbreaking has happened. Elliot’s mom sinks to her knees and has tears in her eyes and I was just slain by how perfect and perfectly helpless she seemed in that scene. Elliot can’t go with E.T. and E.T. can’t stay and everyone in the movie is bawling and E.T. gets in his beautiful spaceship and goes home. Elliot’s dad had left, too. And my own dad was gone by the time I watched the movie on the couch, never having gotten real about the soft stuff outside of a darkened room alongside a hundred other people. The end.
I’m sitting there trying to hold it together and my daughter says with a quiet question in her voice, “They’re crying.” “Well, you know, it’s sad,” I say. And she takes a deep breath and says, “It’s a little bit sad…” and presses her little body into my side and smiles and whispers…”I love it!”
There is something about that moment that sort of sums up the whole shebang for me…parenthood, being someone’s child. The whole awful wonderful awfulness of it – and how I would like to be about it. The tiny girl on the couch knew the movie was sad, but also good. Something to love. And she wasn’t scared to see it again. And again. She was fearless, trusting the sad was just part of the good. The sad part didn’t ruin the good part for her. Why does it for me? There’s no neat and clean way to be a parent. Or a child. And there is no way to completely save my daughter, or myself, from the sad. The sad is part of the good. If an almost-four-year-old can handle that idea, I guess I’d better find a way to handle it, too.