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64. Old gold: Lost in space aged eight
The dread of not making it home.
I’ve unearthed some buried treasure for today’s post.
In writing my latest missive in the ‘Letters to Terry’ series last week I was reminded of my trip to New York City as a small child, and the story I’d written about it soon after I had first started to explore my history of getting lost.
If you’ve subscribed to ‘Dear Reader, I’m lost’ since last August, you might not have read ‘Lost in space aged eight’. It’s one of my favourite stories, so I’m reposting it below. I hope you enjoy it. 😊
Lost in space aged eight: the dread of not making it home.
(This post contains mild peril and a plot spoiler. Parental guidance is recommended.)
My uncle moved to New York in 1982, when I was seven, and not long after that we flew over to visit him for the first time. The city was different to anywhere I’d ever been before, and its hustle and bustle overwhelmed me. My brother and I firmly held on to our parents’ hands, none of the four of us letting each other out of our sight.
Everything the city had to offer was amazing. We explored Central Park, where I tried in vain to catch a chipmunk. We went to the tops of the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and the World Trade Center. We visited the United Nations Headquarters, where we had a fine time trying on the headphones and selecting all the different world languages being spoken right that second by the behind-the-scenes simultaneous interpreters. We went to the Natural History Museum, where I bought an identification guide for North American mammals… because it had a chipmunk on the cover. My brother and I rode a camel – we shared one – at the Bronx Zoo, and I got upset because he’d got to sit on top of a hump while I’d been wedged between two. We even saw ‘Cats’ on Broadway, where I got ‘shhhhhhed’ by my seat neighbour for singing along to ‘Memory’. Elaine Paige I most certainly wasn’t.
With our parents out of the way one afternoon, our uncle took us to see ‘E.T.’ I’m not sure we’d ever watched a Steven Spielberg film before, and we’d certainly never even heard about this new release. I remember that it didn’t make much of an impact on me at the time: I’d been more interested in the vast US-sized bucket of popcorn my brother and I were taking it in turns to fit our heads into.
‘E.T.’ was released in UK later that same year, and my whole class was invited to the cinema to watch it for a friend’s birthday treat. The birthday boy was ten, the eldest in the class. By far the youngest in the party, I was a school year ahead of where I should have been, having only recently had my eighth birthday. But the film had a ‘U’ rating, and anyway, there were going to be grown-ups there to keep an eye on us.
Never mind that it was someone else’s birthday – I felt like the celebrity, having already seen the film in New York. I remember hinting at the plot in the minibus on the way there, not wanting to spoil it for my classmates, but just to be special. After all, as a small child there’s huge currency in having been the first to have seen or done something.
In the film, Elliot’s adventures with his new friend were profoundly exciting. At first E.T. had been fascinated by this new world he’d landed in, yet soon the little extra terrestrial had found the pull towards home to be stronger than everything around him.
Feeling at the end that the film had been about one great big rescue mission, I popped – alone – to the loo, because soon we’d be boarding the minibus.
The Odeon cinema in Brighton had a confusing layout. I headed for the green ‘EXIT’ sign underneath the screen, found the Ladies eventually, and in due course started to head back. Nothing – and I mean nothing – looked familiar. I found myself in an empty auditorium, and it was not the one I had left. I spotted an exit sign halfway up the steep pitch of seats, and out I went, suddenly finding myself on a cold, concrete staircase leading down to street level. It was smelly and dark, and when I reached the street it was raining. I wasn’t anywhere near the main entrance, which would at least have felt half familiar.
Reader, I was lost.
The door I’d come out of onto the street was near a corner of the building, and seeing a better-lit road ahead of me I walked up to it. Taxis were queuing – right outside the cinema entrance! With my heart still in my mouth I scampered inside to the foyer: damp, yes, miserable, yes, but safe.
‘There you are! Where have you been?’
My tears overflowed with relief. I’d found the rest of my class.
I cried all the way home. I’d felt so lost and abandoned. I had been somewhere I didn’t know, with nobody who was mine – not my parents, nor my brother – to look after me. This insecure, only-just-eight-year-old girl in a crowd of confident nine- and ten-year-olds had felt, for those ten minutes, utterly alone. Home had been a million miles away, and, like E.T., I had had no confidence that I would ever see it again.
I remember everything about that afternoon. The excitement, followed by confusion and fear. The film censors may have categorised the film as ‘U – Universal – suitable for all’, but, with hindsight, for everything else on that trip I could have certainly done with some Parental Guidance.
I watched ‘E.T.’ again before I wrote this post. The film was fine, but as the final credits rolled something absolutely tore me apart. My husband found me – and please bear in mind that I am FORTY-SEVEN YEARS OLD– doubled over a cushion, sobbing, shuddering and unable to speak. Reader, I could barely even breathe.
It was the theme music that had transported me to the moment I left the auditorium to
get lost find the Ladies. Nothing against the wonderful John Williams, but the trigger which ignited my terror nearly four decades later had simply been his soundtrack.
Home has always been my true north. But with my long-standing experience of getting lost pretty much anywhere, I know that I mustn’t for a moment take for granted that home is not somewhere that’s always easy to get back to.
Reader, E.T. made it home.
And this time so did I.
…about getting lost that had never occurred to me.
I was delighted to find this letter to the editor in the Saturday edition of the Daily Telegraph on April 15th. I hadn’t ever thought to stretch my informal research into human disorientation to cover the canine domain.
I know that dogs get lost, in that they misplace their owners and end up somewhere else. But in those cases, do the dogs themselves consider themselves lost? It seems that Susan Postill’s dog wasn’t taking any chances. Reader, what do you think?
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Precocious, much? I was a year ahead because I’d started school the same year as my big brother, when I was four.
A U film should be suitable for audiences aged four years and over, although it is impossible to predict what might upset
Rebecca any particular child.
U films should be set within a positive framework and should offer reassuring counterbalances to any violence, threat or horror.
and with apologies to the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) website.
I’m 48 now! 47 when I first wrote this story. 😊