Seán Óg Ó Murchú: Going to the Cinema Alone

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Going to the Cinema Alone

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Full disclosure here now; I did smoke a joint on my way to the cinema on North Main Street.

 Joints often enhance and improve one’s moviegoing experience. They amplify the surround sound and magnify the visual intricacies on the screen. On the other hand, however, they also enhance, and often construct, one’s suffering of social anxiety, due to the counterproductive nature of state prohibition, and the subsequent levels of THC in the weed.

In the past, I would often stare at the people who came into the cinema theatre on their own. Not in a rude way, but more as an act of curiosity. Although, in fairness, that is admittedly a rude thing to be getting up to regardless.

 I would watch the individual while they looked for a seat, a task I have always dreaded and despised, regardless of whether I was in the company of others or not. Looking for a seat in the cinema makes me want to throw a soft, woollen blanket over myself, and welcome the comfort and contentment in not being seen- Or rather, not seeing people who are seeing me.

 Can you imagine all the people that would be staring at me then? And me standing in the aisles with my fluffy blanket over my head like a timeless sculpture ready to be unveiled. Funny mental image that.

 As the solitary audience member would sit down, I’d wonder if it’s only me who finds it awkward to look for a seat. Surely not. But is it only me that burns on both sides of my skin and loses feeling in my fingers while it’s happening? I don’t know, but it often feels that way.

 I would admire the lone moviegoer, and I’d think then, I wish I could do that – I wish I was able for coming to the cinema on my own. Buying popcorn for just me. Looking for my seat like I don’t give one fuck about it, or the rude people staring at me.

 That’s what worried me most as I came to St. Finbarr’s Cathedral- People staring at me. Judging and admiring me. Thinking about me the way that I think about others, and, to make matters worse, I was already four minutes late.

My first panic attack came along in 2018. I was after a hard session the day before, and maybe the night before that as well, presumably. It’s difficult to know at this stage. First, I lost the feeling in my hands. Terrifying. Then the heart went, thudding into the front of my chest like it was trying to get out. This was the first time I had ever been able to physically feel it beating inside of myself without having looked for it.

 I felt like I existed outside of my body, while still being able to feel the buzzing in my head and the fullness of my chest. Heart attack surely, I thought. Fuck it. I’m having a heart attack and I’m about to die. Bastard. I’m about to die.

 The cruellest thing about your first panic attack is that you have no idea what in the name of God is happening to you, so you panic, which inherently makes it worse for yourself. Disaster. That time the cunting thing lasted for around ten minutes altogether.

 That was the start of it then so. I had never really experienced any great level of anxiety before that moment, but Jaysus was I riddled with it ever since. Immediately afterward, panic attacks became prevalent. Simple tasks suddenly became difficult. Buying toilet roll from the corner shop? Impossible. First dates? Forget about it. I couldn’t go to the cinema at all, never mind going on my own.

 All in, I remained in that state for the best part of a year then. I would be with my friends, fellas I have known since I was a small boy, and I would find myself unable to engage with them. Not zoned out as such, still listening, just unable to interact. Withdrawn. It was as if there was some invisible force that existed between me and them, spilling into my solar plexus and silencing me.

 It was during this year that I had picked up the habit of leaving my home, to go to a place, to get a thing, coffee, for example, or a sausage roll bap, and I would get entirely too anxious to enter the establishment at all. Then I’d walk in a big loop and end up back in my gaff with no coffee, no sausage roll bap. Missing out.

 A friend said to me once that after a panic attack, you become a shell of yourself, and that’s the best way I’ve heard it described. She used to get them when she scrolled through delivery service apps looking for her dinner.

As I passed the courthouse and the Lee came into sight, my stomach dropped to my hole and war began in my gut, and that familiar, foreign notion came back into my busy brain;

 Don’t go into the cinema.

 But I already paid for the ticket.

 It was only seven euros, you stingy hoore.

 I need to. I need to go into the cinema on my own.

 Don’t go into the cinema on your own. Everyone is going to look at you.

 I battled with this then for the rest of the time it took to get to the place, trying to distract myself with the concept of this bit of writing that you are reading now. Nine minutes late at this stage.

 Fair play to me though, because, for the first time ever, I fucking went in.

As soon as I crossed the propped-open, glass door I felt the heat. Not in the building. In me. The type of heat that your body struggles to cool. You get a small, chilled layer of sweat on the top of your forehead, at the line of your hair. Sin é. The rest of your body is forced to burn. You turn red, like a chameleon attempting to disguise itself but getting it terribly wrong.

 The young woman at the counter called next. That’s me. Jesus Christ. So up I went, hands shaking like a dog’s dick, but at least I could feel them. Unless I really thought about them, then I would lose that ability, so I tried not to do that. “I’m just looking to pick up a ticket, please.” Ticket. Singular.  

 “No problem,” she beamed at me, “Just put your code in front of the scanner there, and I’ll print your tickets for you!” Tickets. Plural. Presumptive plural. Presumptive even though I communicated the required number of tickets in the singular, and I was on my own, and sixteen minutes late. I scanned the code. The one code.

 Firstly, she handed me the ticket, freshly published from the printer, then she hovered her hand over the machine again, waiting for another. For some reason, I just stared at her. I didn’t say it was okay. I didn’t thank her and move along, ignoring the situation altogether. Instead, I just stared at her until she figured the situation out for herself and said, “Oh… Sorry.” Her voice was hushed with the embarrassment. My own was completely muted. You couldn’t write it.

 Now, if you are someone that is reading this and thinking, I don’t see what the big deal is, I go to the cinema by myself all the time, or something to that effect, well then, fuck you. Alright? You should consider reconsidering your thought process there. Rethink your thinking. Some people are better at things than other people, you know? Like I’m good at History, academically, and decent at English Literature, but I’m shit at maths, and I’m shit at going to the cinema on my own. So, the things that I am describing may seem easy to you, and the way I am describing them may seem dramatic, but that’s because, although we are all part of one, shared, collective consciousness, you are having your own individual, subjective experience of life, and so am I.

 If you are someone that is reading this and you relate to it, well then, I’m sorry about that. It’s a bollocks, isn’t it? I’m not, however, seeking to inspire you here. I’m not trying to pretend to you that I have become particularly liberated or empowered by my lonesome trip to North Main Street. I won’t act like I felt amazing afterward. I fucking ran out of the place, just as embarrassed as I was when I walked into it. So I won’t pretend that I could comfortably go back to another screening on my own again.

 But I can tell you this; I was able to experience a truly amazing bit of cinema. While that film rolled, I was transfixed. Obsessed. Now, to be fair, I may not have achieved that if the movie weren’t so fantastic, but it was fantastic, and I enjoyed myself very much. And if I hadn’t been there, if I had of wasted my seven euro by walking straight past the cinema and not stopping until I got home, then I wouldn’t have been rewarded with that experience.

 Again, I am not trying to inspire you, I promise, but I wonder whether you wonder how many sausage roll baps you have missed out on in your life. How many pieces of film? How many coffees, how many experiences? Howow much of your life has happened without you because you have hidden yourself away? How often do you listen to the disheartening, italic voice in your head?

 It is difficult of course, to stand up to anxiety all of the time, impossible in fact. However, some of the time, you should try to just do a thing. A thing that your mind wrongly tells you is beyond your capabilities. You will find yourself less debilitated, and more present in your own short life, which is the least of what we all deserve.

Seán Óg Ó Murchú is a multidisciplinary writer and activist working out of Belfast. He has published several short stories,  articles, and plays, including features in The New Arab, Fortnight, and a recent feature on his work by RTÉ Gaeilge. You can find him on Instagram @seananseanchai

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