Godzilla will stomp into theaters this weekend, doing his part to tear down lots of cities and rake in lots of money. I've seen it, and later you can check out my review at Plugged In come Friday and some extra thoughts right here that very same day. But in advance of the big day, let me tell you about my very first Godzilla movie.
I was a Godzilla fan before I ever saw one of his movies. Our school library had a series of books about classic movie monsters, and when I was around 9 or 10, I checked out the book on Godzilla about 17 times. I knew all the characters: Rodan, Mothra, Ghidorah, the works. Their city-stomping ways fascinated me, and I wonder if maybe these Japanese Kaiju have always held a special charm for kids (as frightening as they’re supposed to be). They're big. They're bad. They can destroy whole cities like we might tear down a stack of blocks. Such overwhelming power. Such mighty feats of strength. For kids who don't have much of either, Godzilla and company would be pretty attractive. No one would ever send Ghidorah to bed early. Godzilla would never get bullied on the playground.
No wonder Godzilla—Japan's ultimate scaly villain in 1954—morphed into a hero after a movie or two. Kids needed the big guy in their corner.
When I was in fourth grade, we heard that Godzilla vs. Monster Zero was coming to a local, late-night horror-movie showcase called Shock Theater. The movie wouldn't start 'til 10:30 and probably end after midnight, but all my friends with permissive parents said they'd be watching. And so I asked—no, begged—my parents if, just this once, I could stay up and watch it, too.
In a complete departure from the parenting principles I'd grown up with, they said yes.
It was a stunner, and I felt curiously grown up. Never mind that my dad was going to watch it with me, or that a couple of my stuffed animals were on call, too—just in case I got scared. The fact that I was going to stay up past midnight—watching Shock Theater, no less—was a big marker on my way to adulthood. Today, late-night television. Tomorrow, the driver's license.
It proved to be a terrifying night.
It wasn't the movie: Monster Zero, I think, was kinda lame for a kid looking for some Shock Theater-like thrills. But somewhere after Monster Zero (Ghidorah) destroyed one city but before he destroyed this other city, my dad went to bed. Went. To. Bed. Never had I been shouldered with such hefty responsibility, to be awake and safeguard the house alone before. It was, again, a strangely thrilling moment … and absolutely horrible, too. When he said goodnight and left me alone in our gloomy basement family room, I felt like I was being treated like an adult, and I knew I was nowhere up to the challenge.
I watched the movie to the credits, walked to the television and turned it off. The house was as still as a tomb. I flipped off the lights to the family room and watched it go black. I inched up the hallway stairs, straining my ears for the sound of any strange skittering sounds or raspy breathing, then turned off that light, too. My heart was pounding. I was clutching my stuffed bear 'til the stuffing nearly oozed out his ears. But room by room, I turned off the lights—turning some on along the way so I'd never be in total darkness—until I reached the safety of my bedroom.
It was the first time I realized what an empty, dark house really looked like. Felt like. Before, my parents were always on patrol as I softly fell asleep. Tonight, I was on my own.
I felt like an adult, and it was horrifying. I was not strong or powerful like a movie monster, ready to deal with invaders from Planet X. I was scared. It was like I had a premonition of adulthood. Someday, I'll need to turn off the lights by myself all the time, I thought. What an awful thought
I suppose I should say something spiritual here. Maybe how we're all children of God and we can just relax, 'cause he'll watch over us in our metaphorical dark houses. He’s always on patrol. And I think that's true. But sometimes, God's presence can be a difficult thing to feel. Sometimes we can feel very alone in a dark and too-quiet world. We feel the pressures around us. The fear pressing in on us. Out from us.
When we're children, I think there's a time when we imagine that adults don't get scared. If only that were true.
But we deal, I guess. We have to. And I think with God's help, we learn how to cope. We're a little like the folks in Godzilla movies, maybe. The ones who aren’t screaming. We're surrounded by forces and fears we can't control and barely comprehend. But we move forward—with fear, yes, but with hope. Hope that becomes a wary confidence. Even courage. And maybe that hope is something that God gives us. Maybe our worlds will look pretty bad at times, like something big and fire-breathing trashed it all. Maybe we'll see some serious destruction when the sun comes up. But the sun does come up. And with each new day we're given another chance to help put things right.
I don't know whether I can blame Monster Zero for this, but when I was in junior high, I noticed something interesting in my sleep patterns. If I was spending the night at a friends' house or at summer camp or something, I could never go to sleep until I was sure that everyone else was. I wanted—needed, really—to be the last guy awake. And I'm still that way. I won't ever go to sleep if there's someone in the house is stirring still—watching a movie or reading a book. It's physically impossible for me to do so.
I'm the adult now. And maybe that night with Godzilla and Monster Zero taught me that, as an adult, I need to be vigilant—the guy on patrol--because no one else is going to do it for me. I'm the one who turns out the lights.