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The Goodbye Girl, and other movies that ruined my childhood

November 17, 2018

Have you seen The Goodbye Girl? Neil Simon wrote, Marsha Mason and Quinn Cummings and Richard Dreyfus stared in? He won an Oscar for that you know. This movie came out in 1977 and was nominated for everything. Its funny, it’s snappy, its a play as a movie and it’s charming. Totally charming. Its the grand love story every single kid of a single divorced Mom dreams of.

If you haven’t seen it, I will give you the quick and dirty. The movie is about two main characters who are mother and daughter. The daughter is intelligent, funny and paid attention to constantly. Her mother, making yet another bad romantic choice, is jilted when her actor boyfriend gets a movie role and leaves them behind. He also sublets the apartment. Enter charming-he sublets it to another actor. Eventually, they decide to live together because the actor subletee has a lease and she has nowhere to go. Comedy and romance ensue. Not only is the actor subletor lovely to the mom but he adores the kid because she is pretty perfect as far as kids go. They, the mom and the actor, fall in love and they all live happily ever after in an apartment. The parting line of the mom to the actor, as he leaves to go to work on a movie, is she will be right there waiting after he works hard and she will be working hard spending his money on their apartment.

This was problematic for me on many levels. Firstly, no dude ever loves the kid as much as the mom. Never. Most guys, unless they have kids themselves, are into chicks with kids. Not in my experience anyway. Secondly, why is the mom always waiting to be rescued and giving the impression she is only complete with a man? This was also my experience to be true but it was disappointing. Thirdly and lastly, how do all those grownups pay so much attention to the kid? In the 1970’s grownups were NOT paying attention to their kids. They were drinking, doing cocaine at parties, dating everyone, the sexual revolution, the pill, abortion, and disco.

I grew up a  single mom. My dad left, well my mom told him to leave I think when I was four. Divorced for real when I was six. He moved to California. I stayed with her. She went to parties, met dudes, did drugs and drank (driving me everywhere because who had money for babysitters when you could just tell your kid to sleep on the pile of coats?). I learned how to cook watching Julia Child on TV after school, latch ket kid, so my mom would sit and have dinner with me and talk to me. I was 12. My mom tried to pay as little attention to me as possible. Unless I fucked up and then there was a lot of attention. I did stuff. She drove me to some stuff. She told her friends how great I was. She was totally crazy. She picked horrible boyfriends who hated me. One, the one she married, told me he would never love me and as I threw my arms around his waist and cried his arms hung at his sides and my mom watched him completely reject me. The boyfriends were suspicious and did their best to ignore me. I was acutely aware of the burden I was. The burden I was all the time. I moved out before I graduated from high school when I turned 18 on March 29. I moved out April 1st-ish. My mom was furious and felt that I was betraying her on every level. I had a full-time job, was finishing high school and had the means and I left. I did not go to college, that was not an option for me. When I was about 14 she asked me if I wanted to go to college and I said no. When I was a senior and thinking that maybe I should do that she told me I said I didn’t want to go and she couldn’t help me.

Wait, back to the movie. The mom in the movie really adored her kid. Her kid was smart, funny and patient. Wiser than her age, so much so the mother tells the daughter in the first scene she was never four years old she was born 26. I had lots of people tell me that too. I was nicknamed the “little adult” with her circle of friends. Why was I so adult? Why is the daughter in the movie so adult-like?

The Goodbye Girl, thanks a lot Neil Simon, tried to sell me the idea that as long as I was precocious and cute, everyone would love me. It tried to sell me the happily ever after with a guy that would love not only a single mom with no job and but one that had a kid. Nothing like that ever showed up for me or my mom. She died when she was only 52 and I was 27. We never got to share war-stories of parenting and I never got to ask questions that I didn’t know I had until I became a mother. I think I know the answers to the questions anyway and I don’t like them. I certainly would not have liked hearing them from my mom and she sure as shit would have never wanted to tell me any kind of truth.

In some ways, my life has worked out like that movie. I met and married an artist, he was not necessarily my physical type that I was usually attracted to but he was decent and funny and smart. Even after 26 years we still have things to talk about. Sometimes I hate him and I am sure sometimes he hates me. That’s life though. People disappoint you, you are basically a burden to everyone and if there is a happily ever after, you are usually dead before you get to see it.

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