Close Encounters of the Third Kind was on my cable TV a few mornings back. Thirty-nine years ago, when I saw it the first time, I was caught up in the mystery and the science and the fiction and all those space ships. It capped off a year that had already taken me to a galaxy far, far away, and now I was being shown a spot just up the interstate from me where aliens were going to land. Roy Neary's story gave me hope that in spite of my lack of potential as an astronaut, there was a chance for me to head out into the stars.
That was when I was fifteen. I saw it as a great adventure. It was an amazing ride. Even way back then, I understood that beings from another planet had selected Roy, played by Richard Dreyfuss, was an everyman. He was a bit of a schlub. He was no Han Solo. He wasn't even a Luke Skywalker. But somehow, he was the one that the schwas picked. Not Francois Truffaut or Bob Balaban or any of those science types. Even that sweaty kid who played the keyboards for the mothership, he stayed home. Roy got to go for a ride.
It reminded me of Billy Pilgrim and the Tralfamadorians in Slaughterhouse Five. It was that same swirl of time and space that I found myself reveling in decades later. Only now I was sitting on the edge of my bed, I was married and I have a kid and a house of my own and Devil's Tower isn't just six hours away anymore. It would take me about as long to drive there now as it took Roy Neary way back then. And now I understand why it was so hard for him to make that choice. He wasn't a kid. He wasn't going off on some idealistic crusade. He was being called. Even though everything in his life, his job and his wife and his kids and his house, created a vortex to keep him here on earth. That's why he's crying at the dinner table. He's a mess.His marriage is falling apart. His neighbors think he's crazy. He has lost his job.Roy has come untethered from his spot at home.
Now I understand just how hard it was for Roy, and how much greater the adventure he was on really was. It's lasted for nearly forty years. And thousands of miles. Here to there. And back again.