I went by myself and, being superstitious, took the 500 Days of Summer writers’ disclaimer at the beginning as a sure sign I should be there.
I cried once, during what might be the happiest part of the whole film. Day 35: Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) leaves his apartment after his relationship crosses into the “serious” with Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel). This was the first time I saw what it feels like when I’m in real love. It is over the top. Cartoon birds fly and land on your fingertips. It means high-fiving strangers and hugging them too.
But Tom was foolish and just plain dumb. He was guardless. He didn’t think to be more careful. And as things fall apart for the couple, as Summer realizes that Tom wants more, he tries desperately to hold on to her and their impossible relationship.
I was Tom. The ex-boyfriend I was forgetting was Summer. It’s a difficult thing to see on someone else.
It was gradual. I began dating again. This time, though, I took my education from the film and transformed myself into Summer. I saw how carefree she was. How she didn’t hurt in the same ways Tom did. If I could just not care so much I could be happy. I replayed one detail (told in a voiceover in the film) again and again in my head.
“Since the disintegration of her parent's marriage she'd only love two things. The first was her long dark hair. The second was how easily she could cut it off and not feel a thing."
I tried Summer on for a while. She was a safe dress and a sad one to wear for three years. I never let anyone get close, and I ended things abruptly when they did. I was always prepared to cut and run. Nothing serious. I concurred with Summer that relationships were messy. There was no big picture. There were no labels. No boyfriend. No girlfriend. There was no future to consider. I thought I was so free.
Summer wasn’t the first dress I tried on. I once believed I was from Australia and that my name was Sandy. The young dark haired man who lived nearby, Danny. I went to school and reintroduced myself to classmates in an accent that didn’t belong to me. I’m Sandy.
I gleaned from Grease that makeovers were powerful stuff. They are chances to become someone else, to draw people closer.
I hurt a lot of people when I made myself over into Summer.
Because of Tom’s eagerness and hope and easy grins and dancing in the streets, I believe in love more than I don’t believe in it.
I’m not Summer Finn. Not really.
I asked someone recently how many times he had been in love. I think his answer was three. I said “me too. But, you know, you always want your answer to be one. You don’t want to admit that you’ve let yourself fall so hard more than once.”
Summer asks Tom in a bar about the word love: “What does that word even mean?” I don’t know that I could make a better answer than: homeruns and marching bands playing in uniforms. Hearing “She’s Like the Wind.” Seeing Han Solo wink at you when you look at your reflection. Fountains spraying so high against the bluest skies.
Jenny Sadre-Orafai is the author of the chapbooks Weed Over Flower, What Her Hair Says About Her, Dressing the Throat Plate, and Avoid Disaster (forthcoming). Recent prose has appeared in The Rumpus, The Los Angeles Review, and South Loop Review. She is Atlanta Regional Editor for Coldfront Magazine and is co-founding editor of Josephine Quarterly. She is an Assistant Professor of English at Kennesaw State University.