The last date I took to see Star Wars became my wife.
Even though these two events (taking her to see Star Wars and marrying her) happened years apart, they are not mutually exclusive. Only a woman mad enough to join my quest for the perfect campsite (sight unseen, parts unknown) and then cheerily hike through dark New England woods so we could drive 20 miles to see a re-released movie that I insisted she must see, could possibly marry me.
The summer of 1982 I was working at a bowling alley in Coram, which is basically the geographic center of Long Island, and she waited tables in a Westhampton restaurant that was probably owned by the mob. We’d been dating since the previous fall and wanted to get away together for a few days before the next college semester.
She’d never been camping and I’d never been to New Hampshire, so we borrowed a tent from one of my coworkers, stocked up on food and booze, bought a map and took off. That was the extent of our planning, and we were incredibly lucky.
We caught a late ferry from Port Jefferson and crossed the Long Island Sound to Bridgeport then I drove the old Pinto through the night, amped on coffee and mescaline. We saw dawn break over the White Mountains and scanned our map for likely places to camp, looking for spots where the remotest-looking roads crossed running water.
Somewhere near one of these innocuous intersections, we saw an unmarked trail, pulled over to park, loaded all of our stuff on a thick tarp (because we didn’t have a backpack between us). We set off, single file, into the woods, lugging our stuff, the Swift River (or a tributary of it) to our left.
About a mile in we found our spot – flat and open, not 20 yards from the river. Nobody had been here for some time – we had to make our own fire pit. At night, we saw more stars than we’d ever seen before and slept to the sound of rushing water that didn’t come from a faucet. We cooked all our meals over the campfire, except for that one date night.
The morning of our arrival, while scoping out potential sites, we drove back and forth along the highway and passed through the village of North Conway where Star Wars was playing at a little downtown movie theater.
This was the original film from 1977, recently re-released with the subtitle, Episode IV: A New Hope. The first sequel in the series, The Empire Strikes Back, had come out two summers earlier. So, the original installment was five years old already.
Naturally, I’d seen both films, probably about five times each. I’d somehow managed to even take dates a couple of times. These were one-offs. Apparently, salivating over space adventures isn’t the best way to keep a girlfriend. But this one … she was different.
As we drove by the marquee she said, “Star Wars. Is that still playing? I never understood all the hoopla.”
After composing myself, I said, probably with a tone bordering on indignant and incredulous, “have you seen the movie?”
She would have left the conversation right there and been fine, but I persisted.
“So, how can you form an opinion about it,” I asked, defensively – she’d only questioned the hoopla, not the film’s quality, but a plan was forming.
“Just sayin’,” she said.
“Well, you’ve got to see it,” I said.
“Fine, whatever,” she said.
Two nights later, we set out from our campsite (trusting in the gods of such things that we would find it unmolested by man/beast/other when we returned later that evening) for an unusual date night.
We ate dinner in North Conway then saw the movie. She loved it. We loved it. We talked about it on the drive back and then on our flashlight-illuminated hike to our campsite and then as we lay on a blanket outside our tent, looking up at the stars.
It occurred to us then, as we peered into the brilliant vastness hovering above New Hampshire, that our eyes perceived starlight that began blinking long, long ago in galaxies that were far, far away. If our life together were a movie, this might have ensued:
They lay there for a few minutes, staring at eternity, when he said, “I love you.” She waited a beat, squeezed his hand and responded, “I know.”
Of course, neither one of us had the gumption yet to utter those three weighty words, “I love you,” to the other (nor the timing and wherewithal to respond, “I know,” when it finally did happen). We were just babes, really, and the story of “us” had barely begun.
Still, though, the sentiment of the words had already rooted itself and now, all these years later, it feels older than starlight.