The Story and the Waking World - Christina Brandon

The Story and the Waking World - Christina Brandon

I grab a seat toward the back, cocooned in dark, where I can see the screen perfectly, without distractions. I can wholly disappear in the story. This is my first time seeing Jane Eyre in the theater, though I've seen other renditions a combined total of maybe 408 times at home. The light dims, the curtain parts, and the audience trills, all 100 of us, as a violin plunges us directly in without previews. The voices are gone, the last handfuls of popcorn thrown in mouths.

My hands start off calmly folded in my lap as Jane walks, runs, down a gravel path. She's sniffling, her big eyes wet, cast down. She's trudging through the moors—the wind whips her cloak around her, her hair from its extravagant braids. Her dress, her body, are dead weights. We know already what has happened to her, to this quiet woman who longs to see the world. She has just been crushed by a man with a terrible secret. And yet, we all came, we all paid, to see it again.

I read Jane Eyre once, around age 12. I read the whole huge thing—and somewhere around halfway, sometime after weeks of picking the book up and setting it back down again, it got real good. Maybe when the chemistry between Jane Eyre and Rochester sparked, when I grasped that something wasn't quite right at Thornfield. 

I remember devouring it in the bath tub, the purplish-blue cover of my cheap paperback curled from steam and damp fingers. The book so heavy in my hands my wrists ached, my neck too from awkwardly laying, buoyed by water, my little toes keeping me steady. I would sit up and catch a chill from my exposed back, but I needed to finish this page, the next, needed to finish. 

I admired Jane Eyre. Though quiet she is not meek but courageous and strong and intelligent. I thought I might be like that, and I too wanted to travel the world and meet interesting people and fall in love. I felt connected to her, though I was no orphan. I didn't know a stormy man with a terrible secret, I wasn't in love yet, but I wanted to be, and wanted someone to love me as deeply.

My arms protectively hug my waist when Rochester declares his love for Jane and asks her to marry him, when they kiss for the first time, when Jane learns of Rochester's wife and feels she must leave him, when she falls, cold and wet, on the moors. At home watching movies I usually have a pillow hugged around my middle—I bury my face in it during scenes of emotional declaration and tears. But in the theater, surrounded by all these people I'm exposed; my neck tenses.

The credits roll, the lights come up, a glow that says come on now, wake up, and people slowly stand, scatter, others linger over the credits, not quite ready to leave the story, and I see they also feel Jane’s pain, her struggle, as if it’s their pain too. It can happen at the end of any film, a story that, for some reason, tugged at you and made you see, feel, what doesn't seem possible in the real, waking world. Maybe you are changed in some small way, maybe you wouldn’t be quite the same person without it.

The next morning, I wake to a cool June breeze drifting in through the windows, a quiet Sunday with a few birds chirping. That sensation of having been transported. I want to believe for a while longer that I am in that film, where trudging through the battered landscape shows my heart more clearly than walking down the crowded, hot, concrete of Chicago, surrounded by noise and chaos in unnatural colors.

But here I lay and it's like I'm stretched out in the tub again, or in the theater, dreaming of another possible world.



About the Author

Christina Brandon lives in Chicago, where she writes about food and drink for  She is currently in the process of completing a memoir about the two years she taught English to university students in China. 

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