St. Elmo’s Fire has been lurking around my Netflix queue for months now. I was in a bit of a nostalgic phase prior to my high school reunion in November, and I put several classic mid-eighties films on my list. I’ve been moving the current movies in front of them, but recently, Rob Lowe, Mare Winningham, Emilio Estevez, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Jud Nelson, and Ally Sheedy arrived to provide a glimpse of my past.
In June of 1985 when the movie premiered, Gorbachev had just taken over as the Soviet leader, Madonna was launching the Virgin tour, “What’s Love Got to Do With It” earned Tina Turner the best album Emmy, and I was about to begin my senior year of high school. I can remember seeing the film in the theater with my best friend. The characters’ struggles with what to do with their lives after college graduation spoke to us as we wondered where the choices we would make that year would lead us.
We were sure of a few things, though, as we sat in one of our cars, hanging out before it was time to go home to make curfew, listening to Air Supply, Foreigner, or maybe even “Man In Motion” from the movie. We knew that, no matter what the adults in our lives told us, we’d always love McDonald’s. A Chicken McNugget happy meal was clearly the perfect midnight snack. We knew that we’d always be friends, and nothing could come between us. And of course, we knew that no matter what, and whether we wanted to admit it or not, come May of 1986, everything we knew was likely to change.
And it did. Oh, the scene in St. Elmo’s Fire where the mother whispers words like cancer, extremely wealthy, and drugs still makes me giggle, just like it did then. But the drugs aren’t so funny anymore, and they’re what came between me and my friend. Her descent into the world of eating disorders, alcohol abuse, and eventually drugs ended any chances we had of remaining close. I lost her well before her conviction for distributing meth last year. When I think of her, I try to picture the smart, beautiful girl with the world outstretched before her that I knew rather than the mug shot that is the most recent photo I’ve seen. We chose different paths, and her negative-image life helps show me how fortunate that I am.
Mare Winningham, who played the innocent, serious daughter to that rather uptight mother, is now playing the “mother” roles, most recently as Meredith Grey’s step-mother in Grey’s Anatomy. Twenty-two years can certainly do that to an actress’ career. I’m amazed, though, when I consider those years went by so quickly. And now, somehow, I’m the mother. Swim Chick will be the same age I was when I saw St. Elmo’s Fire in four years. I just wish I knew as much now as I believed I did at 17. Don’t we all?