The summer of 1993 was a big one for me.
I was 10 going on 11 years old. I had just finished the 5th grade and was about to enter the world of Junior High. I was in the midst of trying to grow out my mall-style bangs and hide the fact that I had a plethora of rubber bands in my mouth connecting my top braces to my bottoms.
Just for a visual, imagine me like this:
That was the summer I had my first kiss with a boy named Britt in a game of Spin the Bottle. It was the summer I made the Junior Dance Company at my dance studio. It was the year I quit pretending I was a mermaid (in public) and began to be proud of the fact that I had to wear a bra. It was a summer of bike rides, crushes, rock collections, forts, sleepovers, and truth or dare.
It was the last summer of my life before I became completely preoccupied with trying to be a teenager. I was pre-pubescent in nearly every sense of the word.
One afternoon, in what I’m sure what was an effort to give our lawn a break from the wear and tear of the “Slip and Slide,” my dear mother dropped me off at the movies with my cousins to see a brand new flick entitled “Free Willy.”
Keep in mind, this was back in 1993 when movies were still magical.
So what if there was no stadium seating or flavor-powder for popcorn?
A measly ten dollars could purchase a $4 movie ticket, a small popcorn AND a drink. Plus, at the ripe age of 10, the allure of gaining enough independence to attend a movie without a parental unit was enough to make me ignore the fact that I was only allowed to see movies that were rated PG.
Still, this movie was different than all the ones before.
I wasn’t distracted by a red gummy bear stuck to the screen. I wasn’t preoccupied by the squeaking noise that my jelly shoe made as I stuck and unstuck it to the theater floor.
Nope. This experience was all about me, a boy named Jesse, and a giant Killer Whale named Willy.
To be honest, I don’t remember much about the experience of actually watching the movie, but I do remember the feeling I had afterward.
In fact, when the movie was over, I cried for nearly 3 days straight.
I’ll be honest, I did initially cry a bit over the bittersweet ending. I mean, come on… Jesse had to choose between having his best Killer Whale friend to himself or giving his best Killer Whale friend freedom. That is heartbreaking. Plus, I learned a lot about the cruelty of the way that we treat wildlife.
But that sadness only lasted a few hours.
The rest of my tears came from a place deeper inside of me… a place I like to call: inspiration.
You see, somewhere during the 112 minutes of “Free Willy” I realized that the character Jesse spent the majority of the film brooding around with his eyes brimming with tears. Sure, he had to learn a few arm signals for the whale and a few notes on the harmonica, but the majority of his job was to be a whiny little bitch.
Only a few days earlier I had read in an article in Tiger Beat about the actual boy who played Jesse (Jason James Richter). He was only a few years older than me, and got to spend his days in HOLLYWOOD, being schooled in a trailer and training with Keiko the whale.
By the time I exited the theater, dialed my parents COLLECT, and said “It’sCarissaTheMovieIsOverComePickMeUp” at the beep , I knew my destiny. I knew that I would do whatever it took to get there.
I would be an actress.
First off, I had to perfect my”fake crying” so that I could convince my parents that it wouldn’t be a waste of time to uproot our family and move to Los Angeles so that I could start my acting career.
After a few days of staring at myself in the mirror and thinking about animals dying, I had it down. I could fake cry at anything. I could look at a platter of brownies and a SqueezeIt juice box and bring myself to tears.
All I had left to do was convince my parents that I needed to be in Los Angeles.
It wasn’t as easy as I had thought.
When I approached my mom, my tears were already flowing. I dramatically explained that I wouldn’t be happy going back to regular school, now that I knew that I had what it took. I offered to give her all the money I made in my first few films.
My father didn’t even feel the need to humor me with laughter. He looked at me with his pragmatic eyes and told me it was out of the question, and that I needed to stop with this nonsense, pronto.
After days of crying , they finally decided that while they wouldn’t concede to quit their jobs, pull me out of school, and move to California, they would enroll me in theater camp.
That was good enough for me, at least for the time being.
That summer, I was cast in the roles of the “Tornado,” the “Yellow Brick Road,” and the “Poppy” in a local production of The Wiz.
It was the best summer of my life, and was the first many of summers spent at The Waco Children’s Theater.
I may have never ended up in Los Angeles, but it was there that I gained self confidence and honed in on my flair for the dramatic. I made life-long friendships and the most wonderful memories of my childhood.
That was the summer that I learned that entertainment would be a part of my life, in some shape or form, forever.
It’s hard to believe that 20 years have passed, and I still want to spend the majority of my free time acting and entertaining.
I’m also still really good at fake crying.
Happy 20th Anniversary Free Willy!