Film, San Francisco, The Church, The Ocean, and My Dead Grandpa: What I Learned in My Last Three Years
*In order to respect the privacy of those mentioned in the story, all names have been changed to a corresponding pseudonym.
Yeah. There’s a lot of stuff building up to that question, a lot of decisions made, and lectures heard, and people met, that got me into a church service at 10:30 AM on a cloudy, sunny, typical Bay Area day. I’m sitting in a wooden pew and I’m looking at the mosaics near the front. I’m feeling lost. Like a stranger in a former lover’s home, it’s the first time the church has felt different. Ever.
I never cry. For the longest time, it happened once or twice a year. My stress cycle typically goes like this: event happens, I process the event, I hate myself or the people involved with the event, I think about the event for way too damn long, then I replace the effects of said event with another prominent event. Yet I’m sitting in this church, and I’m trying to process all the doubt I’ve experienced, a culmination of stupid decisions and obsessions and giving into things I never said I would. I’m sitting in this church, looking at the mosaics near the front, and I see…Psalms 25:3.
I open the Bible. I turn to Psalm 25:3. “No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause.“
I close the Bible shut. I cried that day, and many, many more other times.
I believe in God alright.
I’m capping off my spring break with a sixth visit to the hospital, just a couple miles outside the city. Mom and grandma are going to meet me and dad there. We get there early.
You’re asleep. It’s dark. It’s quiet. Me and dad make sure to stay silent as we sit near you, watching you. You just got your kidney out, and I’ve never seen you like this. I watch you for what feels like eternity, as you silently sleep, and I think about you, and me, and everything you mean to me…
Then a nurse comes in. “Mr. Charles?” she whispers. No answer. “Mr. Charles?…” as she shakes your shoulder — you grunt in response. “Mr. Charles, I have to prick your finger now to get a sample of blood, do you mind which finger I prick-“ and just when I thought I didn’t recognize you anymore, you fling your hand up and grunt, “I don’t give a fuckin’ shit!”
It’s spring semester, freshman year. I’ve never done hard drugs but I swear to God, I think this is what it feels like. Am I too paranoid? Am I too calm? Is it supposed to feel this good? Jesus CHRIST. Why the hell am I this nervous??
I’m on a film set, mind you. That’s it. A bunch of hopped up, artistically-minded, barely-moved-out-of-their-hometown college freshmen (and a handful of upperclassmen) are standing in a vintage motel off Ocean Beach. There’s probably twenty to twenty-five of them. All crammed into one room, with two actors, and they’re all staring at…
Me. Me. Fucking…me? How the hell did we end up here?
But I know how we ended up here. This all started, not when I wrote the script, or when we crowdfunded money via Indiegogo. This started when I was eight years old, walking through the Blockbuster off Woods Chapel Road in Lee’s Summit, near I-291, an interstate that stretches from Liberty all the way north into Lee’s Summit, until it morphs into I-470, of course.
I’m eight, and this is sanctuary — or so I think. I’m eight, and the rows of movies are calling out to me like the walls of the Sistine. I’m eight, and I don’t know that these movies — the DVD covers I can still see in my mind — are glaring at me like demons. One in particular.
It’s when I see Tim Curry’s It, and flip it over, that I am scared out of my living mind. I should say — I tried to read the back of it. But it’s for shit, because I see that twisted, mangled, crooked-tooth scream emitting from one of the photos holding none other than Pennywise the clown.
That’s when I got that horror wasn’t for me. Though as my sanctuary forms me into a man, sending me off into my teenage years when it closes, I realize the one thing that I loved is those rows of movies. Genre film is my everything, and I quickly realize, as I turn from my teenage years into my college years, that doing different movies under different genres is my calling. So I end up doing what scares me the most (making movies) with the genre that scares me the most (psychological horror).
Sooner than later, these people look at me — shot after shot, setup after setup, page after page — and I realize I’m in a rhythm. A groove comes alive. I’m scared shitless, and I’m paranoid, and I’m anxious, and I don’t think I’m doing the right thing, but there’s a sneaking suspicion from the eight year old within me that I was right. Maybe this is what I’m supposed to do my whole life.
That’s the first time I feel like I’m home.
It’s spring semester, sophomore year. I’m on a date with Daphne. We meet at a party, we do things that end in smiles, and phone number exchanges — and then it’s off to text messages, and emojis, and a date and time set for a dinner after class.
We walk from her apartment in the Outer Richmond a couple blocks down to a pizzeria that’s rated highly on Yelp. I’m wearing ablack jean jacket over a blue sweater and jeans that are rolled up to let black chelseas peak out from underneath. I can’t remember what she was wearing, but whatever it was, it amazes me when she walks out her front door, down the long staircase, past the silver gate with the buzzer that every apartment in The City has. We go past a Korean grocery shop, a Thai tea spot, and random laundromats, as cars honk and veer down past the northern side of the Golden Gate Park, possibly to the Bay Bridge or over Golden Gate back to wine country, or wherever they rest their heads.
We eat pizza. We try to eat pizza — I try, because I’m so nervous trying to impress this girl that I barely have the stomach to swallow anything. She’s laughing — so that’s a good sign. We talk about the Nintendo 64 of all things, and her black hair, and my Midwestern roots, and where we see our lives going from here. It’s dark in this upscale pizzeria, and we’re the youngest in there by a long shot, not even offered drink menus and being served very last. But we talk, and we laugh, and I’m still trying to think of how to impress her.
We walk out of the pizzeria back to her apartment. She has long legs, longer than mine, so she’s always a stride ahead of me. When we walk into the middle of the street, I have one of those moments…
When I was in the fifth grade I used to think about what it would be like to live in a big city. I always pictured myself in something like (500) Days of Summer, walking amongst trademark spots and into local shops and experiencing culture and pulling a pretty girl into my arms and kissing her in the middle of the street. It sounded phenomenal. Gorgeous. I didn’t think anything of myself: overweight, anxious, scared of others. Missouri seemed like a far and distant land from anything that I could see myself experiencing my 20s in…a big city, one of those on the coast, where I could make films and art and kiss pretty girls in the street…
She’s still a stride ahead of me, and we’re still in the middle of the street.
She looks back, with those super blue eyes that I always mistook for green — I grab her hand, and pull her in — and the next thing I know I’m meeting someone’s lips with perfect timing, not a peck but not a makeout, and it ends with simultaneous smiles from two inches away and one person blushing.
Fifth grade me is still smiling there, somewhere.
It’s spring semester, junior year. Last time I’ll be here. Ever. I was finally moving back to Kansas City, after what felt like 12 years in The City (when it had only been three). Most people aren’t ready to leave college, but slowly the Bay Area crept in on me like a nightmare, grasping my throat, and to finally break it away was to discover breathing.
I’m ready to leave.
That’s why this trip is a cruel joke. A wedding back in Ohio — two weeks before I go to Missouri for good, it’s like a mean party God is throwing before I have my cake and eat it too. What makes it meaner is how the day goes: my flight gets delayed two hours as soon as I get to the airport. There’s people problems, and girl problems. We’re on the tarmac for another thirty minutes. I start listening to a song that makes me think of my dead grandpa, and have to hide my crying from the people next to me and the flight attendants offering us those damn Ritz crackers. I almost miss my connecting flight in St. Louis. By the time I land in Columbus, I’m three time zones ahead and sixty scattered emotions balled into one. I end up crying to sleep that night, thinking of my grandpa, and what he’d say if he was there.
In the morning, we go to his grave. It’s two months since the funeral and the first time we’ve seen it since. It’s me, my mom and my dad, going down the lone roads of Dayton, passing buildings devoid of industry and miles of nothing but fields. You can imagine how the car ride went.
We pull up to the grave. As they get the flowers, I step out, jumping over the patch of mud I stepped in two months earlier that ruined those black chelseas I have.
It’s just me. And him. No one’s in this cemetery but us, and tombstones of ancestors and people they knew stretch on for miles and miles and miles…and that’s when I notice it.
On the tombstone, aptly titled ‘LOHR,’ rests my grandma and my grandpa’s name — grandma’s on the right, grandpa’s on the left.
And, with the sod still fresh, they clearly buried him on the right.
Yep. My grandpa is buried on the wrong side of the tombstone.
Something magical happens when you face death of a loved one, or, at least something does for me and my family. We go from sobbing uncontrollably to immediately switching into laughing hysterically. This has been the last two months for us — wash, rinse, and repeat. And while I’m standing there in shock, mincing my words, calling my parents up to verify what I’m seeing, we all end up looking at each other…and we can’t help but laugh uncontrollably. We never cried that day.
We’re sure somewhere the old guy is shaking his head at his luck — but we think he probably laughed too.
I bring you Chick-fil-a for lunch, because I’m going to go to Mizzou that night, and we sit down and talk. It’s just us in the house. This is the last time we ever hangout one-on-one. And we’re still trying to figure out what to say — do you talk about movies? Do I talk about sports? I remember something, specifically, that you said somewhere in the middle of it — an offhand remark, like you didn’t give it thought.
“That’s the thing about life Bubba. You go through it taking things seriously that you shouldn’t, and some things you don’t take seriously that you should.”
And for whatever reason, I still think about that today.
It’s fall semester, freshman year. I’m a goner. I’m done. It’s four or five weeks into the semester, and I got the news probably a week or so before I came out here, that Victoria had crossed me like I had never been crossed before. That’s how I took it at least. When your first love does something so completely removed from all level of expectations, you’re met with a tidal wave of emotions. Shock. Sadness. Abandonment. Then the friends get in it, opinions are tossed around, sides are drawn, words are said, and next thing you know — you’re met with a new group of people in your life and the old group is far, long gone.
Such is life in your college years. You’re in a constant state of flux, roaming amongst the waves, looking out into the horizon, meeting different animals amongst the way. I’m sitting on the beach, criss-cross-apple-sauce like I did back in Mrs. Artie’s class when I was a kindergartner. I’m with two friends, Jack and Penny. I don’t know in the moment that I’ll never be this close with them again. I don’t know in the moment that I’ll never be back in Pebble Beach again, staying at this multi-million dollar house on 17 Mile Drive that Jessie’s stepmom owns. I don’t know that I’ll be this stoned again (a rookie mistake) or that Close Encounters of the Third Kind will inspire me so much as to write one of the first features I’ll make, because I just watched it for the first time.
All I know is two things — actually, three. Firstly, that I’m beyond sad and angry. Secondly, I’m beyond the realm of sober thought. Thirdly…
I used to visualize a lot before I went to sleep when I was in elementary school. I would always have images and stories and made up worlds that I would go to. One reoccurring one was that I would imagine myself on a beach during blue hour. Just me, the sand, and the waves. Nothing extraordinary, except for the fact that this beach was without a doubt in California. And I was older — in my twenties — and I was a director, finally, and I had moved from Missouri, and I had, in a way, made it. I finally got out. I finally escaped, and I realized my goal. I’m sitting there now, in real time, and in that moment…it all made sense.
Maybe this wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen. There was probably some path where I went to state school, and went into law or medicine like my parents wanted, and got successful with some business located in the midwest and raised my family by the time I was 26. I flirted with that idea for a very long time. But that kid, who was in Mrs. Artie’s kindergarten class, that would dream of living on the coast and making films and art with interesting people — it happened. It actually happened.
I’m sitting on the beach, thinking about it all. Maybe I got here on a down note, but it’s looking pretty good from the way the waves hit the sky.
This story was originally published via Medium, on June 14th, 2019.
It’s spring semester, freshman year. I’m done. I’m a goner. As grandpa would say, I have “shit in my wicket.” The most obvious and painful thing about achieving higher education is the forming of a critical mind. This is, after all, what you’re paying thousands of dollars for — and what you’re going to school to obtain. What the institution doesn’t tell you is, in the business of making short films and getting high at the beach and trying to meet as many girls as possible, this glittering mirage appears in front of you, blocking your newfound outlook from what personal change always brings: fear. Because in questioning everything around you, you always end up questioning yourself.
It’s all fun and games at first: How many bong hits can I perform in 30 seconds? Will my RA see us if we streak down the hallway? Then it turns into: Do I actually like this person? Am I saying the right thing in this interview? Am I just wasting my time?
And then, you get to: Is there actually a God?