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  • Jac Kessler

Fake Realities



I probably 'do' movies out of some form of refusal to accept reality. Often, in a film or by way of story, intention can be more realistically conveyed; messages made more lasting. Sometimes reality falls short. And in other cases, there are some people who, while very much real, seem like they are from a storybook.

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EXT. A HOUSE ON A MOUNTAIN. MORNING. A scatter of family members, all ages, stand close. A huddle of sorts. There's gloom in the air and a car idling before them in the driveway. Two people are inside, a driver, and a passenger.  INT. CAR. MORNING

A tumble-weed-haired KID, maybe 12, sits in the passenger seat of a car. He's surrounded by books, pillows, and notebooks. He never leaves enough at home, always bringing seemingly half of his room with him. He also has a few things from the Mountain House stowed away in the backseat and trunk. More pieces of more people to keep. He has something from everyone, little do they know.

A GRANDPARENT is at the wheel. Palms on the center. The thumbs could touch, if they were to try, hands becoming mis-matched 'L's'. He's anxious to get on the road. It's a long drive there and a longer drive back. He'll have half the cargo then. ------------------------------------------------

Growing up is a bitch without sure footing. I bounced around houses, households, apartments, duplexes; I traveled from state to state; there were different sets of rules to absorb, expectations to adhere to, and fun to be had. Permanence was just out of reach, ever to slip through webs of outstretched fingers. My parents, my step-parents, my grandparents, my step-grandparents, and all the adults-in-between and amongst, did everything possible, reasonable, and human, in my behalf. I mean whoooOoO wouldn't?!


Going through it I didn't know how much I was holding back. I had no clue I wasn't emoting. Mom and B, one night, probably starting to notice, intervened. After several hours, a young me emoted. A lot poured. Who knows who I'd be had it not been for them that evening.


I was extremely lucky to have 4 parents, 8 grand-parents, and, for quite longer then many, a slew of great-great-grandparents (still do). And more. I was a shared-thing. Lucky as I was, everyone did feel, I'd assume, a little bit awkward now and again. Sometimes I'd pick up on that. I hated the feeling of being a burden, although I know that wasn't the case.

Everyone wanted to provide the best experience possible. No one wants to spoil their 'time-with', for themselves, or the kid (me!). So, no one does. To the best of their ability household-bouncing was made delightful, by all. Grand scheme: It provided me with an ability to mingle with, and understand, a wide variety of people--I'll be forever grateful of that. I was given an array of incredibly unique experiences. I am an amalgamation. House-bouncing provided many glimpses of many paradises. People lived quite differently from one another. There was a lot to soak in. And I got to live a variety of 'ways of life'. Over time, seemingly perfect 'paradises' would show their cracks. That was difficult, very much so, to accept. Think of it as being over a friends' for a regular Wednesday gathering, but then, one night, and out of nowhere, the friend and the friend's partner, fight. Argue. That pit of your stomach feeling was one that took awhile to find me, as everyone was always so careful in what they provided and displayed. So when one 'paradise' would crack, I spent quite a long time hoping that the other 'paradise(s)' would prove to be the actual one(s). All, eventually, showed their bruises, their blemishes. Younger, these were chasms--markers of despair and turmoil and oblivion. Nowhere, did 'paradise' truly exist.  Now, I know better. And even way back, I knew it wasn't as dramatic as an 'oblivion'. But there was a stretch, when it was. There was a stretch with young me internally run wild in search of that peace so long lived.  Take any painting, for instance, and stare...at...just...one...spot. You'll begin to notice the flaws. The techniques employed by the artist. The magic of the art, evaporates. A facade, all along. Consider: That manner in which a person, gloom and glum, says "whatever", with a shrug of their shoulders that looks to have about as much effort as a shrug of one's shoulders. A very, lifeless, feeling. No energy. Stagnant. That crept into my life. ------------------------------------------------

INT. CAR. MORNING. Outside the passenger window, the family (blood or not) stand closer, crying, or hiding the tears. Most cling to one another. They are destroyed, again. The Kid is leaving town for another...six months? Year? It varies, dependent on erratic reasons. And growing up.  The Kid does not cry. He smiles, and waves. It's a choice, one he makes every time. With a happy face, their tears won't run as long. If you wave and smile, a familiar smile - wide and bright - they won't carry sadness too long into the night. It's maybe the 72nd time this exchange has played out. 

The car shifts gears, and off it creeps. Slow enough for the waving palms to soak into the air and, somehow, touch. 

Huddled Family out of sight, the Kid turns to the road ahead. A few beats.

KID Alright, so when you gonna pull over

and get us some sausage biscuitssss? The sentence is delivered with perfection. It's a tool. A distraction. Tease the driver (he's easy to pester; or maybe he's an actor too), and defuse the situation. There won't be discussion on a return trip for the next 4 hours.  ------------------------ I'd like to think that the held back tears achieved in their goal, and the huddled family's tears were ultimately cut short. But, maybe I should have told all those sets of all those people how much my face burned under the skin. For each of them. Every time. Every state line crossed. And in each direction. The 4 and the 8 and the rest. 

But you see, I'm shocked at just how much paradise I was provided. To review: There was the cabin on the lake and the fire pits made colorful by copper water-hose scraps; the giant dogs, three-times my size, that came bounding upon sight - one too afraid of his own claws on wood underfoot to do too much bounding; the miles launched into the sky at the pool, only to splash down, and be hurled skyward again; the video games played and hunted for; the laughter; the pizzas ordered and movies watched; the arcades swallowing mouthfuls of coins ever-at-the-ready; the scary-stories told (The GoooOool-Den Arrrrmmm), and the Old Time Radio twisting crackling tales on summer nights, on winter nights; the single-glazed doughnut left, each morning, on the small paper plate, when it was just the two of us, and the Ninja Turtles VHS placed waiting for me to just press play; the laughter; trips to the Post-Office in '89; American Gladiators and cereal; throwing myself down the stairs because I was a stuntman in training; the mean-person at the gas-station scolded for their cruelty; the Whatchamacallit bars brought at regular intervals after work; the very first stories ever written, encouragement endless; the notepads upon notepads supplied in order to play detective; the Freddy-imposter, ever-ready to draw out a Bart Simpson-esque scream from my small face as he holds up a handful of haphazardly splayed butterknives and ensuring me, in his best-Englund, that he'd "see ya in hell, Kid!". There's no forgetting the gooey sensation of worms in the dark, or those grapes posing as eyeballs, at those basement Halloween parties - or the Gingerbread Houses a few months later; no forgetting the mix-tape with 'House On Pooh Corner' and Steve Miller's 'Joker'; no forgetting the (legal) drug-branded mechanical pencils supplied each visit that served to tell many an early story; no forgetting Savannah and the docks over circling crocodiles (don't tell me they weren't there!) and McCartney's Wings and the joy it brought to two as we sat in the car outside the seafood restaurant; no forgetting the Yellow House on Cork, Carriage Hills, the haunted Country House, the Apartment on 3rd Street, and all the others. Running in Parks. Dangling in Parks. Magic Shows. G.I. Joes. BB Guns. Jumping off Cliffs. Cutting my Finger. Book Hunting. Grocery-Shopping while-riding-along-and-clutching-Styrofoam-Coffees and the laughter.... but, you probably don't want to keep reading how great IIIIiiiIiIiiIiiiIiiIIII had it. This is just a partial list. 

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EXT. IN THE PARKING LOT OF A HOTEL ALONG THE EDGE OF WEST VIRGINIA AND OHIO. AFTERNOON The Kid hugs the Grandparent goodbye. In a year or half, they smile; the Grandparent adds in a clever quip. He wins this round.  The Kid climbs into the next car, this one is a metallic grey. The Grandparent says his goodbye to OTHER GRANDPARENT, the new driver. The goods have been transferred. With a wave, like before, it's off the Indiana. INT. METALLIC GREY CAR. AFTERNOON Other Grandparent and Kid catch up, the Kid rattling off all the fun and all the new confusion. Other Grandparent listens.  In four or five radio shows, the Kid falls asleep. It's easier to drift, than to dwell.  ------------------------------------------------


All these people, all those visits. All those traits to watch and learn. Things to absorb. To borrow and steal. I had a crayola-152-pack kinda childhood. I am an amalgamation.


One color in particular, had a birthday July 9th. I'm a day late on this. Not surprised. I wrote it now and again in my head for months, and stopped again and again. And then came the day. 

Robbin, my Aunt, was a color not found in any box. Or maybe she was just that crayon everyone fights for uses up. Except, I don't think she never got used up. Or at least wouldn't show it. Without exhausting detail, she was one of the rare ones. A good amount of us come across these people in our lives, and we are infinitely lucky to be so lucky. 


Robbin was a darling. The widest grinner. A warmth in every room. She was determined, a tireless worker, a softie--and hard as steel. She was witty. She took in strays. She was furious with animal abusers -- there was this twist-of-her-face sort of fury she'd wear when most mad. It was to admire. It was the 'right' form of anger. She fought for those in need. Not just strays. Not just animals. That twist snuck up now and again, even if fleeting. It meant someone was behaving, indefensibly, poorly. It seemed to come most fervently when she would identify an unnecessary 'hurt' - those instances of human failure that many may overlook, or have become too numb to see. She was patient. She was a boss all bosses should emulate. She was excellent with a weed-whacker. She smiled...in a way...that captured moments. She could do a perfect Ricky Ricardo. She loved, expertly. She was there for you. She was there for you. She was there for you. 


She was more than the funeral parlor could hold, even when they opened the wings, and the lobby doors. The way people cried that day is that kind of cry we all fear we might one day experience. This jerk made many do that. Sorry to say, that day, I was still playing my game as an untouchable. 

------------------------ INT. METALLIC GREY CAR. NIGHT It takes them longer to return than the other car, even though the distance is the same for each. It's because this leg of the trip pulls over for dinner; something made easier with company.  OTHER GRANDPARENT What did you and Robbin do?  KID *doesn't. shut. up* ------------------------


After having held on for f.a.r. longer than expected, the time came crawling. Robbin was slipping and, on the phone, sounding far from herself, she asked me to come visit. 


There wasn't much talking by the time I arrived. She was tired. I spent most of the time I had with her in silence, hastily drawing storyboards for the film I was about to dive into, and increasingly behind on, occasionally emerging to her stirrings for some quality time that could last seconds, or minutes. It was the only time being around her was difficult. Striking the balance between carrying on as if nothing was wrong (what she wanted), and being receptive to the reality of it, was...this thing, this certain uncertainly that crouched somewhere I could never quite pinpoint. It wasn't fun. It was not real. It was lame. Maddening. Infuriating. Humbling. Debilitating. You might, I did, and do, want nothing more than to personify it and kick the ever-living-shit out of it. It's taunting powerlessness. 


Later, maybe a few weeks, maybe less, when the final draft of the film came from the tips of my fingers -- it came mere minutes before the text, or maybe phone call, that let me know I'd need to make another visit. 

Robbin shone. No one failed me growing up -- I'm just certain I wouldn't have come out on the other side as 'ready' without her. She gave me a leg up. Special tools for this world.


She had a way of reminding everyone in the room what was most important. She possessed infectious energies, intangible qualities, and disciplines few can achieve. She knew how to have fun - but not by simply letting loose, rather how to find fun. To make it. She cut to the quick. She could kickass. She is simply, and far from poetically, an example many of us need. She's a story needing told; she's a storybook unscripted; an authentic fairytale.


'Whatever', I used to say, very young, having stared at 'life's painting' for too long. Boy, did she hate that. She broke that sentiment of mine. Without her, I would have stared at that single spot within that figurative painting and lived to tell tales of how damaged and awful it was - how life was "whatever". Instead, she showed me that you keep staring until you see the beauty in those imperfections - and I wish I could say it better than that. I'm not certain I can think of a better way. 


It's not too awful out there if you look the right way, and act the best way -- the way you know you can, and have done so in the past; maybe as a child, or as recently as last month. In case you've forgotten, you can remember. We all should have Robbins. She was a fighter and she would not settle for "whatever" - neither should you. 


Don't let your tears burn trapped under your skin. My goodbye was without eye contact, and as if there'd be another visit, like all those others before. I simply sauntered straight out the front door, tossing chin over shoulder to say later, or something as stupid as that. I knew. It was a goodbye not wanting her to have to say an actual goodbye. She would have done it. I didn't want her to. She'd given me far too much for me to have asked for that. But, still, I could have shown something more. Maybe. 

It still doesn't seem real. It actually never will. I think, well, I think she lived just that brightly. I was her "Freakazoid". And her "Elroy!". And she used to make that state-to state-to state-to state trip on her own all in one day. After working a full day, then waking for her 2a-5a paper route. It was 8 hours to get to me and 8 hours back (she could do it 7 each way, a speed-demon who proudly mocked the others how much faster she was than they). Once back, we'd get pizza, play games, watch a movie. And she'd go to bed, and she'd wake up, and deliver the papers, and go to bed, and wake up, and run her Grasshopper's from yard to yard. And I'd sleep in. 


She gave me much, but centrally: always find the good in everything. I'm not as patient as she tried to get me to be. I'm not always as happy as I know she'd want. But I am better, than many, when I look at a painting. 

Do something fun with your day today. Color in a coloring book. Listen to the BeeGees. Just be, and do, you. Maybe take the time to reach out to that one person you've been putting off, for whatever reason. Connect. Love. Smile.



Don't look at me.


------------------------ INT. GREEN HOUSE. EVENING. The KID is grown. He sprawls across a couch, exhaustion worn heavy under his eyes. He'll not admit it. He wants to show his Aunt the movie he drew beside her. But the sentiment is not in proper-screenplay form.  So, he thinks about the shots, and how they've come together, and how much greater they'll be with the foley and adr recently added from the night's session gone long and with all the pieces still coming from all the gifted people working on it. He loses focus and drifts to the many more movies he wants to make, having in some way, already seen this one. He loses focus again. She can't see what he sees - or maybe she can - he doesn't know how that works.  But he sees so much, thanks to so many. He wants them to know. And for others to see what they need to see, for themselves. 

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