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Washington, DC, United States
I don't write here nearly as much as I should, but when I do, I'll try to make it count for something.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Skeletons of the Past: the Power of Memory

So I recently saw a really great little film entitled The Skeleton Twins with a few of my friends. It’s a recently released flick currently showing at DC’s E Street Cinema (one of my favorite movie spots in the city) and it’s starring SNL alums Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader – AND not to mention one of my longest standing fan girl crushes, Luke Wilson. There were many things that I loved about this film. It was loving, heartbreaking, lively, witty, and insightful with shockingly nuanced performances that have resonated within me days after seeing it. But, despite all of this, the part that really touched me was Bill Hader’s Milo.

At first, I thought this was just because of my relationship with my own brother (Wiig and Hader play fraternal twins, hence the title) but after thinking about it a little bit more, I realized there was more to it.

Let me start off by saying I've never been a huuuuge fan of Bill Hader’s. I mean, I've enjoyed him on a fairly superficial level, seeing as his film career consists of mostly second (or sometimes, third) string characters in movies like This is 40, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Tropic Thunder, Pineapple Express, Superbad, Knocked Up… well, you get the point. I enjoyed all of these movies but he’s never a guy that I looked towards for meaningful introspection, know what I mean? While I fully believe that in many cases, comedians make the best type of dramatic actors because there’s a certain degree of humor that you have to be brave enough to tap into when presented with something achingly sad…. I just didn't see that type of potential in Hader.

I am so glad that I was so wrong about him.

Hader’s performance was sad and human and acidic – and yet there was an innocence there, a longing that crushed me a little bit. It took me a day or so to really understand what it was that moved me about his character – aside from the fact that it was black comedy at its finest – and then it hit me all at once: he reminded me of a close friend of mine from my teen years.

I’m going to be somewhat vague about this particular person for reasons that may seem obvious once I’m done so try to bear with me here. When I was younger, I had a friend that I will call Anthony*. As a gal who grew up in a fairly sheltered community and started off at all girl academies, it wasn't until I hit my teen years that I started to really meet the people that would later shape who I would later become (though, let’s be honest, we’re always changing little by little our entire lives). Anthony came into my life when I didn't have a whole lot of friends, when I was obsessed with school, when all I wanted to do with my time was read and write. He was loud and opinionated and told me to get off my ass and live a little. We would sneak out to “adult” parties and try to talk ourselves into bars two or three towns over (we always got into gay bars without a problem as Anthony was young and adorable and I was… well, gay men have kind of always loved me, I’m just gonna say it). He loved to paint and he loved to read my stories and tell me what he honestly thought of them. We’d go shopping for CDs on the weekends and then spend an entire afternoon listening to them in his parents backyard when– and when they weren't home we’d smoke clove cigarettes (yes, I deserve to be judged) and break into his dad’s liquor cabinet. Some nights, usually in the fall, we’d go to a nearby reservoir and we’d talk for hours about how we were going to run off to NYC one day and get shitty jobs and make just enough to support our art and host epic parties that would be the toast of the town. I was always nervous and questioning everything so Anthony seemed fearless to me and it wasn't until much too late that I realized how troubled he was. He’d been through quite a bit of trauma growing up – and really in a lot of cases, when you throw a teenager’s homosexuality into the mix, there’s just a level of fear that the average straight teen may not be able to truly relate to. Anthony didn't have parents that judged him or tried to change who he was. They were kind people that were just very very busy so they just weren't very present in his life. He sort of just…. kept up the bravado for as long as he could until he couldn't anymore. I tried to help him desperately but I was completely in over my head and in the end, Anthony just decided the world was too much for him to handle so he made the choice to leave it.

The last year or so of Anthony’s life was a bad one for me for a lot of reasons, but the biggest one is that the good memories started to slip away. He made threats to take his life all the time, a few unsuccessful attempts, he’d disappear for days without telling anyone where he was, he was prone to great levels of despair that would seemingly come out of nowhere, he’d lash against you for strange and unknown reasons. Once, while I was in college in Boston and he was living with some guy in NYC, I had to drive into New York in the middle of night to bail him out of jail – and I had to spend half my rent in order to do it (and thank God for my parents for lending me the money to allow me to do that). I got to a point where I had to just take a step back from him because it was too much… and then one day, he was gone. To this day, a part of me feels like I failed him, like I should have done more for him, like maybe I gave up on him a little and that contributed to what happened. I probably always will feel that way, on some level.

But Anthony was also a beautiful person who could make me laugh and inspired me to push myself creatively and step outside of my comfort zone. I crashed with him in NYC for a few weeks one summer and we slept in the same bed every night (unless one of us had a gentleman caller) and we stayed up all night mocking the white collar world (that I’m kind of a part of now I guess) and we loved each other. It’s hard to think about him most of the time because it’s so easy to focus on those last few months – the dark times – and the end result but watching the Skeleton Twins (AND WE’RE BACK) and seeing Bill Hader’s performance took me back to a place that I hadn't been to in a pretty long time. It was painful, for sure, but also sweet. In the end, all Anthony wanted was love and it was so hard for him to accept that the love that he already had was enough. I think a lot of us have that problem. But boy, I feel lucky that he was in my life at all and that I got to learn and grown from him, for better or worse. Not everybody gets a person like that, who inspires you that way and even if he didn't get the happy ending he deserved, I hope somehow he knows how much he mattered and what a permanent place in my heart he has.

Thanks, Bill Hader. Thanks for reminding me that sometimes you've gotta push through the sadness and live in as many good memories as you can.

*Anthony is not his real name – it feels somewhat invasive to use his real identity for the purposes of this post

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