Me, Chris & "The Strangers"
On May 30th of 2008 my friend Christopher Van Pelt (1974 - 2021) and I went to see the film “The Strangers” on its opening night in theaters. We always chose the independent, older neighborhood theatre – the one with fewer bells & whistles (but with more butter on the popcorn) than the more modern movie houses because the audiences were always much more vocal and interactive – which made for several fun evenings, to include this one. The floors were sticky, the sound-quality was questionable and we absolutely didn’t care.
The Strangers is a psychological horror film starring Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman. A young couple in a house in the middle of nowhere. They hear a knock and a stranger asks, “Is Tamara home?” – a line Chris and I would repeat (for years) whenever anything spooky or creepily unexpected happened in life. It’s an amazing movie with the suspense kicked up to a level 10.
A few days ago I re-joined Netflix and “The Strangers” is/was listed – I always search “horror” first. I paused because I wasn’t expecting a trigger at that moment. Over the last 7 months my therapist has helped me build a mental armory against triggers that, in an instant, can tail-spin my thoughts (I keep ice cubes near to bring me back to the present). I was prepared – or so I thought. But I wasn’t ready for this one. I saw it listed and decided to watch it, which somehow calmed me. How can a horror movie where the main characters die horribly (I apologize for the spoiler) be sentimental? That is just how memories work, so I’ve learned.
Last week a rectangular block of carrot cake at the grocery was $1 off and displayed in the main refrigerated section at the grocery. When Chris was sad or having a bad day, I’d buy him carrot cake. It was a favorite of both of ours. I’d bring it home and we’d eat it (usually watching something really stupid on TV) and it never lasted until sunrise. It's when he and I had some of our best conversations - and I'll always remember them. That same day (of the carrot cake sale) pre-cut chunks of watermelon were Buy 1 - Get 1 Free. I have a fear (yes, it really is a thing) of cutting watermelon and Chris and I had a deal for years that if I bought the watermelon, he’d cut it into cubes. Then the grocery began to offer pre-cut watermelon. This was a glorious day for me and Chris was never again pressured to messily cut a watermelon.
Triggers. My goodness, they seem to be everywhere. When you care for someone very much and spend a lot of time with them, you naturally create many memories together. It’s an amazing part of life. Until one of you dies and then – sometimes, these pleasant memories turn on themselves. The code to unlock my phone is Chris’ birthday (I really need to change that) and I’m currently wearing the shirt he brought back for me from Fort Lauderdale, Florida (I’ve never been there). The cheap lettering is flaking off and it’s worn. But I wear it - and I don’t know if it’s good for my mental progress to continue to do so. But I can’t throw it away. I suspect many of you understand this.
To be honest, I’ve never really cared about my birthday – or any holiday for that matter, except for Halloween (Samhain). But Chris always made a big deal about my birthday, whether I wanted him to or not. He’d buy chocolates and leave them on the coffee table in the living room in the morning so I'd see them before work, always bought the best card available and, without fail, always bought the most caring, thoughtful gift possible. Every year. I could have mentioned how much I liked something 7 months prior – and he’d remember it in September. And he’d get it for me. I don’t possess this amazing quality – but he did.
I don’t expect I’ll always write about grieving the death of an amazing friend – but I also suspect these feelings will not leave me soon. When you love someone and they leave you, you mourn. That is just the way it goes.
I’m going to watch “The Strangers” again this evening (and turn off all other electronic devices). I watch it again because it’s a great film and Chris and I had so much fun watching it and referencing it for years after. I suspect it will calm me (again). Then I’m going to bed.
From many of your posts and comments, I know many of you are also grieving, are going through depressing stages of your lives or otherwise having a really rough time. And you also don’t know when the pain or sorrow will decrease. It does - or so I hear. You aren’t alone. You absolutely aren’t alone.
Please know that.
Photo: Me, Chris and Majjor (the dog), Christmas 2016.