My Rebirth & the Cinema of Memories

For me, cinema is about creating a record of memories and experiences. Two and a half years ago, I was put into a medically induced coma. After a month under, I started another life. Quite literally, one life had ended, and another began. I came out of the coma with my greatest fear manifested, without clear memory, not knowing how or why anything was happening. It was with the loss of everything that I made an internal discovery about cinema and its capacity to capture memories.

I had to relearn how to talk, how to walk, how to live again. The memories did not come back in a flood or by way of revelation. It was a slow process and a lot of hard work. Every day more of my faculties would be restored. Tubes were removed from my throat, so I could talk in gravely intonations. I became gradually aware of my surroundings, of the family who had stood by and watched as I straddled a line between death and life for over a month. I could finally move by own volition.

It’s true that you do not totally appreciate something until it’s gone. As I revisit my memories with my wife, they come flooding back in a wave of painful memories. My newborn daughter sitting bedside while I learn how to live alongside her.

Something to live for

What pains me the most is not any memory but the complete lack thereof. The complete black period where nothing was understood, how life can continue in the pitch-black hell of nothingness. I drifted along the shore of death and promised I would come back and live for my daughter, given the chance. I experienced something like the out of body realization of my own spiritual energy there. While blacked out, I was still physically and spiritually there. While I was under, my wife attests that my daughter Ezra could sometimes only be calmed by laying on my chest and stroking my beard, and they’d allow one of my arms to come unrestrained and to lay over her. I was still her dad. The coma profoundly changed me. But what changed me the most were the absences of life, the month-plus stretched out with twenty tubes through my neck, clinging to life support and not entirely conscious of the existent threat to everyone I loved, the near certainty I would not come back.

I spent several months hospitalized. I was laid out with nothing better to do than bide my time. The patience and grace of the hospital staff, of Swedish First Hill and Cherry Hill in Seattle, had by no uncertain means saved my life. They called the procedure a “last heroic effort”, providing ECMO (Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation), as my lungs had collapsed and my blood required oxygen. The trivialities of life go on standby in an instant, when everything you think you know is ripped from the present reality, and family are presented with the very real dilemma, where your continued livelihood is improbable, and they must summon their own heroic effort to agree its worth the effort to keep you alive. Everyone fought for my life until I agreed to do the same.

I recovered slowly from the operation. They recommended a gradual taper from the drugs that put me under for so long. I wanted it all to go faster. Such is the mind of an addict that used drugs for half their life to ease the pain, an all-or-nothing mentality. A physical therapist would help me walk and I’d push them too, let me do more, I’m going to show that anything is recoverable. I have a message and I’m damn sure going to prove that if I’ve beaten death, I’m gonna survive a lap around the hospital.

Not the Christmas card you want to send but the one family wants to receive

I whittled away my time with entertainments. I’d listen to audiobooks and watch Netflix. I was staying in for the holidays and had a small Christmas tree and strung lights around the room. It became my miniature home, where I could not do very much except watch and listen.

When family would visit, I’d treat the hospital food as the last supper. After weeks on a liquid diet, I thought the hospital café’s garden burgers were the best food in the world and would try to divide them up and share them with anyone that would come to visit. I’d request more soft drinks than I could put away, so I’d have some to offer company when they came. I had an entire closet filled with Sierra Mist.

When every moment is downtime, it is difficult to enjoy entertainments for what they are. The plights of the characters are smaller in the face of real, traumatic experiences. I’d while away the hours with my wife and daughter bedside, whom were saints and I’d credit with providing me reason enough to live. While I was under, my wife would play Pearl Jam in my ears and when I listen to those songs now, there is something internal that goes off, a spirituality in the music. That’s how the movies and books went too. Everything I experienced was through the eyes of a new life. I devoured shows and films especially, entranced with the largeness of their possibilities, the great potential any story must move an absolutely willing and captive audience. Genuinely I could not move, so it benefited many of the films that I could not change the channel and had the awe of someone experiencing storytelling for the very first time.

Watching our first hockey game together

That’s where I had a realization about film. That cinema was about memories. I did not have many of my own. I remembered moment to moment things. I may have known what I was watching. Anything before the coma, tragically including my daughter’s birth, was temporarily off limits. As a self-protective measure, my brain short circuited what was there and allowed me the gift of living in the moment, perhaps for the first time in my life.

And so, the stories I got in the hospital were my new memories. The associations of a life in its infancy. Every story was electrified, by virtue of being all that I had. It was the moment when film become one of the most important parts of my life. It wasn’t only a coping mechanism but how I’d live, vicariously, while laid out in bed.

Cinema is about memories. Philosophically that’s the appeal of watching any film for me. I have always loved films but truly fell in love with them once they were all I had. It gave me a new perspective and having spent years addicted to drugs, with a fresh start, I was experiencing everything for what felt like the first time.

Learning to walk again

The cinema of memory is extremely important to me. Thus, I often cite Groundhog Day as my favorite genre of film. These are films that explore the meta layer of everything films have the capacity to accomplish. They represent the dark hole in my head, the absence of memory, while new information is slowly unraveled, fitting flush with the empty spots where the old memories were. Films can reveal so much to us if we allow them the opportunity, more than simple mirrors to examine an internal subject. They can allow us to live.

I’m proof that survival against the odds is a real possibility. I’m here to help others and to create positive change in the world, especially through the means of recovery. I also hope to inspire people to view the world differently. My intention in editing a film site is to reveal something larger and grander about the fundamental purpose of experiencing films.

I want to help bridge the gap between experiential writing that can move an audience and features that both expand and reflect on the capacity of this great art. I’m sure that films played a significant role in my own recovery. When they were needed most, they provided a sacred allusion of possibility that I could cling onto. Yes, I could have my own personal adventures someday too. I could walk and talk again like the characters I admired. I could help create a different kind of film site where writers can write freely and without creative limitation. I could come out of a coma and create change and do service work in the world of recovery. I could be a good dad and husband.

The ecstasy & victory of life

I am a survivor and I’m here to share my experience.

9 thoughts on “My Rebirth & the Cinema of Memories

  1. Wow, I can’t believe everything that you’ve been through, and how you’ve been transformed by your experience. When cinema is a major part of our lives, it’s terrifying to think about losing those memories and yet be gifted with the ability to see things in a completely different way. I wish you the best on your continued recovery and rediscovering your love of cinema again. Thanks for sharing your story!

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