We all go through constant phases in life that are defined or inspired by personal events, movies, books, dreams, art, philosophy, religion, world events, and people that surround us. My phases mostly happened much of my younger years and were largely defined by movies and television. I will elaborate by using a few genres along with personal events.
How I Confronted The Boogie Monster
I watched sci-fi, fantasy, suspense, thrillers, which led to the addiction to horror at a very young age. Real-life was scarier to me than a fake Boogie Monster on TV. I was more afraid of a cockroach coming out of the closet or being under the bed than imagining anything else. Horror movies and other scary genres helped me confront fears, expand my imagination, creativity, and view story-telling from a different perspective. I wouldn’t recommend children or parents to do as I did, but in all fairness, the only way to confront fear is to CONFRONT IT.
However, when I saw William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, it haunted me for some time. Boogie Monsters that were invented like Michael Myers didn’t scare me but anything to do with religious figures bothered me. After a while, I would watch movies like Halloween just for fun or to relax. It was through Halloween that my curiosity wanted to know how these movies were made, but they didn’t scare me. I grew up in a household where we were always reminded that we must fear and stay close to God, and if we didn’t stay close to our beliefs, we will be left alone to be taken over by the Devil. I never understood the whole thing of fearing God, it was something I battled with and silently rejected, amongst other biblical teachings. I could not accept that a source of pure love could ever hate or punish.
After moving to Texas, I was starting High School and found a group of girls who introduced me to a church. I started hanging out with their youth group and became addicted. They were very welcoming, kind and the youth leaders always planned fun activities for us to do. It was something I needed since we were new in town and I barely had any friends. Later, my mother became very close to a friend named Frank, who would always come around to our home and hangout. Frank often made us laugh and didn’t seem to take many things seriously. He was a singer in a Spanish band, which explained why he always performed at bars or clubs. After years of doing this, Frank had developed alcoholism, amongst other addictions. While I wasn’t directly told, I could tell he suffered from depression or some other mental disorder.
During one Sunday service, I was hanging out with my sister and the youth group as we watched the Pastor give the sermon of the day. My mother entered the service late and somehow convinced Frank to attend. She had been trying to motivate him to attend because she truly felt he was suffering from a lot of emotional issues. Frank would hesitate each time, which is why I was surprised to see him attend. At one point in the service, the pastor began praying and said he was being told by the Holy Ghost that someone in the crowd, which he would point to, was suffering from headaches. Then, a person in that area would stand up and admit to their suffering and he would go up to them and pray. The pastor began praying again and started walking towards the back of the church, where my mother and Frank were sitting. The pastor said, “Someone in the back seats is suffering from a stomach ache”. My mother later told us that when the pastor said that, Frank told her he wanted to leave because his stomach was hurting. The pastor said again “The pain is getting stronger and it’s coming from the backseat area… if this is you please come up so we can pray for you” and Frank let out a painful moan. The closer the pastor walked towards them the louder his agonizing moan would get. My sister and I looked at each other because we knew that sound was coming from Frank. As the pastor got closer, other church members stood up and simultaneously placed their hands over the pastor, as they bowed their head down to pray. All I could think was “is this really happening?” and although Frank could be childish we knew he wasn’t playing. As the pastor got close Frank stood up and tried to leave the church but the pain in his stomach became so severe that it immobilized him. He was releasing deep-toned sound and words I had never heard come out of him. Frank fell on his knees and his body curved backward as he released another blaring cry. He told the pastor to stay away. My mother looked at us from a distance with a nervous facial expression. The pastor got on his knees as the rest of the congregation pointed their hands towards him in prayer. He told “it” to leave Frank’s body, but it was as if he was resisting. They continued to pray harder and at one point Frank released a final agitating wail and fainted. We overheard them continue to pray and then the pastor got up to continue the service. I kept looking towards the back throughout the service and could not pay attention. Member surrounded Frank in prayer as they helped him sit up and drink water.
Later, Frank walked around to thank everyone including the pastor. I noticed his attitude and normal demeanor was different. Before we all left, he asked the pastor if he could be baptized. After all this, Frank would come around less and less and each time we noticed he wasn’t the same. We all attended the baptism, but after that day we never saw Frank again. He went from being hyper and playful prankster to a serious and stern like man. He had drastically changed and disappeared on all his friends. My mother asked for Frank, but all everyone knew is that he left the state and started a new life. I always imagined him being happier and finding relief from his previous life.
One of my friends at church complained of having a hard time sleeping and having reoccurring nightmares since that day. I, however, did not. I haven’t forgotten that day, and a part of it still remains vivid in my mind, but I am not bothered nor traumatized by what we all witnessed that day. If I learned anything from the movie The Exorcist, it was that there is always a way to fight evil. I don’t believe Frank was evil, but then again, I really do not know what happened that day. All I know is that it changed all our lives.
How I Learned to Distinguish Between Reality and Fantasy
To avoid feeling lonely, sad or if I needed laughter I would always depend on Disney films/cartoons, 80’s comedies, movies like An American Tail, Killer Klowns from Outerspace, Mrs. Doubtfire, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and many other films or TV shows. One of my favorite childhood tv show that I could depend on was Roseanne. I knew that Dan or the family shenanigans would lift up my mood as I imagined myself a part of the family, especially when I didn’t feel understood at home. There were many times I found myself wishing my household had the same attitude and personality as this family, somehow I felt more understood by my fantasy family. The only one who tried to understand me was my baby sister, but she was too young to give me advice or understand what I was going through. My family moved a lot, which meant I rarely had a dependable friend who stuck around long enough to help me get through it all. This is why the “tube” became my temporary reality, the source that gave me the human bond I needed, it was like my invisible friend.
After watching a film or television show I would go and replay them in my head as if my brain were a Zoetrope. Replaying the most meaningful images over and over to try to learn from them. Breaking down personalities through fictional characters. Although it sounds sadistic, being that most of them were scary films, it helped confront reality from fantasy and develop a fascination as to how those scenes were created. My fascination grew in wanting to understand the make-up effect, cinematography, editing, and special effects, wanting to learn how to tell a story or scare an audience, but the most important part is understanding the emotional effect. As a curious young teen, I always wanted to test things I learned from these films or shows, but sometimes it didn’t play out as I imagined and would get in trouble.
One day, assuming my mother would be a nonchalant mother like Roseanne, I decided to play a trick on her with my little sister. I had just watched an episode of Roseanne where the family tried to scare her but they didn’t succeed. She would just walk past them knowing it was a joke. That night my mother had gone out with a friend and left my sister and me home alone as we were being looked over by a neighbor. It was Halloween and I asked my sister if she would play along by pretending someone broke in and took me away and stabbed her. I convinced her that mom wouldn’t get mad, she would know we were playing around and would tell us to stop messing with her. After convincing my sister I got some ketchup and a knife told my sister to change into a white shirt and then I showed her how to lay on the floor. I poured and smeared the ketchup on her shirt, the knife, and left it lying next to her. I told her not to move until mom walked in and saw her.
We knew my mother would be home at any time and turned off the lights. Before she came in I opened the door a bit and ran around the corner to hide. As I kneeled down in a corner, giggling away, I heard my mother say goodbye to her friend. I was a bit nervous and full of excitement. We lived on the second floor and waiting for her to make up the final step felt like an eternity. I heard her try to put the key in the door and stopped, probably assuming at first it was us because she said my name before opening the door. Suddenly, I heard a deathly scream that momentarily paralyzed me. I snapped out of it and ran around the corner screaming “MOM, NO DON’T CRY IT’S A JOKE, ITS A JOKE” as my sister laid there like a comatose victim. I yelled at my sister “JESSICA, GET UP!! CAN’T YOU HEAR MOM CRYING”. Needless to say, my mother slapped me out of being overwhelmed and I immediately held her saying I was sorry and tried to explain why we played this trick on her. She didn’t want to hear anything, I don’t think she could hear me explain anything. She was just starring at my sister’s body while continuing to cry. My sister finally got up and hugged her with me. All I could think is how I should have planned this better and not so dramatic. In fact, I should have never played this type of prank. I did learn my lesson and never played a trick like this again, even if it was very effective and taught me that I was beginning to understand how these horror films scenes were created.
Growing up in a single-parent household gave me the opportunity to watch almost any film or show I wanted, which many can see it as a bad thing, but in my case, it wasn’t (ahem, besides scaring my mother). To this day my mother reminds me of that day and says she understands why I did what I did. She watches my short films, read my writings and vows I was made for this world.
How I Dealt with Depression and The Bullys
During my tween and teen years, I discovered what it felt like to be bullied. There was no stability in my schooling because we were moved a lot, which affected my friendships and home life. You could only be penpals for so long, especially if you didn’t have AOL messenger or online access. The only way to survive was by watching the films that had my back and always left me pumped up never wanting to quit, the 80’s action films. There is nothing as motivating and heart-racing than watching Jean-Claude Van Damme, Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, Harrison Ford, Bruce Willis, Dolph Lundgren, Charles Bronson, Kurt Russell, Mel Gibson, and okay, fine, I will even include Steven Seagal (just for the early films). When I felt alone and having a hard time at home I would pop in one of these films and somehow felt super energized and full of positivity by the end. I always enjoyed and was inspired by their bravery of not allowing anyone to intimidate them. The one who captured my attention the most, besides Clint Eastwood and Sylvester Stallone, was Jean-Claude Van Damme.
I bet many of you, who obviously do not understand the power of JCVD, are wondering why I specifically chose Jean-Claude Van Damme? For the most part, his characters are humble, and either he learns to kickass or he has a master sensei teach him. For example, in the movie Bloodsport he starts off as a weak, yet brave kid who is trained by a master martial artist to become a professional ultimate fighter and enter a tournament called the Kumite. He grows up vowing that he will fulfill his masters wish by entering the Kumite to win. Regardless of the obstacles he ends up entering and winning the Kumite. In addition, I learned he was a slim kid who got bullied and found a way to grow strong through karate and the support of his family. He confronted it and didn’t ignore the situation as his characters chose to do, which always made me think, could this be a coincidence? Did he choose many of his roles based on his upbringing?
Regardless, after being bullied for so long in Middle School, I grew tired and started standing up for myself. One day, in science class, he came up to me and said something very embarrassing in front of our classmates, and although I don’t believe in violence, I got fed up and warned him to step away from my face. He hesitated and got closer as he prodded me. I could not hold back my frustration and shoved him so hard he fell over a desk. At that point, he got up and stared with a surprised face.
Needless to say, he never picked on me again. I don’t condone violence but sometimes people need a wakeup call, even if that wakeup call lands you on your face. I had never spoken up for myself, but that was my turning point. It was the same issue at home, I just let my stepfather say whatever he wanted to say to me, and after I spoke up and told him my thoughts he never bothered me again. I was never a disrespectful person, but I could not stand being picked on and manipulated.
To sum this up, things began to change for me as I got older. I still am conquering new phases in life, but they aren’t influenced by movies as much as they were when I was young. I have rewatched The Exorcist and it doesn’t have the same reaction it did when I was young, it actually makes me laugh. While Horror films helped me realize that there are no scary monsters, just a bunch of hurt people who try to control or scare you. It was the 80’s action, comedy, and encouraging films that helped me develop the rest of my strength, courage, and sense of humor. I can’t give all the credit to films and TV because there are people and friends that came into the bumpy parts of my life. I considered them angels because they always appeared at the right moment and disappeared when I was strong enough to move on. This included one animal, a cat I adopted in college named Sirius. I was going through severe depression when I found him and had a rough time sleeping at night. The moment he came home with me, he would crawl up next to my back and from that moment on I began to sleep. Three years after therapy and healing, he died. There are Angels and Hope all over us, we just have to open our minds and realize that help comes in many ways.
We are all influenced and impacted by something or someone. It could be a parent, family member, a neighbor, a friend, an author, a political figure, a martyr, a revolutionary figure, a fictional character, a religious icon, a made-up icon, etc. I just so happen to discover, at an older age, that films and television are the influence and culprit to my life and have always been interested in knowing the influences in other people’s life. If you would like to share, please comment below.