When I was 17 years old, one of my closest friends died due to injuries he sustained in a car accident. On Christmas evening 2002, he was the passenger in a car that hit a patch of ice before crashing into a telephone pole. After lying in a coma for several days, he died a few hours into the year 2003. His name was Corrin Travis, he was 16 years old.
The news of Corrin’s accident and resulting death were sudden, shocking, and brutal. It’s something that I’ve never, in the literal sense, fully “gotten over,” but rather, come to accept. And rather than harp on the pain of his passing, I’d like to take this time, the day after the ninth anniversary of his death, to celebrate a small part of his life.
Corrin and I had a lot of things in common. We liked to make other people laugh, we enjoyed privately discussing the aesthetics of women, we played soccer, we boxed in basements, we listened to Eminem – but the most significant trait we shared, it may not surprise, was our love of film.
We talked endlessly about movies – what we’d seen, what we’d hope to see, what we liked, what we hated. We talked about going to film school, writing, directing – going for it.
Because my parents started me in school late, I’ve always been older than my friends. I was the first to get a job, first to get my license, and most notably, the first to get a car. Soon after I bought my car, Corrin and I started a tradition of going to the movies every Tuesday after school. It started as a coincidence, a kind of, Oh look, this is the third Tuesday in a row we’ve gone to the movies, and it quickly resulted in a die hard tradition. This went on for months, and we loved every minute of it.
Now, the movies Corrin and I saw on those Tuesdays were, by and large, utter crap. We’re talking Ecks vs. Sever, Knockaround Guys, The Four Feathers – garbage. And although we spent the majority of our post-movie discussions bitching and moaning about how bad the movies were, I realize now that the movies we saw weren’t nearly as important as the fact that we saw them.
I cherished those Tuesdays. I looked forward to them every week. When we deviated from the tradition, it was for good reason, like going on Friday instead of Tuesday, which was the case on December 20, 2002. Hours after being released from school for winter break, Corrin, myself, and my friend Miguel, saw Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. After, we went to IHOP (I grew up in a small, rural area, for a bunch of teenagers at 11 p.m. on a Friday, IHOP was often as good as it got) and talked about Scorsese’s filmography, DiCaprio’s bad acting, the trailer for Tarantino’s new kung-fu flick, and so on. It was the last movie we ever saw together, but that’s not really what I want to talk about.
It’s funny, because in hindsight, the steps of the grieving process are freakishly accurate. After Corrin’s death, my denial of my feelings manifested itself in frequent bouts of silence, my anger was evident in the fights I got into, I bargained my pain for the love of a woman, only to be crushed later, I sank in and out of mild depression for months, and, finally, accepted what had happened.
These steps aren’t necessarily set in stone as the popular acronym DABDA suggests; sometimes one can be depressed, then angry, then in denial, and so on. And, if you’re lucky, a hint of acceptance can shine through, even before you’re really ready for it.
In January of 2003, I saw a film called Antwone Fisher that quite literally changed my outlook on life. The film tells the true story of an orphaned kid from Cleveland who, after suffering years of emotional, physical and sexual abuse by his foster family, joins the Navy as a means of escape. While in the Navy, Antwone’s unresolved demons from his childhood manifest themselves with recurring episodes of sudden anger and violence. He’s forced to see a psychiatrist who, slowly but surely, helps him accept what he’s been through.
Now, I wasn’t abused as a child, so the similarities I find in my story and Antwone Fisher’s may seem opaque at best. But for some reason, while sitting in that movie theater, a connection was made. When Antwone (Derek Luke) screams at his doctor (played by Denzel Washington, who also directed the film) in front of a few other patients, it was as if I was screaming for help. When Antwone confronts his foster mother, it was as if I was confronting my troubles. And when he reconnects with his family, thereby accepting his pain, it was as if my pain was accepted, if not for a passing moment.
Although these connections weren’t fully realized immediately, the first time I saw Antwone Fisher remains the most memorable, significant movie-watching experience I’ve ever had. When I discuss the film with friends, they’re often shocked by my immense praise. After calling the film one of the top five movies of the 2000s, people were confounded, and for good reason. From an outsider’s perspective, there isn’t anything particularly fascinating about the picture. A subplot involving Washington and his wife is useless, and the film suffers from some technical glitches that a first time director may not anticipate, but that doesn’t matter to me. Until right now, when people asked why I like Antwone Fisher so much, I usually just shrug it off, and mumble something to the effect of, I like it because I like it.
I like it because it reminds me of my friend. It reminds me of youth, and of loss. It helps me acknowledge the fact that, no matter how bad I have it, someone has it worse. As was, and I'm sure still is, the case for Corrin’s mother, Lynne, who remains a dear friend of mine, and who this post is dedicated to. What she was suffering through in January of 2003 is incomparable to how I felt. Antwone Fisher put that in perspective for me.
Weeks after I first saw the film, I got to meet the real Antwone Fisher at a book signing in Cleveland. It was a historic moment in my life, one that I will never forget. But the most significant part of the event wasn’t meeting a man, or shaking his hand, or thanking him for telling his story. It was during the drive home that I was struck with something rather profound. I realized that none of this would have happened – loving the film so much, driving to Cleveland, meeting the real man – had Corrin still been alive. But he was gone, so here I was. And, for the briefest of moments, the pain left me, and I was able to accept what had happened.
I had a lot more struggling to go through, but right then in the car, I realized it was okay to believe that everything was going to be all right.
|Corrin, circa 2002|