…I talk about it, write about it, and think about it all time. Sometimes it just shows up at your door, and when it does you sure as hell better pick it up.
Eight Year Anniversary, by Jonathan Makiri.
Half Dome from Jonathan Makiri on Vimeo.
Eight years ago today my mother should have died. During a hail storm, while descending Half Dome’s cables in Yosemite, she slipped and fell 80 feet, landing on a small ledge. Without the ledge my mom would have fallen to her death thousands of feet below. My then 16-year old brother watched the whole thing happen.
Getting off the phone with my father when he broke the news to me, I had one overriding emotion: anger. Having been to Half Dome a few times myself, I had told her not to do the cables.
She survived and life continued doing what it does.
She spent six months in hospital with injuries and infections—vertebrae, steel rods, Paxil. Three months in Modesto in IC and three months in 95 degree Van Nuys in a nursing home surrounded by elders nearing death. I remember a patient calling for her daughter “Elaine! Elaine! Elaine!” for hours on end. I remember yelling at a doctor (spit flying out of my mouth) who got my mom’s medication wrong. I remember feeling guilt when I got tacos not five minutes after a visit with my mother.
She was uninsured. My parents were in the middle of a divorce. She weighed less than 90 pounds and her skin was translucent.
My father juggled what he could: work, money, lawyers, visits, fear. My brother was alone in a pretty house in the prime of high school. I was getting drunk with my friends in Hollywood. It sucked, it hurt and we horded it within us.
Sympathetic yet formulaic well wishes bothered me. She was never going to be the same.
She was damaged both physically and psychologically. It hurt watching her unease when loving friends spoke to her (unknowingly) in baby voices. She needed constant approval. She looked 20 years older. She was no longer the rock. Our relationship turned into a protection of her ego.
The pain felt like nothing. Why wasn’t I grateful?
Over years my mother improved. She regained physical strength, returned to her independent self and mothered exceptionally well. She grew again from unreal depths. She was mom again.
With such good fortune, a second life for my beautiful mother, you would think I would have realized my blessing and reinvented myself as the good son— all loving, all the time.
Nope, I was still angry. Very angry. Many times, I was short with my mom, hard on my mom and mean to my mom. I could be a dick (still can from time to time).
For years I had intermittently thought about life without her and it scared me even though it did not happen. It still scares me.
Five years after the accident we had processed barely anything and my brother felt the same. We were an open family, freely talked but we never could penetrate what we all had been through. My brother and I couldn’t understand how nonchalant my mother could be about the whole experience.
She should have been gone but she wasn’t.
So what did we do about it? We went back to Yosemite to talk about it: me, my mom, my brother, Half Dome and my camera—yep, my fucking camera—the selfish photog student strikes again! I’d never shot video in my life, I had no idea what I was doing and I thought it would be a good idea to document it all on film! Brilliant!
You know what? It helped a lot. It gave us a platform to talk freely and openly, detached from the response of the loved one in front of you—a few minutes to explore your thoughts, think about them and share them calmly. It was beautiful, eye opening and healing. It didn’t solve everything, didn’t solve anything really, but it lifted a dead weight that had been pressing down ever so slightly for too long. We listened to each other in a new way.
The film stinks. I was still in school and it’s technically awful (horrible non-Ken Burns key-framing, narration, transitions and audio). If I ever want another freelance gig I probably shouldn’t post it here publicly…but I have to.
It is for my mother who is so ridiculously strong and human, who reminds me each time I talk to her that improving myself is always an option and that love is something we can’t live with out.
It is for my little brother, whom I still carry guilt for not being a better brother through those difficult times.
And to my father who has taught me more than anyone what it means to be loyal and good even when it is not the easy option.
Thanks for looking (and listening).
Categories: Finding the Grey, Perspective