The Comfort in the Expected (and Hallmark Movies)

Without diving into the explicit details of my personal life, August was a rough month. Between the trials and tribulations of phases beginning and ending in my life, the state of the world suddenly smacked me in the face and knocked me down further than I had ever been.

I had to go home.

Throughout the last four years living on my own, I have returned to my small hometown in southeast Michigan only a handful of times, opting to stay in Chicago for school, work, or whatever other excuse I could muster up at the time to keep my exciting life moving at full speed. Going home felt like a step backwards in my teenage mind, all too naïve enough to think that I had my life all figured out in the city. Surprising no one, I didn’t have it all figured out- I had nothing figured out. I always hated being told “you’ll learn one day,” or “you think you know it all,” growing up, and I still do, but now I understand where those sentiments are coming from. It’s very easy to feel like you have it all figured out when assignments and a part time job are your biggest responsibilities, punching in and out and meeting deadlines where the stakes ride on a small paycheck and a GPA number. When those constants were stripped away, I lost my sense of self. For my whole life, good grades and performing well at work were how I valued myself, and with those things gone, I realized I don’t know anything about who I am aside from my desire to impress others.

I don’t think I’ll be able to write about much else aside from the pandemic anytime soon. For a majority of the last seven months, I’ve convinced myself that all I need to do is get through the day, week, month. This will go away in a month, things will be better then. I won’t worry when the cashier at the corner store I go to every few days isn’t there, I won’t feel my heart drop into my stomach every time I see someone walking down the sidewalk without a mask on. Just one more week, one more month, and then everything will feel okay again.

I think you know just how destructive this way of thinking is, because, honestly, there won’t be a day anytime soon where the reminder of hundreds of thousands of people dead won’t fill the spaces in between my thoughts. Living in survival mode, thinking “just one more day,” drove me right into the darkest place I’ve ever been. I’m so thankful to have a family that can see right through me, shining a spotlight on the cave I had shut myself into, and spending long nights coaxing me out of it while I clawed to try and stay inside. The twisted thing about depression is how it handcuffs you to your ill brain, hijacking your logic and making you believe you’ll somehow lose a part of yourself if it leaves you. I became one with the illness that was stripping me away from the people who love me, it convincing me I would be nothing without it.

Home is a gentile reminder that I am much more than the mind trapped inside me. At home, the whims of my schedule are balanced by those of my parents. Each of their jobs also made infinite times harder by the state of the world, while still keeping an eye on each of my fast changing moods.

“You’re either up here or down here,” my dad gestures his hand up and down in my bedroom doorway as I sit on my bed, legs folded in crisscross applesauce, like a preschooler learning about where to put the markers away.

“You need to be in the middle,” he sighs, in an all familiar sigh my dad gives when he’s worried, distinct from the sigh of disappointment or anger.

Immediately, my heart is struck with overwhelming guilt. He’s right, he always is when it comes to my mental health, but now I can see the toll it’s taken on him. One week home quickly turned into three, and alongside the extended stay, I let my parents see a side of me I had been trying to stuff dow. It’s so easy to think no one worries about you when you spend all of your time by yourself, but now that I can see the worry so vivid and explicit in front of me, it splits the dark fog in my brain right down the middle.

Per my previous essay, I became obsessed with Who Framed Roger Rabbit? throughout the beginning of the pandemic. The first noticeable change in my everyday was my sudden inability to finish a movie, my attention span shot by the constant updates and trials of the world around me. A heavy cry to Grave of the Firefles on June 14th was the last time I watched a movie until last week, I just couldn’t bring myself to sit through anything for that long. Instead, I spent my time laying in bed, listening to whatever song I had grown attached to that day on repeat, (right now, that song is Try Again by d.ear).

My second weekend home saw me spending a night at my grandma’s house, one of my favorite parts of being home. Her stories excite me in a way I can’t really describe, it feels like my brain is being recharged, hearing the stories of her and my dad’s childhoods. One trademark of a night at my grandma’s is at least one Hallmark movie.

In similar fashion as a rewatch, you almost always know how a Hallmark movie will end. The pretty couple, who is driven apart by a very timely misunderstanding, is brought back together by the forces of the little unique quirks the setting of the movie revolves around. The little league baseball team in desperate need of a coach, the city girl in need of a rustic man to show her around the farm she’s inherited, the unsettlingly close small town that is involved in each other’s personal lives. Honestly, if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, and that’s exactly why they’re so fun to me. How will these very heavy handedly charming people find their way back to each other this time?

At Home in Mitford should have just been another tale of two people meeting, obviously having eyes for each other for 80 minutes, and then wrapping it up as a couple in the final 10 of the runtime. On any other day, to any other person, maybe it would just be another classic Hallmark movie to half pay attention to, but for some strange reason this movie attached itself to the inside of my head, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. Speaking very bluntly, the movie falls short in a lot of ways. I’m not familiar with the source material, but the reviews and plot summaries for the book differ greatly from the movie. While I’m not against creative changes when adapting to the screen, I think the dramatic elements of the book would have greatly benefitted the flat plot line that could have ended at any point of the movie.

I’m not sure if this is how everyone’s memory works, but when I think back on movies I’ve watched, the first memories that come to me are moments that shocked me. When Seita’s mother is shown at the hospital in Grave of the Fireflies, when Grandier, dressed as Jesus, steps off the cross in The Devils. Moments stick with me versus structure or beauty, and when the handsome love interest in At Home in Mitford is revealed to be a priest, I was floored- my Roman Catholic grandma and I nearly fell out of our rocking chairs. While the rest of the paled in comparison to the pure shock this moment held, it is a moment that will stick with me nonetheless.

It feels selfish to try and take some positive out of all of this, but I think this time in the world is forcing me to rethink how I value my time. With social interaction stripped, I retreated to the things I love the most. From the perspective of both an avid reader and writer, I found myself gravitating to pieces that feel more rough than polished, more authentic to the human experience versus a careful selection of one’s mind laid out in a sanitized way. I’m watching things that I will remember, not things that are widely praised as beautiful pieces of film. I’m learning that the most important things in my life are the moments I can look back fondly on down the road.

It’s strange to ask “how are you?” nowadays. The pressures of the pandemic push in on us, the lives lost, the families ruined, and the mental anguish that we are all experiencing in one way or another. We are all trying our best, one restless night to the next.

CJ Hughes

Recent film school graduate with an affinity for writing essays.

CJ Hughes

Recent film school graduate with an affinity for writing essays.

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