The impetus for the project was a local short-film contest, which set a maximum length of 12 minutes (or 12 script pages), four characters, and use of a specific location—in this case the Witch’s Hat Water Tower in Prospect Park, Minneapolis. The film also had to address the theme of “Agony and Bliss, Unrequited Love.”
I’d written a script with an actor-director friend, Chars Bonin, who cast three other actors. We scheduled production for the weekend of May 30. We chose that date because it was the only time the tower would be open to the public, and we’d be able to shoot our final scene from the top. Work on the story started as early as April 16. The submission deadline was August 15, so we had it all planned. Our working title was Goodbye.
Seven days before principal photography, Mom died.
I mothballed the whole thing.
I found copies of the 6-page script and notes at the bottom of a banker’s box, along with my phone bill’s call list four days before and a day after Mom’s death. Line 51, May 24, 9:55 a.m.—the call to Dad after I’d gotten his voicemail; three minutes later, at 9:58 a.m., a stunned call to AJ, my girlfriend at the time, to tell her the news. We talked for another three minutes before she hung up and hurried out her back door to come see me.
In the script notes I wrote: “Ignorance is, working concept. 4 characters, unrequited love. No knowledge you are loved.”
Just after Chars and I met to brainstorm the original story, on April 18, I emailed a screenwriter friend:
“It’s changed substantially … the old woman went away, replaced by a woman nearly the same age as the 30-year-old guy, and still have the two teens. No real story outside of the fact that the kids know way more about love than the couple twice their age. That’s all I have at this point. I’m excited about this concept because that’s how I really feel about “love”—you actually know more about it when you think you know less, and when you think you have it figured out, you’re back to square one.”
Two days before Mom died, AJ and I had fallen in love. Although we’d been dating for over a month, Thursday, May 22 put it over the top. I knew exactly how I felt when I was with her—confident, strong, at peace. It was like having my entire being in alignment.
In the final script, Denny, mid-30s, a construction contractor, is hopelessly in love with old college acquaintance Sue, who’s oblivious to Denny’s feelings. She tends a local bar where Denny hangs out after work. Intertwined with Denny and Sue’s story are two preteens, Ethan and Lisia, who have no trouble sharing their hyper-intelligent affection for one another. In the end, Denny and Sue fail to connect; Lisia and Ethan only deepen their bond.
In real life, AJ wanted me to talk more about the mother I’d just lost, but I wasn’t ready. Memories of Mom hit me in waves, often when AJ was not around. Perhaps Mom and I were bound in our separate sorrows when, after 1981, her mother died and she fought her longest episode with clinical depression. I was always closer to Mom than Dad.
At the end of Goodbye, the preteens watch from the top of Witch’s Tower as Denny and Sue part ways, likely for the rest of their lives. Ethan and Lisia are holding hands, glowing in the presence of each other’s company. It would be a beautiful day in May, high above the trees with their pristine leaves, and Minneapolis gleaming on the horizon.
April 4, 2008, I wrote in the journal: “I don’t hold out much optimism for relationships with the opposite sex—when I get hopeful about that I also yank in the reality that, well, it’s just easier to do things on your own, overall.”
The sentiment is understandable, but seriously flawed.
My mother, the one woman I’d known all my life was, by 9:55 a.m., May 24, 2008—gone forever. That was one reality. But the other reality was that three minutes after getting the horrible news from Dad, I had AJ to reach out to.
She did not for one moment hesitate to come running. And for that I will always be grateful.