I was in my 3rd year of high school. I was doing cinema studies and the final assignment was to make a 5 to 15 minute short film. Our teacher, Bert, was especially emphatic on French New Wave so I felt that the easiest way to get an A would be to imitate that sort of style.
Then my depression hit. My school work and attendance dropped like a cement brick into a river with a lovely ankle bracelet attached, and any aspirations of As was left behind for a while. I began to leave home only to wander around the woods near my house, my mother would leave for work an hour after I would leave and I would then go home to sleep. My mom never suspected a thing since I would easily fabricate stories from school and luckily my small, alternative school profoundly respected my right to cry in the woods for 4 months.
When, rarely, I would crawl into my seat in class I was met with concern. “I’m just working on my writing” I would say, my eyes blood shot and my grin, bold and fake, showing strain on my tight cold skin; eventually, I would actually open up to my teachers about my depression. My symptoms grew worse as the months went on: bruises, scratches, and long cases of insomnia were punctuated with large mood swings and disassociation. My dreams which once dutifully lightened my reality by condensing my emotional turmoil into fantastic voyages blurred. I felt like I was drying into a small, shriveled doll of myself. I felt the Ripley himself was shrinking me piece by piece, not affording me the luxury of beheading me first.
The snow came mid-way through my wanderings, it was a welcome challenge to increase my cathartic suffering. It complemented the autumn fogs of the bush near the river and seeing the tracks of the animals that I would so rarely glimpse in the flesh actually gave me a flicker of a bastardized happiness. There was one thing that began to bother me, that there were fresh footprints along mine at times. Always around the end of the week, the feet were broad, yet lacked length, and I saw small trails dragged along in the larger passages of snow. They were carrying a bag. My path wasn’t popular but wouldn’t be unknown either, especially the long stretches of field shared by the town house owners. I remembered a summer from middle school.
I was 13, coming back from exploring an abandoned textile factory, scoping it out and hoping to make new friends by boldly leading some peers into the new and exciting field of youth trespassing. I had already (accidentally) trespassed into the Toronto zoo, something, that while incredibly indicative of my stupidity at the time, I wore as a badge of honour. Dumb luck is always appreciated as skill by the young, at least in my experience. Though this trip was a bit different coming back than entering, I had decided to take a back entry of the textile plant into a large thicket of grass. While whistling, talking to myself, or badly rapping I quickly shut up with wide eyes as I saw the two of them. The man was laying on his arms, either incredibly flabby or stick thin covered by rags with the illusion of flesh, was lying in a small clearing. The stick-bug hobo was looked down upon by a dour, but otherwise impassive, Toronto park employee. The validity of his status was cemented for me by his dark green jacket that had the words of the city on it, a matching stamp of approval on his breast.
I did what I was and still am known for doing, reacting most unexpectedly. I pantomimed taking off a hat and nervously stammered “good day to you, c-c-chaps” and briskly walked away. The more I played the scene in my head, the stranger it became. The worker was not trying to help the man, he had no walky-talky, no supplies, and was only staring at the man. The stick-bug man of rags himself I could barely more than glance at. While my actions were strange, I feel my instincts were spot on when it came to leaving in a hurry.
When I trespassed into the nature reserves of the Rouge Valley, I would see shoddily constructed tents and garbage trails. I knew there were those on the path of hard times scavenging for survival and creating their own permanent camps in these, very literally, sub-urban wilds. So the tracks in the snow flickered with ominous, yet pitiful, thoughts for me. I couldn’t feel true fear without a greater sense of shame for fearing my fellow man, for fearing those just trying to survive. I put it out of my head, as I heard the distant crack of wood, and the fluttering of the wind. I went home basking in my routine of wallowing despair.
The basement that my mother and I lived in was perpetually cold. A feature always positive in the summer, and satisfied my longing for death by being cold, lightless hell in the winter. My bed was in the center of a room, a single lamp my most reliable light source. It was more of a futon with a lopsided frame to be honest. I remember never knowing the difference between sleep and consciousness in the pitch blackness of the room. Fear of nothing blended in with the banality of living, I never expected my eyes to adjust for this was true darkness, no flashing alarm clocks or laptop lights. I made sure of it; any electronics were securely left out of my room on the living room table when I was preparing for bed. My mother may like continuous reminders of light while she trying to sleep but I find it distracting to my morbid-angst driven adolescent comas.
The winter gave me an opportunity to feel resilient against the environment by wrapping up in sheets and learning to have a wonderful feeling of warmth with the knowledge I would die otherwise. In a room of death, I was resilient. So I slept, for a few more months.
“I didn’t believe you could produce such a work!” Bert exclaimed patting me on the back as I soggily trotted to my locker. “You’ve truly presented a chilling portrait of depression of a soul, a truly innovative, amazing, terrifying abyss you’ve crafted. I knew you could pull through”. He began to walk away but stopped as I said “What?” in a sleepy, 2-hours late tone. “Your film, son, your film!” he looked at me with a glance of pity and a smile of pride for his exhausted student. “I got it in the mail last night, a classic VHS, very anachronistic of you, Mr. Scanlon.” He slyly wiggled his finger, the man’s penchant for mixing flamboyant character acts into his usually sardonic sloth-like admonishments of lesser-generations taste always drew the reaction I would save for a John Waters picture: subtle horrific awareness of the shit of reality, mixed with cutesy comedic awareness.
“Bert, I never did a film”. He almost started laughing, I almost started laughing. Our mouths almost matching like a terrible reflection as the seriousness of our statements bled into the tableau.
I never noticed how horrific laughter looked until that moment.
An hour later he brought the tape back from his home, I requested with all seriousness to see the tape. We sat on top of tables as I held it in my hands, the tape itself was given in a thick envelop, I felt its thick plastic. A generic tape with the white label “Mick’s room”. I felt sick before I even watched the tape. I partially recognized the vibrations to my left as Bert’s nervous chatter and a hand on my shoulder as I approached the VCR. I heard him walk to the door and go to the office in a hurry. I pressed play.
The screen was white, with the tell-tale signs of tape exposure, the gray streaks and fuzzy quality. The scene panned out to show a white field from an upward perspective. A familiar figure was walking through the field, a large light brown overcoat wrapped around a small framed figure striding through the snow. The figure stopped intermittently to gaze around, never seeming to focus in the direction of the camera. The only sound was a light wind and the reverberation of existence off the snow that I heard. I felt my head rush and rest like a series of waterfalls and stagnant, frozen ponds.
The tape had a quick cut to my footsteps, looking deeply into the deep imprints my feet and legs left, the light pouring over them. The darkness becoming more apparent, and another cut.
I see myself crouched into the crevice of a rock, I’m holding my hands. I’m not crying. I remember that moment, that moment of not feeling anything, wanting to be contained so I fit myself into the tight, cold crevice of the rock. There is an almost deafening crack, as a stick breaks as the figure filming shifts. They stay perfectly still, zooming onto me. I nonchalantly gaze around, suspecting nothing. Cut.
You can hear a low pitch scream, something long and drawn out. Exhausted and pitiful, the microphone’s quality doing no favours. The camera lens is aimed at some branches, the sides of the shot you can see a little bit of snow. The person seems to be partially submerged, though they are careful not to put any of themselves into the shot. One last, breathy cry is heard. It echoes as you hear the figure make something akin to a gurgling sigh, something that sounds almost soothed. I feel like I am filled with an ill winter, the green ice of a dirty pond. Cut.
The shot is of me walking down the sidewalk over a section of the Rouge River home. The shot is from another crouched position. The sky is dark and smoky, it is either very early or the beginning of the evening. I walk sluggishly, I can feel my fingers curl into the desk as I remember them curling in my coat. Cut.
The shot is of the side passage to the door of my house. The shot lingers at the dark alley, the stones are sprinkled with snow. The figure trails down the lazily-shoveled pathway and approaches the door. A glove, over a glove, over a glove seems to come into the frame. The outer layer of the padded limb seems to be bursting out of the seams. I feel like I could do the same, as the figure presses its limb against the off-white door. It holds there for 20 seconds before the sound of a car driving past is barely heard. Cut.
The shot is on the door again, but it is much darker. The figure crouches down to the window beside the stairway down and focuses on all the crust, dirt and cobwebs. They put their glove to the dirty window and draw a face. Not one of detail, just two lines for eyes and a straight line for a mouth. My lips are trembling and I am sweating. Cut.
I hear the soft padding and then the creak of my stairs while the image is completely black. Then for a moment there is a bit of gross yellow streetlight from the window near the stairs, an expressionless face. The house is more silent than it ever feels usually, there is a blinking light of an alarm clock from the living room as my mother’s light snores are heard. The camera focuses on my bag and some of my electronics strewn on the table, the figure films the home in complete silence, the cascading shadows paint my home into a den of tension and despair. The shot ends on my mother’s face, she grunts softly and turns. Cut.
My door is partially open, just a crack. An infinite line of blackness in an already dark domain appears on the screen. It slowly creaks and breaks into a maw of horror as the figure slowly trots into the room. I hear the door close. I see only the same darkness I ever see, I hear a slight peeling sound and then a red light fills the room dimly. The recording light of the camera. I see my figure wrapped in thick blankets, it thrashes once or twice at the disturbance but settles easily. Cut.
A layer of blanket is removed, I was not clutching them as tightly as I thought I do. My hands felt glued to the cheap plywood desk, I was in utter shock. The thick comforter was pulled off me slowly, the figure missing a layer of the glove they once had, revealing thick felt fingers, thickly pulling on my safety. Once the blanket is slid off, the camera focuses on my sleeping face in the red light. Cut.
The next shot is on my wall. The messy, emotionally constructed mural I made during a meltdown is put onto display. The abstract faces and blocky spellings of things like “LOVE” and “PAIN” somehow seem so much less substantial in this context. The figure shifts the shot towards my bed, the hand reaches forward once again, shed of another layer. A thin plaid glove now remains. My light shivering is heard slightly as an almost buzz with the terrible quality of the microphone. My arms rub against my body lightly then are placed underneath my head subconsciously. The figure puts the camera towards the screen, rewarded with a layer of dust and the broken edge of my bed. Cut.
I’m exposed to the cold fully now when the shot begins. My light and sporadic shivering now full body and constant. The bed frame creaks as the figure leans in for an overhead shot of my face. I see the dirty, thin fingers approach me and I almost scream but my throat is too tight for any sound. I see the fingers lightly lead the shot as the nails disgustingly trail down my head to my stomach and circle back. The camera then focuses on my head, as I am facing away from the camera. My shivering much clearer, the shot holds uncomfortably for several seconds. I begin to shift onto my right side towards the camera, my shivering dies down as I squint my eyes in response to the light. “Who are you..?” I slurr almost incomprehensively at the figure. There is another pause and then a gravelly breath before a voice I will never forget “No one special.” The voice said nonchalantly. I see the camera shift and the red light is consumed leaving only blackness while I grunt and change sides. “I thought so” I mutter trailing off. The shot holds on the darkness for 10 more seconds. My shivering beginning at the end. Cut.
The tape ended there. I stared at the tape in disbelief. I heard shouting from the office, and I looked at the clock. Fifteen minutes had passed. I grabbed the envelope the tape was in and found Bert’s rubric. I saw all the highest marked sections of the rubric encircled by black check marks and one line in the comment section: “Amazing work!”