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A Timeless Gift

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Dolls-VHS
Courtesy photo

I have always considered myself quite the media fan. I love books, movies, comics and have had an obsession with music for most of my life. I still own many objects from my youth and have a collection of nearly 600 films, 200 of which are VHS tapes. There are titles and themes ranging from kid’s movies and the generic superhero flick to horror, suspense and even a few English sitcoms. I enjoy Korean revenge films, Ben Stiller and kung-fu movies. “Top Gun,” “There Will Be Blood,” and “Stranger Than Fiction” are a few that are viewed probably more than should be. Some of my favorites are Focus Features, “X-Files”, Martin Scorsese, “Goosebumps,” and most anything by Stephen King. I’ve been called a pack rat, but that’s not even close.

I have a hard time letting go of the past and I tend to relate certain books or movies to key moments in my life. Most of my things are in boxes and only a portion fit on the shelving I have, due mostly to a lack of space. Once or twice a year, I go through and organize a bit, maybe even switch out some of the less watched films. When it comes to music, It’s hard for me to relate songs or bands to certain moments in my life, other than the fact that it’s always been there for me. Of course, I have the typical break-up song (The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry”) or bands that remind me of friends and family, but I tend to listen to music in stages and skip around a lot. I rarely listen to an album from start to finish. If I’m listening to music, It’s usually being used as background noise when reading or writing. If I had to choose, I would say that most of the time I listen to blues, country/folk or independent hip-hop.

When I was about 10, I fell in love with the B movie horror genre. B movies are typically low-budget and less publicized than some of the larger projects put out by film companies. I spent so much time at my Uncle John and Jerry’s house watching anything from Full Moon Features (a film studio) or the film “Leprechaun.”

I remember walking into their spare bedroom, where they had all the movies, a desk and some other odds and ends. The door was a flat, matte black and the golden handle was tarnished. The hardwood floor was covered in this awful thick, red carpet. There was this painted glass window that depicted The Virgin Mary, which scared the hell out of me. I thought that was scarier than anything in the room and it always gave me an awful, uneasy feeling. I rarely went in alone. The book shelves that showcased the movies were polished black. The only light was a desk lamp on the other side of the room, so when I would pick out a movie it was usually dark. A lot of the tapes were from the late ‘70s and ‘80s, I remember vividly seeing “Easy Rider” and its beat up case. “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,” because I had no idea what an NC-17 rating was and “Ghoulies,” which depicted a green troll in suspenders popping out of a white porcelain toilet. They had so many independent and Full Moon movies, I absorbed them all. In my opinion, Full Moon produced many great flicks and they continue to do so. Jeffrey Combs and Stuart Gordon are two of their best and most noteworthy contributors to the production company. The “Puppet Master” series and “Dolls” stick with me most because I relate them back to one of the greatest and worst events of my life.

My uncle John, in his depression, committed suicide two years after losing my uncle, and his partner, Jerry, to AIDS. We hadn’t heard from him in a few days and my family was starting to worry, so my dad and grandpa went over to investigate. When he didn’t answer they knew something was wrong because he wasn’t the type to just pack up and go. My dad climbed in through a window and they found him on the floor. I was at my grandparents’ house down the street when I heard the ambulance and police go by. It was November and life as I knew it was over.

I buried my face in my grandma’s shoulder and cried. John was the kindest, warmest person I had encountered up until that point in my life. He wore Acqua Di Gio, khaki shorts, flip flops and ugly (it was the 90s) button up shirts. One summer he got my dad to pierce his ear, which was a small victory for him because they bonded over that. Christmas ‘94, my mother was pregnant with my little brother and the tree tipped over, trapping her underneath. I called John and when he showed up, he laughed about it for a few minutes, picked on her and then helped her out. When she was on her feet, he picked some more.

I wish that I still knew their phone number.

Uncle John and Uncle Jerry used to have a huge German Shepherd named Bear and went to the Bahamas on vacation a couple times. John and Jerry purchased a trailer in Palatka, Florida that they lived in for a winter, when we went to visit I remember some of the road signs and thinking that Lady Slipper was such a weird name for a street. When we arrived it was time for bed, but in the morning we had breakfast, watched “Interview With the Vampire” and went exploring. Those memories are kind of lost now, but in my opinion it’s the little things that count.

I do remember feeling strange when they weren’t around, there was a comfort in going over after school, even if it was just to hang out. My siblings and I spent as much time as possible at their house, because it was only a quarter mile down the street from where we lived. Unfortunately, I don’t have many memories of Jerry, he struggled with self-esteem and identity issues and kept most of the family out of his affairs. The thing that gets me down the most about the situation is that my father never really talked about it with us and still doesn’t. Getting him to open up about his brother and his brother’s lover is like pulling teeth.

I don’t try anymore.

John left trinkets and antiques for family members and my dad got the house. He left a note that was ignored by his mother, who showed up and took many of his antiques, which he collected for years. All I got was “Dolls,” a film that leaves little to the imagination and is mediocre at best. My father made sure that he got into the house and put the tape away for me. I am happy receiving this gift because watching that movie is something that we did together a few times every month. I’m pretty sure he just wanted me to have it for no other reason than it was a part of our routine. The tattered cover and cracked lens are proof enough. We would stay up and watch “Dolls,” “Leprechaun,” or “Puppet Master,” eat as much junk food as we wanted, and the drink of choice was always Coca-Cola.

I think back fondly on our time together and I try to be the best person I can. I am thankful for the time we spent together and I’ve learned to embrace the small things in life. In the long run, all we have are our memories and I celebrate his life every chance I get.