On best friends, Keanu Reeves, and why I was triggered by Captain Marvel (but still loved it)

Content Note: 

Death of a loved one



Hey little buddy.

Long time no see.

Or hear.

Or hang out with.

Or read new comic books with in the wee hours of Thursday morning.

So much has happened in the last decade (it’s hard to believe it has been nearly that long since I last saw you). A lot of it has been 31 flavors of awful, but not everything. There have been some bright spots. One of brightest of them has been the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It really sucks that you only got to see the big screen debut of Iron Man, back in 2008. Since then, wow, I really think you’d have been as excited as I have been, your inner comic book fan bursting at the seams. Scratch that. Your inner fan would have completely burst out of the seams and gone full scale cosplay (like you did for Where the Wild Things Are). I can easily picture you cosplaying as one of the Guardians of the Galaxy (a movie you probably would never have thought would get made, let alone be a financial and critical success) or even the Winter Soldier. Yeah, they made a GotG movie and incorporated Bucky Barnes into the MCU. They also made 3 Thor movies, 3 Captain America’s, 3 Iron Man’s, and multiple Avengers films. Hell, they even made a film about Ant-Man, which did well enough to get a sequel, Ant-Man & the Wasp. And that’s not all. Marvel got Spider-Man back (not completely, but enough so Marvel can use him in their movies). So he’s gotten incorporated into their fictional universe, with Tom Holland taking up the mantle of everyone’s favorite web-slinger in one movie thus far, with another coming this summer (in related news, following Disney’s acquisition of Fox Studios, the X-Men and Fantastic Four are back under the same house as the Avengers, though its gonna be a while before we see anything with them, according to Kevin Feige).

There are so many more surprises that you almost certainly would have loved. As a fan of animation, I think you’d have loved Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. You weren’t around to read about the debut of Miles Morales following the death of Spider-Man in the Ultimate Universe.  Let’s just say he gained a sizable following and eventually made the transition from the comic book page to the big screen (albeit in animated form, which I grumbled about at first, bc HEY LIVE ACTION, but after seeing it, I’m glad they went with animated, bc that shit looked amazing). Perhaps even more surprising, not only did the Black Panther make it to the big screen in his own movie, but it became a critical and financial juggernaut that went on to make over a billion dollars. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought a Black Panther film would get made, let alone be top notch, and be such a successful movie. I could copy that last sentence almost verbatim to describe my thoughts on another movie that recently came out.

Can you believe Marvel made a movie with Carol Danvers aka the first Ms Marvel aka Binary aka Warbird aka Captain Marvel? Oh crap. I forgot you weren’t around for Carol stepping up to take the title. Well, she did, and she’s done the legacy of Mar-Vell proud. And that film she starred in? Like Black Panther, Captain Marvel broke a billion dollars (and counting). And just as Black Panther shattered long held beliefs about the viability of a movie with a Black lead (to say nothing of a virtually all Black cast), Captain Marvel showed Hollywood and the world that a movie with a woman as the lead character–a superhero movie at that–can be box office smash and receive acclaim around the world.

Living where I do now, it’s not easy to get out to see any movies. After wrecking my car back in 2013, I haven’t been in the financial position to get another one. I moved from Pensacola to a small town outside of Panama City, Florida. It’s one of those “wonderful” Southern cities that plasters confederate flags everywhere (as if a bunch of white supremacist, anti-American traitors deserve to be honored). I moved out here with my aunt and cousin (great aunt, technically) to get my bearings and try to get back on my feet. Thankfully, my cousin allows me to use her car on occasion, so I’m not stuck in this house. This city is verrrry small. There’s something like 3000+ people living here. We have 2 convenience stores (one just opened up a few weeks back), 2 dollar stores, and 2 small town supermarkets.  Buncha churches too. No gym. No swimming pool. One small bar with weird hours and a dart machine that doesn’t work. There’s just really not much here. For the first few years, I worked in Panama City, driving 45 minutes to and from work 5-6 days a week. Things were on their way to stabilizing when BAM, last July, the restaurant I’d been bartending and managing at (Bennigans) closed down. We had a feeling it was coming, but it still sucked. As if to add to the suckery, the vehicle my cousin was letting me use–a 2003 Dodge Ram (with a HEMI)–started acting up and becoming unreliable, so using it to travel back and forth to Panama City on a regular basis became untenable. That left me struggling to figure out what to do for work in this town that has precious little available.

Then Mother Nature decided the least of my worries was finding a job. On October 10, Hurricane Michael hit.  It was a catastrophic hurricane that straddled the line between a Category 4 and 5. We live 24 miles from Mexico Beach, which was ground zero. The hurricane decimated this region.  By January of this year, the death toll in Florida was 47. The damage of course was in the billions. There were no deaths as far as I know in this town, but there was a metric fuckton of damage. We sustained surprisingly little damage. My aunt’s home lost some shingles off the roof and some vinyl siding. And some trees were uprooted, while others were nearly snapped in half by winds over 150 mph. But the structure of the home was fine. There were no leaks and no substantial damage. Of course the power was out. 17 days with no power really is not fun. Relief efforts came quickly, supplying food and water for the community. We had two generators so we could charge laptops and cell phones (though no carriers were up and running in the days immediately following the hurricane so we had no way to tell people were ok and vice versa). More importantly, we could keep our refrigerators cold. By the beginning of November, things slowly returned to normal, but the job situation hasn’t. There’s just not enough opportunities for anything in this town and without a reliable vehicle, I’m pretty much stuck.

But enough of that.

Last week, I had the opportunity to see Captain Marvel. The only movie theater left after the hurricane is almost exactly an hour and a half away from us (which is one reason I don’t go to the movies very often). I know this bc–and if you were here, you’d laugh, bc you know how I am–the movie played at 3:30 and I left the house at 2:05. I arrived at the ticket stand at 3:24. Of course, having been a manager in a movie theater, you know that I wouldn’t have missed the movie, since previews go for like 20 minutes. I grabbed my popcorn, a hot dog, and drink ($24–geez; but you always told me that theaters make their money on the concession stand items), found the seat I’d picked out (it’s still weird to me that we get to select our seats) and settled in. And by settled in, I mean, got reeeeeeeeeally comfortable. These weren’t the old school theater seats. They were the luxury seats. Very comfortable. Soft. Wide. No cramped spaces. Quite nice.

A few hours later, the movie finished and I rushed to my car. I had to get there before the waterworks came. I held them back during the movie with ease bc I was distracted by the film. With it over, the emotional turmoil that I’d kept a lid on was boiling over and I didn’t want to be a crying mess as I walked out of the theater. The walk to the car seemed to take forever. When I finally got there, the dam burst. In a million years, I never would have thought a Marvel movie would trigger me, but Captain Marvel certainly did.

After I composed myself (crying and driving don’t work well together) I hit the highway and started the drive home. A drive that long gives you time to think, and I spent that time assessing the Brie Larson-led movie I’d just watched. I wish you’d have been there. I remember ripping apart shitty movies with you and gushing about the good ones (I still recall how much we both enjoyed 30 Days of Night). How was the dialogue? Were there any clunkers? Did any of the actors come across stiff and wooden, as if they weren’t comfortable or weren’t giving a convincing performance? What about the action? Was it like the first X-Men movie, where you walk in excited and then walked out wishing they’d have put more action in the film? How about villains and/or antagonists? Boy, if you’d seen some of the villains Marvel has used, you’d have been rather let down by several (in fact, the quality of the villains in the MCU movies is one of more widespread criticisms they’ve faced). What about the story? Did they go Batman&Robin, Green Lantern, or (shudder) X-Men: The Last Stand, and try to shove too many story elements into one film, with characters and plot developments getting short shrift? How about the relationships between the characters? Was there chemistry between them? Did their interactions feel authentic? We used to bounce these questions off one another on the way home after screening a new film late Tuesday/early Wednesday morning. Man, I still remember how much fun we used to have on Tuesdays.

Tuesday Night Supper Club was probably one of our best ideas. Ask a bunch of friends if they want to meet up for early dinner around 5 or 6. Meet. Eat. Chat. Socialize. Someone else at the table picks the restaurant we meet at the following week. Rinse and repeat. I remember being uncertain if it would catch on. The first time we had 6, which was respectable. That one time we had 30 (for Charlie’s 30th birthday) was wild and fun. I don’t think we ever had anything close to a core group of people (you and I alone didn’t count as a group), but we always had at least 6-8 people. After dinner, it was off to Emerald City for Drag Queen Bingo, which was hella fun for a couple of hours. And then after that, MOVIE NIGHT.

Ah, I miss movie night with everyone. That first time you invited me up to see a movie after hours was so cool. I’d never been upstairs to the projection booths. The thought of that barely lit corridor upstairs still gives me the creeps. I always thought a movie theater would make for an interesting horror movie setting. The most fun was you and I sitting there watching films in a house with only a smattering of people, scattered everywhere. We could talk to each other at slightly louder levels than a whisper without worrying about interrupting anyone else’s time since it was only employees and their friends in the house and only 10-12 at that. Even now, over a decade later, I still find myself wanting to talk to someone in real time about things in movies. It was really nice to see new films 3 or 4 days before the public did. Also nice to not have to put up with the public. I miss those Tuesday nights. Your presence was vital to my enjoyment.

It’s funny…I think about allllllllllllll those times we’d go to the bar and people would think we were a couple. Or we’d go out by ourselves and get asked “wheres your other half”. I think it began to get irritating for you before it did for me bc you knew so many more people in the gay community of Pensacola than I did. It began to grate on my nerves in time though. Thing is, we were inseparable, so I can see where people were coming from. From when we met in October 2007 until….sigh….you died in January 2010, so much of both our lives were bound together. How weird was it when, a few months after we first met, we’d chatted enough to be able to anticipate what the other was going to say (in general, though not specific word choice). I remember the look of shock on peoples’ faces when I’d complete one of your sentences or vice versa. And we’d order drinks for each other. Pick up the tab for one another. Your co-workers knew me. Mine knew about you. We were like a two person puzzle, that fit nearly perfectly together. The biggie came after your DUI right after Christmas in 2007. God it was scary to hear you’d been in an accident (thankfully, you managed to walk away with little more than scratches). A few days later when I suggested you move in with E and I, bc I didn’t have a problem driving to your place and taking you to work, but it would be easier if we lived under the same roof…that’s when our friendship really blossomed. After we addressed the roadblock in our friendship a few months later (which led to you curbing your drinking bc that was causing tension in our friendship), things went swimmingly until shortly before you died. I wish I still had my journal that i kept after you passed. It had details that I cannot remember anymore. Like why we had a fight prior to your trip to New York. I think we went almost 2 weeks not talking to each other, which, when you live together (with our rooms literally separated by a wall) takes determination and stubbornness from both parties. I guess it ultimately doesn’t matter what the source of the conflict was. I mean, I’d like to know just to have the knowledge, but I’m much happier knowing that we mended fences the very night before you died. The last time I saw you. January 6, 2010. We apologized to each other, hugged one another, and went to our separate rooms, both looking forward to the next day when we were supposed to go see a movie (you were off work and were going to go bowling with Lauren prior to that).

Sadly, January 7, 2010 is a day whose overall events have been seared into my brain. While I have forgotten some details (and I feel like such a shitty friend for that, even as I know that human brains do not retain every piece of information we’ve encountered, no matter how important we believe that info to be), some things I’ve not forgotten:

  • I worked 12 hours that Wednesday and had to work again at 3 on Thursday, the 7th, so I slept til 12 ish
  • I figured you were still asleep bc I knew you probably stayed up on the computer til 7 am. Plus you were off work, so you know.
  • Leaving the house, I saw your car on the curb in the street
  • It wasn’t really busy at work, so I remember texting you around 4 or 5 to see how it was going with Lauren. You didn’t respond, which was no big deal. Not initially. It was weird though, when I didn’t get a response from you in the next couple of hours. One thing we both always did was respond to one another via text or call in a fairly short amount of time. Normally, you’d have texted me back in minutes. Still, I thought maybe you two were having a blast bowling or something.
  • When the bar closed and I was almost done cleaning, I called you and it went to voicemail. I also texted you to see what was up, since I was supposed to join you and Lauren for a movie. No response. That’s when I started to worry a little bit.
  • When I got home, I started to worry a little more, bc your car was parked in the exact same spot it was when I left for work. 3 of us lived in the house and 2 of us had to work that day (me at 3 and E worked all day long). Since you were supposed to go meet up with Lauren, there’s no reason you wouldn’t have parked your car in the driveway, since neither I nor E was home.
  • I knocked on your door and got no response. Tried calling you again. No response. It was around 11 pm on Thursday and I was starting to really freak out. E got home shortly after I did and I asked him if he’d heard from you and he said no. With all the red flags popping up, I decided to try and open your door, feeling justified at this uninvited, potential invasion.
  • of course your door didn’t open. Which was both a surprise–bc generally you expect a door to open when you twist the knob–and not a surprise bc I had forgotten that you once told me you developed a habit of locking your door in the military. You even told me specifically that it’s nothing to worry about if your door is locked, bc it was habit.
  • at that point, I was really freaking out. If you hadn’t left the house (and I couldn’t see how you would have as your car was still here), then you were still in the house. So I remembered that the screen on your bedroom window had broken off a while back, so I could enter your room that way
  • Nothing and no one in my life could have ever prepared me for what I saw: the lifeless body of my best friend on his bed. Lifting your leg up, you were stiff. I knew then that rigor mortis had set in. My best friend was dead.

That was, and still is, the worst day of my life. In the immediate aftermath, I was absolutely good for nothing. I called in to work for the next week. There’s no way I could have worked as traumatized as I was. I even took off the following week. I couldn’t sleep. Every time I walked by your room it was as if I could feel your presence. I did not then, nor do I now, believe in ghosts or spirits, so I know it was the result of my grief stricken mind. SO many times I walked by your room, expecting to see you walk out, smiling and ready to take on the world. We set up an impromptu fund raiser for the cost of your wake (your parents didn’t want a funeral). I still don’t know how I had the wherewithal to leave the house and go to Emerald City for the Drag Show in your honor. Everyone knew how close we were. So of course everyone wanted to offer their condolences. There was no escape from the grief. If I stayed home, I was alone. If I went out, things became overwhelming. I felt so damn alone. And lonely. It felt like a part of me was ripped out and destroyed.

As the months went on, the grief lessened. It was over a year before I stopped “feeling your presence” in the house. But I still cried often. At the drop of hat. At seemingly innocuous behaviors. I stopped going out to the movies. I just couldn’t walk into a theater without thinking of you. The first movie I saw after you died was Avengers. I had to go see that. You know that has long been my favorite comic book team. The entire time I was watching the movie though, everything was muted. I was excited, but it felt like the dial was at 8 or 9, instead of the 11 or 12 it would have been if you were there with me. Still, I walked out of the movie theater excited to have seen the movie. I remember looking up to the sky and saying something along the lines of “You’d have loved it MW”, as if you were in heaven. Thanks to the insidious influence of Christianity in our culture, there are times even atheists fall back on behaviors that we learned throughout our lives.

Fast forward to my drive home after Captain Marvel. More than once I wondered how much you’d have liked it. I suspect, given that our tastes in comics and movies overlapped so significantly, as did our criticisms of both, that you’d have share by appreciation for it. But if you were here, I wouldn’t have liked it as much as I do. As it stands, I love Captain Marvel.

More than…every other MCU film that I have seen, actually.

I still have to watch Doctor Strange, Spider-Man: Homecoming, GOTG 2, and Thor:Ragnarok, but for all that I know at least 1 of the four is of high quality, I dont think even T:Rag, let alone Spidey or GotG 2, will have the effect Captain Marvel did on me. As for Doc, well (would that “strange” were truly appropos here, but its not)… its laden with such problems that its gonna have to work HARD to rise to the level of “meh” in my book.

If you were alive, you wouldn’t be surprised to hear me say that I loved it more than the 5 DC Extended Universe movies I have seen: Man of Steel, Kill happy rich boy vs the Smile-free, Somber, Pseudo Superhero****, Wonder Woman, Justice League, and the mess that pretended to be Suicide Squad. If we are supposed to include the 3 Nolan movies that bailed DC out after the abysmal mess caused by that great cinematic screwup that was B&R, then, I have seen 8 DCEU movies. I have not yet seen the Mera and Waterboy film (which is supposed to be a hoot and quite good) and have no intention of seeing Shazam until sometime after they unfreeze my cryogenically stored brain in a few millenia.

But none of those movies hit me in the gut like Captain Marvel.

As with Wonder Woman, I walked out of the theater crying.

Unlike Wonder Woman, the tears from Captain Marvel were tears of sorrow.I remember sitting there for a moment after I stopped crying trying to figure out how the hell that happened. I think I have been triggered 3, maybe 4 times in my life. I thought I knew what my triggers were. But clearly I was thrown overboard into an emotional maelstrom. I hadn’t chosen to enter the storm of my own volition and I was not prepared for dealing with the traumatic memories that assaulted my mind. The sight of your body. The weight of your body. The sliding window. The chill down my spine. The ear-piercing scream of sheer horror I let out when I realized death had taken you. It all flooded back

Captain Marvel showed me halfway through that my emotional core can get sideswiped by what at first glance seems to be just a scene between two actors. The specific words elude me, but the scene doesn’t. Carol Danvers had sought out her best friend Maria Rambeau. For 6 years, Rambeau had though Danvers was dead, and now, not only had she turned up alive, but she has weird super powers and it turns out that she’s been away on an alien world for all that time.

That scene, which reunited two best friends after a time when one was thought dead resonated with me. Obviously not bc the dead friend wasn’t actually dead. No, it was the sense of loss had by the surviving friend and the knowledge of how she must have felt after losing someone so close to her. The sense of how do you go on with your everyday life. How can you continue enjoying anything? How do you eat? How do you sleep? Will you ever laugh again? Will the crying ever stop? Will this hole within you ever heal? And, actually come to think of it, being confronted with the revelation that one’s best friend isn’t dead at all did resonate a bit, bc so often I wished, and hoped that you were still alive somehow. That you’d walk out of your room, or pull up in your car, or anything that put the lie to the events of that night. It’s not something that can ever happen. Intellectually, I knew that then. But when you’re grieving, the mind doesn’t always behave intellectually. There was an added element to that scene that gave it enough weight to affect me as it did.

You remember Keanu Reeves? The Matrix Trilogy, The Devil’s Advocate, Constantine, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure? Yeah, him. If it had been him in the role of either Maria or Carol, that scene would not have affected me much, if at all. I have never been particularly taken with Reeves’ acting. He doesn’t come across as authentic in the roles he plays. And so often, I find the characters he plays bore me bc I feel like I’m listening to him, not the character that he’s supposed to convince viewers he’s playing. It’s not that I hate Reeves. He’s serviceable. I’ve seen many of his movies. But he’s not the guy that’s going to perform in a scene that unintentionally hurls my mind back to one of the most traumatic experiences of my life.  That’s ok though, bc not only do I not really want to experience that again, when it comes to Keanu Reeves, I honestly don’t care about his acting ability when his humanity is so much more vibrant. His level of compassion for others and his empathy shine through in his actions. Actions which many people are unaware of. Did you know that he’s well regarded in Hollywood as a genuinely nice guy? That he’s done everything from buy Harleys for the SFX crew on The Matrix to driving a woman (that he did not know) 50 miles out of his way just to take her home to routinely buying meals for the “grunt workers” on his movie sets? He has gone through some tragedies in life: he had a neglectful father, had his best friend die, his long-term GF had a stillborn child and later died in a car accident, his sister developed leukemia and he became her long-term caregiver. He set up a charity in his sister’s name too, but did not attach his name to it. The man is a sterling example of a good human being. He could be an A-list actor with acclaim for his acting skills, a slew of awards, and be a highly paid, highly regarded acting coach, and none of that would even come close in significance to the goodness that radiates from the man. The world is a better place for his presence.

But while I’ve not been convinced of the authenticity of many of the characters Keanu Reeves plays, I was completely convinced by the performances of Lashana Lynch and Brie Larson (Maria Rambeau and Carol Danvers). Larson’s performance won me over early in the film. She sold me on the character she was playing. I was drawn in by her eagerness to prove she was capable to her superiors. I laughed many times at Danvers’ snark (especially in scenes with NICK). One scene in particular really wowed me with Larson’s ability to show just enough of pain her character was experiencing without going all the way. Other actors might have started crying, but Larson sold the scene by pulling back just shy of the tears, which was in character for Danvers.

As for Lynch, I wish we could have gotten more of her. When Danvers first confronted her, I could feel the shock, a touch of anger, and perhaps some disappointment flow off her character as she reacts to her best friend telling her what happened. Once she comes to accept the situation and opens her heart to Danvers again, she seemed to lighten up and the pair slid back to their old selves. As if no time had passed. As if Carol had never died.

Lynch and Larson breathed life into their characters and I thought they had a darn good on-screen chemistry (almost as good as Samuel L Jackson and Larson).  It is because of that chemistry and their skills as actors that I was drawn into the fill. Having been drawn into the film, I became emotionally invested in it. Doing that opened the doors for me to be triggered by the scene that caused me to vividly and uncontrollably flash back to the night that I discovered your dead body.

When I say that Captain Marvel is a movie I love–above even Black Panther, which I truly loved–it is bc of the emotional connection the movie provided. Though being triggered is not a pleasant experience, in this specific example, I was triggered bc one of the greatest strengths of Captain Marvel was the ability of its actors to imbue their characters with life. The vibrancy they brought to their roles made them feel so real. It is bc of that realness that I relived a horrible experience. While I can’t say I’m glad that I relived trauma of your death, it is that emotional weight, that connection to the movie that makes its unique. None of the other movies had this element of sufficient authenticity to have an effect on me like that.

(I gotta say, it feels weird to praise something that also caused me to relive a traumatic event)

I’m sorry I haven’t thought about you in while. I know that you’d want me to move on and really, I have. I haven’t had waterfalls pouring constantly from my eyes in 9 years when I think of you. I found a new buddy too. Someone I’ve come to care about a lot, as he does me. There’s no replacing you and it would be foolish of me to even think to try. You and C are different in so many ways (though you both share a military background). Where you and I gravitated to one another quickly and developed a very close, non-sexual intimacy in a short amount of time, C and I don’t share many of the same thing in common that you and I did. Unlike you and I, the close friendship he and I have developed took some time to deepen.  Another wrinkle that you would probably laugh your ass off about–he’s a heterosexual guy. A really attractive, heterosexual guy. He knows I’m gay and has never had anything close to a problem with my sexuality. He knows I’m attracted to him and similarly has no problem with that. He and I come from different worlds. He can work on cars and appliances, knows how to hunt for food, loves outdoors activities, and is a welder. Me? You know me. i don’t know what the hell I am. I’m still trying to figure that out. Just not right this second. Right now, I’m not trying to do anything.

Wait…I take that back.

I am trying to figure out a way to find everyone who believes in the “friendzone” and smack them with the clue by four that is the friendship between C and I. Because despite the fact that I’m attracted to him, I don’t feel like he put me in the “friendzone”, bc that would mean I felt like he owed me something or that I felt entitled to him romantically and/or sexually. Like you and I, he and I are very close friends. I cherish both of you deeply.

I’m gonna go now MW, but I’ll try not to stay away from your memory for so long.

I love you.

I miss you.

I will always miss you.

On best friends, Keanu Reeves, and why I was triggered by Captain Marvel (but still loved it)

3 thoughts on “On best friends, Keanu Reeves, and why I was triggered by Captain Marvel (but still loved it)

  1. 1

    Captain Marvel showed Hollywood and the world that a movie with a woman as the lead character–a superhero movie at that–can be box office smash and receive acclaim around the world.

    Really? You’ve never heard of Sigourney Weaver? Serious?

  2. 2

    […] On best friends, Keanu Reeves, and why I was triggered by Captain Marvel (but still loved it) (from The Progressive Pub via The Orbit): “A few hours later, the movie finished and I rushed to my car. I had to get there before the waterworks came. I held them back during the movie with ease bc I was distracted by the film. With it over, the emotional turmoil that I’d kept a lid on was boiling over and I didn’t want to be a crying mess as I walked out of the theater. The walk to the car seemed to take forever. When I finally got there, the dam burst. In a million years, I never would have thought a Marvel movie would trigger me, but Captain Marvel certainly did.” […]

  3. 3

    I have heard of Weaver. And I’ve seen all but the post AvP2 movies.
    That doesn’t change the fact that for many people in Hollywood and societies around the world, movies with women as the lead characters have been perceived as to be incapable of being critically acclaimed, box office smashes.

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