It Took Alaska...
Updated: Nov 21, 2017
I don't regret going to Alaska. It taught me so much about my intuition and those that suffer from mental illness. I feel this journey only made me a better writer exploring the human experience.
Signs Like a Totem Pole
The plane landed in Anchorage without delay. I wasn't sure what to expect from my first views of Alaska after researching it for the past five months. Green, lush pine groves, tall snow laden mountains and large blue skies would be the backdrop for my first feature film.
Krystal had already grabbed her backpack and was bubbling over with anticipation and a little apprehension. Would this be the same Alaska she knew 25 years ago? I was to write her life story, a feature film about the events that led her back to the man who broke her heart so many years ago and the woman she had now become.
It was a story of survival and redemption. I was excited that this movie could launch Krystal's career as a Life Coach. Little did I know that this trip would be a shocking discovery of broken dreams, harsh realities and a tattered soul.
The First Sign
We pulled out of the rental car parking lot with our list of supplies we needed, since we would be camping in extremely remote areas. We would be traveling over 2,000 miles from Anchorage to Homer, then on to Fairbanks and Chicken, Alaska in 21 days. We would be camping most of the way so our transportation would become more than a convenience, but an essential part of our comfort and safety.
We went to several homes of people following Cool Beans Films on Facebook to pick up supplies they so generously donated for our trip. We had over ten thousand followers watching our journey unfold, and their support was tremendous.
My first order of business was to stop by the Alaska Film Commission to pick up pertinent information I would present to interested studios. No one answered the phone, so I checked the website. I was in utter disbelief when I saw the words, "Governor Signs Bill to End Film Tax Credit."
My stomach dropped. At that moment I knew I should have halted the project, since creating a movie in a state that doesn't support film incentives was impractical. However, when I told Krystal that this journey should be cut short, the look of desperation on her face made me continue out of friendship. If anything, she could put her ghosts behind her, and I could acquire location shots. I also had the grant to fall on for a little financial support.
A place doesn't identify us. We identify with the memories and the emotions of a place.
The trip from Anchorage to Homer was uneventful. The scenery was breathtaking as Alaskan fjords rival any in the world. I had Krystal linearly tell her story from her meeting Dan to her arrival in Alaska when she had made plans to move there for him. She was 22 and crazy in love with Dan, a captain of a small fishing fleet. Dan had flown down from Alaska to attend his sister's wedding in California where Krystal was a bride's maid. Dan and Krystal hit it off, and a summer romance unfolded. She spent that summer in Alaska, and then went up during her winter break that December. It was then Krystal knew she found the place she wanted to call home and the man she wanted. However, it wouldn't turn out to be the fairy tale she had hoped.
Krystal arrived young and in love with a man who had other plans. She told me how she wanted to die when she found out he was moving in with another woman and planned to marry. My heart felt the pain she must have gone through. She had put everything into Dan, expecting him to take her away from a life that was full of trauma and isolation.
We pulled into Homer that morning, five hours after landing. The crisp air in July was invigorating and clear. I pulled the car over to get location shots of the Spit; a long finger of land that jutted out from the town of Homer that would be our home for the next week.
I paused, watching Krystal transform into her former 22-year-old self with the giddiness and apprehension she most likely felt those years ago. I was transfixed at seeing the physical change in her. Her face becoming child-like, even her voice took on a higher pitch. I was truly looking at Krystal as a she was back then. Typically a writer has to create the character with dialogue and mannerisms. I was lucky enough to watch it unfold in front of me. (Photo, DJH)
Through my inquiries to build the storyline, Krystal admitted that after Dan, no other relationship ever compared. This surprised me since it was 25 years ago, and he had left her for another. She had created a larger than life belief about Dan that made it impossible for any other man to overcome.
We drove down to the campsite and unloaded the car. We began making plans for what needed to be done that week. I needed more location shots and look up local businesses, if the film were miraculously shot on location.
The Spit in Homer, Alaska. (photo, DJH)
We walked around the docks where Dan had several boats. She spoke of the time he took her out Halibut fishing and met his crew. Krystal shared their adventures and how in love they seemed to be. It was the first time in her life she felt she was finally going somewhere. She also spoke about her mother and how that relationship shaped Krystal's path.
A Mental Legacy Unfolds
Her mother, Esther, was a German survivor of the Red Army invasion. She had fled an aristocratic life only to witness her aunt being raped and uncle killed by the Soviets. Watching loved ones murdered brutally, profoundly changed Esther in a way she would only realize in her later years. She created a life based on false perceptions that would eventually get her to the United States, a country she felt would bring her relief, but one she would come to loathe.
(Historical photo of the evacuation of East Prussia.)
Krystal's mother's story was a movie in itself. Esther did everything in her power to manipulate people to get the solace she so desperately sought. From befriending an American GI, eventually getting married, to leaving her infant son behind with relatives to find a better life. That in itself could explain her drive to get out of a war-torn country, but it was her disconnect with reality that played a crucial role in Krystal's life and choices.
Before we left for Alaska, I had Krystal show me the home where she grew up. It was small with a fenced yard surrounded by pastureland on the outskirts of a little town in California. Her mother had passed just months earlier, and it was Krystal's first time allowed in her home in over 10 years. The last time she had contact with her mother was when the local police had warned Krystal that her mother wanted to kill her. This was the most profound moment in Esther's schizophrenic abyss.
...her mother wanted to kill her...
The cigarette smoke stained walls were stacked with books that told of her mother's obsession with the travesties of war and the plight of humanity. Books about murder, Hitler, Stalin, and torture lined the shelves. However, it was the most recent bookshelf, with new crisp covers next to her mother's chair, that told another story of Esther's mindset.
However, there was a bookshelf that told a more in-depth story where her mother spent her last days reading. (photo, DJH)
There were books about Schizophrenia, brain disorders and emotional dysfunction. Post-it notes flurried the top of the books in a rainbow of color.
I looked at Krystal, "I think your mother was trying to figure out her sickness," I paused. "I think she was Schizophrenic."
Krystal searched the covers. "Fractured Minds," "Surviving Schizophrenia," "Preventing Alzheimer's."
Krystal talked of her mothers verbal and emotional abuse, and how she lived in a home without heat, due to her mother's paranoia of it burning down. She shared the time her mother wanted Krystal dead by almost drowning her in a tub of water. A mother, broken in her inability to show love for fear of feeling the intense pain of losing those she loved altogether.
So, when a spirited 7-year-old Krystal threatened that she was going to lock herself in the bathroom and kill herself, Esther sadly broke. Krystal reassured me she wasn't going to actually do it. She just wanted to get back at her mother for wishing Krystal dead so many times. What kind of damage do those types of threats leave on a young child, I wondered.
At first, the young mother yelled and pounded on the door. Krystal opened it to Esther's rage. Krystal couldn't fight the woman's verbal onslaught. Esther screeched that she would help Krystal do it, to drown her daughter.
As Krystal relived that day, I thought of Esther's motivation. Why would a mother wish her children dead? Esther couldn't stand loosing those that she loved, as she had so many years ago, so threatening her daughter would help her control the situation. Wishing Krystal dead would create the reality she most greatly feared, though she never saw it through. The Emotional detachment was the only way she could survive in a world as a mother.
Two Sides Speak Volumes
I passed out business cards to the shops around Homer hoping to find someone who knew Dan. Krystal was bent on finding out about the life he had made for himself with the woman he chose over 25 years ago. I told Krystal that I would need to call him for an interview, yet at first, she was reluctant for me to contact him. I said to her that he had a perspective to share, as well, and it would add more depth to the story. I also became concerned when Krystal wanted to locate his house. Instead I would let him know that we were there and why than have him learn about it through the concern of neighbors or friends.
We found his home up on a hill overlooking the Spit. We sat there quietly when I asked her how it made her feel seeing his house.
"That could have been my home," she whispered. I watched her scan every inch of it, and suddenly I felt uneasy.
"I deserved that house not her," she said. This didn't sound like a woman who was aware of life lessons and soul's journeys. Instead, she reminded me of a scorned teen. It was then I realized she was blaming Dan's wife, instead of Dan's choices. I brought this to her attention. So often women blame the other woman when it is the man that makes the final decision to leave.
Krystal sat quietly. I could see her mind chewing on it. "Maybe I was the other woman, and he wanted her all along."
I spoke with her about the possibilities that maybe Dan wanted the other relationship all along, but his fiancée wasn't ready. I could see Krystal's pain. She got quiet and nodded her head.
From the very first time I listened to Krystal's story, I had made Dan out to be a player. Suddenly, he no longer seemed like a player, but a man who didn't dare to tell a woman that he didn't see the relationship going anywhere. So, when she showed up in Alaska, he finally had to break it to her.
I could also see Krystal's embarrassment and shame in realizing that she refused to see the signs so long ago. She began to talk about the days leading up to seeing Dan. She told me he hadn't been calling her as much and seemed distant since he was relocating for a job. She slowly pieced it together that she may have been just a fling. It wasn't until that moment that Krystal allowed herself to think with a different perspective. I saw her change. A look of vulnerability came over her, and the reality hit that for 25 years she was holding on to something that wasn't real.
At this point, I felt Krystal could begin healing with this new perspective. However, she wanted to hang out in some of the local bars to see if we could find someone who knew Dan. This was when I realized she had an unhealthy attachment that was preventing her from seeing the bigger picture. I received a call from Dan later that day that solidified my thoughts.
Krystal and I just sat down to dinner at a local restaurant when I got the call. His voice was calm and curious. I excused myself from the table not to alarm Krystal.
"Debbie, this is Dan. I heard you were writing a movie about me?" I spoke briefly about the movie, careful not to mention Krystal.
"Do you know of anyone that you may have affected about 25 years ago?" Dan mentioned a deckhand or two but didn't speak of Krystal. I finally told him I was writing Krystal's story about her time in Alaska. There was a long pregnant pause.
"The past is my past," he spoke slowly. "I have made a great life for myself here, and my family and my girls are my life."
I reassured him that I was a creative enough writer to paint a general picture, and I would keep his life discreet.
We spoke a few minutes more. He never inquired about Krystal, nor spoke about their time together years ago. In fact, he avoided talk of her altogether. He told me he would think about it and get back with me.
Dan did call me back. Krystal quietly listened through the phone's speaker, recording the conversation on her phone, while he told me he had no interest in the film whatsoever. He was adamant that he didn't want to be a part of the project. Krystal looked out the window in contemplation. She finally had to admit to herself that she had to put this relationship in the past and find closure. It was a hard pill to swallow to hear Dan never ask about her, or how she was doing.
If there were an ounce of nostalgia or sweet memories, he would have wanted to visit with her, as adults do when reconnecting with an old flame. I realized then that there were indeed two perspectives to this story, and she needed to see his side now.
I felt Krystal was a survivor. She was able to create a life for herself and work on her inner self by following Dr. Wayne Dyer, Eckhart Tolle, and other new awareness gurus. She could preach their philosophies, even building her program for positive personal growth. Krystal was outgoing and friendly to all she met. I honestly felt she would have such a great ending to her story. That would not be the case, however.
The Mirror to Her Inner Child
Four days into our trip, I called my daughter Paige and asked her to photocopy some photos of Krystal when she was in Alaska as a young woman. Hours later I would receive a phone call that would change the entire trip and the film itself.
"Mom," my daughter audibly shaken, took a deep breath. "Rich and I went to Krystal's condo and found her dad on the floor. He was half-naked and almost bleeding to death. Rich doesn't think he's going to make it."
I sat down hard on a bench just outside the café where we were taking a break. Krystal was in the coffee shop, as I talked with my daughter.
"Honey, are you okay?"
She sniffed and reassured me that she was. "Rich told me to step outside and wait for the medics." I was so grateful that my boyfriend was with her, and she didn't make this discovery alone. I felt horrible that I couldn't be there for her.
My mind raced as to what could have happened in the last four days after meeting Krystal's father, Jack. He was passing through to visit Krystal before she left for Alaska, and was supposed to go on to see family. Rich and I had Krystal and Jack over for dinner to get some insight about Krystal and her mother. Later that evening, when drinking cocktails by the fire, Krystal quietly informed me that her dad was an alcoholic and probably shouldn't have any more to drink.
"Mom, there's blood everywhere. He must have fallen and hit his head and was unable to get up. We saw two empty alcohol bottles on the floor by the couch, too. We think he's been there for more than 24 hours. Rich said he looked dehydrated."
My heart was breaking for him knowing how he must have suffered; emotionally and physically. I was also heartsick for what Krystal was about to learn.
Krystal came outside of the café to see me in tears. She sat down, as I started to cry. "Krystal, Paige just called to tell me your dad is with paramedics now in your condo."
I had Rich call her back, so I could start making preparations for us to leave on my phone.
"No!" tears wielded up in her eyes, as Rich told her of their discovery. She sat there in shock, as he told her the gravity of the situation.
I grabbed my phone and walked toward the car. I felt I needed to find out how I could get her home as soon as possible. I spent several minutes getting information from the airlines. I also put out an all-call to our many followers on Facebook to see if anyone had a companion pass I could purchase to get her home. The next flight out was in the morning.
"He can't do this to me!" she yelled, as I sat down next to her. "This is just one of his benders. He'll be fine! He does this all the time, and I'm not dealing with it!"
I didn't know what to say. I took a deep breath and realized this would take some time for Krystal to recognize her situation. There was no way I wanted her to be in a remote place, thousands of miles away, should her father take a terrible turn.
"Krystal, he's not doing well." I wasn't ready to tell her that he had been intubated, which probably meant that his body was shutting down. Rich told me Jack coded several times and that in his experience as a detective, this was never a good sign.
Krystal stood up crying. "He can't do this to me. This is my trip, and he can't take this away from me."
I was shocked. "But Krystal, he's going to the hospital. We should at least get ourselves to Anchorage just in case we need to get you home." She sat there angry and in shock.
"Krystal," I tried to soothe, "he's not doing this to you. He's an alcoholic; this is his story, not yours." For some reason, I thought I could connect with the rational Krystal I had gotten to know in the past five months, but the shock of her father's situation overwhelmed her. It never occurred to me to that she would want to stay. Unbeknownst to me, this was the beginning of her disconnect.
"This is what he does! He has a bender and makes a mess. I can't tell you how many of these I've had to clean up!" She stomped away toward the car.
I drove us back to the campsite, as she contacted her step-brothers. At this point, Jack was in transit to the hospital, and Krystal was hoping one of her brothers could go to him. I quietly packed up our site and packed the car. Krystal was shooting me looks of annoyance.
I stepped away to call Rich and speak with my daughter. I told them that Krystal seemed resistant to leave Homer, and it would take at least 5 hours to get to Anchorage. I was hoping to fly her home on stand-by, or try to find a companion fare through our Facebook page.
As we drove out of Homer, Krystal turned to me and said, "Well, I left Homer, Alaska 25 years ago, because a man broke my heart. Now I leave it again because another man is breaking my heart.
The Past On "Repeat"
The drive seemed in slow motion. When we could get cell service, Krystal would call the hospital or her stepbrother's. To my surprise, they also seemed reluctant to make the drive or flight to see him. There was no word yet on Jack's condition, and the hospital staff was having a hard time providing any current information. We didn't know at this point if he was even conscious. I thought it best to keep her talking, to keep her mind off things. I asked her to talk about her last time in Homer.
Krystal spoke of when she left Homer heartbroken and how she called her friend Barbara for support. Barbara taught Psychology at a local college that Krystal attended, and they had become fast friends. She was someone Krystal could confide in about her past and her mother. Barbara was also a well-known psychic.
I asked Krystal to tell me about what Barbara said that day when Dan broke her heart.
Krystal paused. "Barbara told me that I needed to come home and be with family and friends, and that I needed to heal at home." Krystal hung up on Barbara in despair, and took off for Chicken, Alaska, instead.
I asked Krystal why she didn't go home. She became agitated, and said, "I was either going to die, or face my fear of being alone!"
Krystal was presented with the same story again, and she was choosing to take the same path as she had done before. Either go home and start the healing process, or stay and run from the very thing she needed to heal. I wondered out loud what would have happened 25 years ago if she had chosen to go home.
When I shared my thoughts with Krystal, she blew up. "This is my journey, and you can't take this away from me!"
It seemed clear to me that these were two very different situations. Running away from a heartbreak was much different from running away from a dying father. Unfortunately, Krystal was unable to recognize it.
"But what if," I calmly asked, "What if 25 years ago Barbara was right? What if you had gone home and put the past behind you and healed from Dan, and maybe even connected with your family better?"
Suddenly I was not with a sensible woman, but a broken child. She screamed again. "Just drop me off in Anchorage, and I'll continue this trip without you!"
Either [she needed to] go home and start the healing process, or stay and run from the very thing she needed to heal from.
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I kept driving, hoping to rationalize with her when we got closer to the airport. I knew leaving Krystal in Alaska was not the answer. It would be a financial hardship for her. I had purchased the flights and lodging, as well as the car. She would basically be stranded.
We pulled up into a small town to take a break and get something to eat. We still had about three hours to go. We sat in the back of a pizza shop and quickly got on our phones. I called Rich, as she called the hospital to get more information and again to attempt to convince her brothers to get to the hospital.
Rich answered, "Hey, babe. I'm so sorry you two are going through this. Where are you now?"
I moved outside to talk to him. "Rich, she doesn't want to come home. She said her friends will go to the hospital and sit with him. I don't want to be the bad guy here, but she just needs to get home. I think she's having a complete breakdown. I can't rationalize with her."
"Honey, I don't think this is a situation that Jack is going to come out of." He paused, "I really think this might be it for him." Rich told me again the condition of the condo and how my daughter found Jack writhing in pain.
Rich continued, "I think you and Krystal need to come home and be with your families. Babe, the most important thing now is to get her home no matter what. Friends shouldn't be responsible for what is going on here." I slowly walked back to the table to speak to Krystal.
"Krystal, after talking to Paige and Rich, I have to call the project. I can't continue knowing your father may not make it. I can still write the movie, but for now you need to go home."
She exploded, "Why don't you consider me for once and what I need?" she screamed at me. "This is my journey," she waved her hands at me.
In my frustration, I exclaimed, "Yes, Krystal, this is all about you, but I am financing this venture, and no studio in their right mind would keep you here knowing your father was in the hospital. It's a liability."
She screamed back, "So you want me to feel guilty now, do you, since it's your money? Now you know what my life is like, and what I had to deal with. Welcome to my world!"
She completely broke, "I will never talk to you again, you will never be my friend if you take me home from my journey!" she kept repeating. "In fact, if you take me home, you will be responsible for my father's death!"
I saw the owner of the pizza place motion to me if I needed help. I shook my head. He remained by the end of the counter watching. Listening to her accusation made me realize she was dealing with inner demons. I was just the trigger to her onslaught.
"My father will commit suicide, if he finds out you made me come home because of this!" she tried to reason.
Rich suggested I attempt to negotiate with her, proposing we stay a few days longer and then come home. I was willing to try anything at this point, so I suggested to Krystal that we could book it up to Chicken to get location shots and get her home. Just that prospect made me uneasy, but I was willing to do that much.
"No! It's all or nothing!" she screamed between tears. She had completely lost all cognizance of her behavior. She left the restaurant to call some friends.
At this point, I hoped that in a few days, she would realize that what I was doing was in her and her father's best interest. I knew the death of a parent could trigger the worst in someone. However, I didn't realize how bad. Her seething anger told me there was no reasoning with her. I was dealing with someone who wasn't able to see the rational side of things.
I drove until exhausted. Luckily, Alaskan summer nights were in perpetual twilight, so the added light helped me stay awake a while longer. We pulled into a campground about an hour away from Anchorage. Krystal was still pleading with her stepbrothers to go see her father so that she could stay. She wasn't getting any help from them.
To Enable or Not To Enable
We woke up the next morning to an answer to my Facebook all-call. Bruce Sherry, a pilot that had let us borrow equipment for our trip, flew for Alaskan Airlines. He was able to get us two companion passes to get us home. We needed to get to his home, so I could purchase the tickets and return some camping equipment we borrowed. I was packing up the car, when I got a call from one of Krystal's friend, Terri.
"Can't you just do the rest of the trip?" she pleaded. "Krystal didn't get a chance to have a childhood, and this trip means so much to her." I couldn't believe what Terri was asking of me.
"Or why don't you just leave her there?" I was surprised how Terri didn't recognize how difficult that would be. I don't think she was aware that Krystal could not afford the trip, nor have any resources once I left.
Leaving friends to tend to a dying father, as Krystal went romping around Alaska to re-live glory days was not being responsible. I told Krystal that if the screenplay was optioned for film, she would get to go back to Alaska, since most studios would have her on location during principal photography. She would get to come back.
"Terri, I realize we all want good things for Krystal, but we don't know the outcome of Jac