I have read that yesterday was Mental Health Day and today is International Day of the Girl. I would like to tell a very long story about a very young girl. A story that is currently 17 years old. A quick spoiler. It is my story. Not all of my story, but a very small part of it that has had a very large impact.
In 2001, I was a 21 year old who had two part time jobs to support my less than one year old habit of community theatre. I was listening to music while driving to my second job. It was a clear, calm, and beautiful October day. I do not remember the specific day in October, and I have never looked it up to find out. It is a day I do not want to commemorate, but I always get a feeling when the anniversary approaches. I have that feeling today, so it must be near.
I can still remember the clothes I was wearing, and the song that was playing, but I will not share what they were, what it was, nor the details of what happened out of respect for the other party. But they happened. By the purest of accidents, I was involved in a car accident that can only be described as devastating.
In one millisecond, two lives changed forever. By the Lord’s providence, my car was being followed on the road by a prominent lawyer from a neighboring town. He was able to testify on scene to the police my lack of fault in the events that transpired. A couple stopped and stayed with me until my family could arrive. I remember the woman had a bruised face, and said she had just escaped an abusive relationship. I think she told me she was from Florida. I remember how kind she was to me in contrast to how battered her face looked. Later that night, I remember the feel of the rapid thumping of my father’s heartbeat as he tightly embraced me. He told me the hospital had called. The other person did not survive.
I cannot describe to you in eloquent terms the emotional turmoil that I went through in that moment, so I won’t attempt it. The best I can muster is to ask you to pretend your soul is made of fabric. Then imagine someone holding that fabric and ripping it in half. The sound of the tear is the disassociation one experiences in that moment. You are in the moment, but also outside of it, observing.
After the bold headlines appeared in the local paper, I had trouble adjusting to “real life” again. I was convinced everyone who looked at me, could see what I had done. It didn’t matter that it was not my fault. That if it hadn’t been me, it would have been the person behind me, or in front of me. It was me. I knew it. Even if no one else did. We sold the car I was driving so I’d never have to see it again. I never wore those clothes, and I never listened to that song (as best as I could control it.)
After I “adjusted,” the best way I knew how to cope was to not talk about it. I was never punished in the traditional sense of the word. No charges were ever filed, and no one blamed me. No one but me, that is. I became a self-punisher. If the world wouldn’t get justice, I would do it myself. I didn’t always punish in the physical sense, although sometimes, I did that too. I would hit my legs with belts or use my own hands to slap my head until my skull tingled. I had so much pent up emotion that it had to come out. And since I didn’t talk about it, I expressed it in that unhealthy way. But mostly, I would withhold things from myself that I thought would bring me happiness. I didn’t deserve it. How dare I deserve it.
I lived this way for ten years. Community theatre helped. I could be somebody else on stage. I didn’t have to be me. I could be funny, dramatic, whatever the play called for, as long as it didn’t call for me to be me.
Strangely enough, I never blamed God or asked “Why” it happened. It just did.
In 2008, the bullying incident I spoke of earlier this year took place, and I was suddenly without my safety net of my home theatre. I found a new set of friends, and tried to recover from another emotional sucker punch.
In 2010, my life shifted yet again, and filmmaking changed from a pipe dream to a reality. After several opportunities to work behind the scenes, and one successful collaboration was granted distribution, the opportunity to write a screenplay presented itself, and in early 2011, I bought a book explaining how to write a screenplay, and I penned “The Hepburn Girls.”
I changed the circumstance, and added humor, because Life has both tragedy and humor, and my life had not been all sadness. Great moments of joy and humor had punctuated my personal timeline. However, as the author and leading actor, the process of writing and acting in the film was the cinematic equivalent of ripping a bandage off a wound over a decade old- only now, I was finally allowing a healing balm to soothe the pain.
I learned a lot while making the film. Before, I didn’t know PTSD could apply to people who were not in the military. As I researched, it dawned on me that I had been experiencing the effects for years. I understood that my life split in two pieces after that moment. Audrey was me before that accident and Katherine was who I became after.
I also learned, intimately learned, that sometimes the hardest person to forgive is yourself. So when I created Katherine and Audrey—I created the two women whose bodies I had inhabited at one point in my life. The carefree teenager who loved old movies, nostalgia, and bounced back easily from her relatively sheltered life’s problems. And Katherine, the recluse shattered by tragedy, the person who was kind to everyone but herself, and who used humor to deflect attention without getting to the root of the problem. I thought, if only my two selves could meet and help each other. Katherine could tell Audrey to grow up, and Audrey could tell Katherine to let go.
Anyway, in 2013 the film was complete and edited, and ready for distribution- and just like that, the guaranteed distribution deal, very suddenly, but very amicably, fell through. Film festivals were entered, but there wasn’t a lot of interest. Other distributors were contacted, but they would only accept the film if pricey changes were made, including a new title. I couldn’t afford that, so Audrey and Katherine drifted back into the shadows.
I was confused, and disappointed. I again, felt I was to blame. I felt as though I had let everyone down. That I hadn’t done a good enough job, hadn’t been pretty enough, thin enough, young enough, acted strong enough, whatever things you want to tell yourself when you tell yourself you’re the root of the issue. But then, I met a new group of people, a theatre was founded, and my life became very full, and very happy for four years. I gained a new self-respect, and a new lease on life and happiness and creativity. I was writing again, and a routine seemed to be laid out and settled into.
In January of 2018, I felt an unexpected nudge. By chance, I had been sent the link to a film festival by a friend. I half-heartedly read about it. Most festivals have a time limit. As in, you must complete the film within a year of the festival. “The Hepburn Girls” was now an ancient seven years old. But this festival said they would accept films from any year.
Again, I was confused. Audrey and Katherine seemed to be calling to me, but their fate was sealed. My fate was sealed. They were going to live on Amazon and Vimeo, downloaded by….no one. The Lord had closed that door and I had accepted it, and embraced it.
But still….I did love contests.
I thought about it, and prayed about it, and decided I would do a one year private experiment. What was the harm? Only more rejection, and I was getting better at accepting that. I filled out the information for fifteen festivals with varying deadlines throughout the year, and swallowed hard as I paid the various entry fees that added up to more money than I was expecting to spend. All the ones I entered said they would accept films from any year. Then, I went on with life and told the Lord I’d trust Him to let the chips fall where they may.
It is now ten months later, and of the fifteen, four rejected it (goodbye money!), five accepted it as an official selection, and four awarded it some kind of laurel ranging from “Inspiring Hope” in Atlanta, Georgia to a “Bronze Award” in Ellington, New York. Two are still undecided as of this writing.
One festival had some small print that once selected, asked that you be present to be eligible to win, so last week, my husband and I took a quick road trip down to Atlanta and were thrilled to receive Third Place in the Feature Film category.
I’m not sure why there has been a renewed interested in “The Hepburn Girls” or how long that interest will last. Maybe only this year. Maybe only when someone needs to see the film. Audrey and Katherine no longer belong to me. Once the film was released, they became wards of the world. In the intervening years, I have given up trying to orchestrate or figure out the why or how of anything. I have learned to just let go, and truly embrace that my timeline and the Lord’s timeline, are not the same timeline.
I think that’s why I wanted to share part of my story, today at the intersection of World Mental Health Day and International Day of the Girl.
Tragic things happen to many people for many reasons, and sometimes for no discernible reason at all. However, the Lord has taken my tragedy and used the circumstance for good. It is no coincidence that my life verse, even before the accident, was Romans 8:28. It has carried me through on the darkest of days.
I don’t want to be seen as inspirational, or put up on some pedestal as a person who should be emulated in any way. I am broken, but I’m finally allowing the Lord to glue me back together. I’m still recovering. As with most of us, I will spend my lifetime recovering from Life and everything it has thrown at me, and is still yet to toss.
Actually, I do want a couple things I did to inspire others. Tell your story. I didn’t approach anything close to healing until I began to tell my story. There is power in words, and in sharing those words. Pain needs somewhere to go. It can either live inside of you, or it can be expressed out into the world. Inside, it will fester and boil, and cause internal emotional and physical chaos. Outside, it can be released. Given away. Some people won’t want to hear your story. That’s okay. Not every story is for every person. Tell it anyway. The right people will eventually find it.
Also, never do anything for the worldly glory you could receive. Perhaps that was part of my early lesson. Don’t make a movie because you want to be told you are “the prettiest, skinniest, most talented, most-insert-adjective here” — do it because you have a story that is burning to be told, and you are the vessel by which it will be shared. There are so many people who have stories, and they are allowing fear to hold them back. I still grapple with fear. I have won many battles with fear, but I’m still working on the war.
Also, also, remember that God’s timing is not your timing. And the fastest way to find that out is to inform Him of exactly what you plan to do. These laurels are wonderful, and have served as such an encouragement to me to continue to dream and work, even if that work isn’t immediately recognized- but they aren’t the basis for the true value of the film. That was achieved when it helped me overcome, and it will continue to be achieved as each person who needs the message of the film, views and absorbs it.
“The Hepburn Girls” is just a tiny part of my life, but if what I experienced can inspire someone to tell their story, and begin their healing, then perhaps they will be able to inspire someone else, and with each story told, together we can begin a trickle effect that will truly heal the most broken of lives.
“The Hepburn Girls” can be found on Amazon.com by clicking here: http://a.co/d/aXOPzTX