I was twenty-three, back home, and desperate to work for the newspaper. I had just graduated that past August, and after three months of living with my college sweetheart, we’d had an awful break-up. My parents’ house is a good place to write, a broad, flat edifice on a sandy eight-acre ranchito about half an hour south of San Antonio. But instead of sitting at my childhood desk in my bedroom to search for jobs, I was cobbling together my first indie film, a sixty-minute monster feature starring my brother and his friends, and the entire thing was improvised.
The effort began as a test of the new video camera I’d put on my Christmas list, then exploded into a massive production — something to distract me from my depression. My sweetheart had booted me out for finally admitting I was having second thoughts and because I’d pursued conversations with another girl on a family vacation the previous summer, a Carnival cruise casino worker with a Russian accent whom I would never see again.
Sitting before my brother’s girlfriend’s MacBook, borrowed for the project, I hemmed the most awful acting moments out of the raw footage and wrote a list of credits with subtle jokes, trying to ignore the results of the latest round of who-can-say-the-worst-thing played over Nokia text messages.
I'm sorry had lost its power.
I sat with sharp stickers in my shoelaces and grit in my socks from wandering the dusty fields to clear my head.
In two weeks, the film would be ready for a private screening in our family room, the guests invited by my brother. We would all laugh at the worst parts, having succeeded in outstanding mediocrity. (Consider the monster’s first death — my brother fires a heavy revolver, his Christmas present, into the trees left of the camera and the monster feigns a gory heart shot, the screams between cuts not quite matching. Then he rises to exact vengeance upon our New Year’s Eve party.) We’d suffer through only by virtue of beer in the fridge and our faces on-screen. And with time, my indie film would become a home movie famous among close friends, broken out at parties to remind us of our innocence.
In the late summer of 2017, I would find the master DVD buried in a moving box still packed in my girlfriend’s garage. It wouldn’t impress her, but the intimate view of an early-twenties Jason would turn her red with glee. We’d push stop after a few scenes, and then I’d tell her the story of its creation. The heaviness behind the hilarity. And she’d put her arm across my shoulders and whisper to me something sweet, like she does, and the DVD would return to its hiding place.
On January 3, we broke up over the phone. I’d been having second thoughts, struggling to find context in her house with her son, nothing to call my own but three degrees that have hardly begun to earn what they cost. There is no other woman, save perhaps the succubus of existential dread.
It’s the oxygen mask theory, she said. You have to put on your own before you can help someone put on theirs. And while you’re looking for it, I’m gasping for air.
She’s right. I have no oxygen mask. Not even a plane, or a destination.
I love you, she tells me after hours of tearful debate over whether this is the right thing for us. I love you, and you need to go find your mask.
I’m now thirty-three, back home, and desperate to work for the newspaper.
Jason Brandt Schaefer is a Texas-based writer, journalist, and visual artist whose work is inspired by the dichotomy between urban and rural lifestyles in his home state. He holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is currently finishing a novel based on his parents’ transition from Lutheran Christianity to Wicca. He has taught writing at colleges in Springfield, MO, Houston, TX, and Valdosta, GA, and served as creative writing faculty for the Missouri Fine Arts Academy, an interdisciplinary enrichment program that encourages rural teens to experiment in the arts.
Jason hopes you take time to consider the ways in which Climate Change is the single greatest emergency our planet has ever seen, and how many in power don’t believe it’s happening. He urges you to donate, sign petitions, or speak out through climatetruth.org.