The Wahl’s Corner, while always my thoughts and feelings, will rarely touch on things that are extremely personal and introspective. I enjoyed sharing my experiences surrounding the birth of my son, Marshall. I felt compelled to explore my perspective of September 11th on the 10 year anniversary. However, there are very few times in my life where I open up levels of my soul to share with the world. See, while I am boisterous and personable, there is a very serious side to me that no one truly ever sees. There are things that I always carry with me that no one sees, nor will I ever allow them to. Today is not one of the days I am holding back. Some moments in life strike you so deeply, for reasons you may not initially understand, that you just have a need to get them out.
Yesterday, July 19th, was my 35th birthday. My wonderful wife Rachel woke me before she left for work with a sweet kiss on the cheek and a whisper to wish me a happy birthday. I woke up after Marshall snuck into bed with me and gave me a little smile. We went through our morning routine and I dropped him at day care with a smile on both our faces. It was a wonderful way to start the day. On the drive to work everything changed. I apparently ran over a bolt that was lying in the road and blew out the tire in our car. The rest of the day just had a weird vibe for me. Despite my smile and jocular nature at work, I just had a weird feeling. Rachel had to work overnight, so I picked up Marshall, ran a few places and came home. I just floated through the evening, enjoying my time with Marshall in a way I couldn’t understand. As we played, I just sat there and looked at him with the same joy I had the moment he was born. I just sat and appreciated this little guy more and more as the minutes went along. I wrote it off as a weird birthday vibe, but also a loving appreciation for my son and family. I went to bed watching old Home Improvement episodes but with a feeling that something was amiss. I just couldn’t find an internal comfort before I dozed off eventually.
I woke up on Friday morning and turned on my phone as always. I had one text message overnight waiting for me. It was from Twitter, which the only tweets I receive in my phone are from UFC president Dana White. I expected some fight hype for this weekend, but instead read this:
So disgusted by the psycho that killed the 14 people at the opening of Batman tonight in Denver!!!
Immediately my heart sank and I grabbed the TV remote to find a channel covering the story. After jumping around on local channels, I finally got information on Fox News and MSNBC (channels I don’t think has ever been on in my house except for To Catch a Predator reruns). I sat in horror as a continuous loop of helicopter and news footage filled the screen. A gunman walked into an Aurora, Colorado theater, dropped a smoke distraction and opened fire on an innocent group of people attending the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises, the much anticipated conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy. Immediately seeing it was a validation of the fear and discomfort I had the night before. The discomfort was gone, only to be replaced with deep sadness. See, I’m originally from Colorado Springs. My family is still out there. We all just finished watching parts of the city I know and love go up in flames. It was time for the state to heal, not mourn. Yet there we were. Staring at the screens and watching people recount the most horrific display of cowardice. I took it all in and started thinking about my days as a theater manager, knowing that the theater employees can only do so much. You can lock the doors, check the exits and hope nothing bad ever happens. The thing is no one expected this. It was an unprecedented act. It’s easier to prevent something from happening a second time, but if it has never happened, why would you expect it to?
Diving into my theater management history is one level to my story, but not the one that I felt compelled to tell tonight. The release of Batman the week of my birthday holds a very special place to me. The Dark Knight was released on July 18th, 2008, the day before my birthday. I made plans to go see it the afternoon of my birthday with Rachel and my best friend Jason. As it turns out, this would be the last movie I would ever get to see with Jason. See, a short time later I became an insanely judgmental prick towards him and lost connection for a little over a year. Our last correspondence was less than pleasant, none of which came from him, and we went our separate ways. While not going into the story of why, let’s just say he came to me, as he had for so many years to talk. It was a situation that had nothing to do with me, but I jumped up on a high horse and allowed the greatest friendship I’d ever had to crumble away. He moved to the Denver area and we never talked again. I would check up on him (not to his knowledge) via Facebook and Twitter, but never sent the e-mail I had written so many times to apologize and rekindle our friendship. Unfortunately I never took the opportunity to get our friendship corrected. On October 31st, 2010, Jason passed away from surgery complications. I sent his sister an e-mail as soon as I saw he was going in for surgery, an e-mail she read to him, wishing him the best but still being non-committal on reconciliation. I still hadn’t learned how to swallow my pride completely and get everything on the right path. I was heading in that direction but figured I put the ball in his court (which I knew he’d pick up and get us straightened out because he knew me better than anyone) and we’d move forward. I never thought that it would be the last thing he ever saw from me. This was sent a week before he passed away.
So leading up to The Dark Knight Rising’s opening, I was mentally in a weird place because feelings came rushing back. I’m not a big comic book guy, but I have always loved the Batman character. After Jason’s death, I connected with the character on a level I didn’t really comprehend. I feel guilt and some responsibility for not being there and doing anything I could do to help my ailing friend. I would watch Christian Bale’s portrayal of Bruce Wayne and feel like I was watching a part of me on screen, that deep and dark sense of responsibility and loss. These are things I can’t control, despite truly knowing that there was nothing I could do to save his life. God had a plan for him and it was to spread joy and bless the world with his light, if only for a short time. However, I still feel that had I never left him, he would have been whole and could have gotten through it. Death plays with people’s minds. It’s hard to control these feelings, no matter how irrational they might be.
***If you have not yet seen The Dark Knight Rises yet, please skip the next paragraph as it will contain a film spoiler***
So when I woke up and saw the tragedy in Aurora, it was the perfect storm of internal hell for me. It was a Batman film released right at my birthday, surrounded by death in a place not far from where I grew up and a place Jason had moved to and finished his time on Earth with us. I cried at the end of the film, where you were led to believe for a brief time that Batman/Bruce Wayne had died. I played it off with the friends I was with and joked about it, but deep inside I was truly feeling his loss. I will never again have a Christopher Nolan helmed Batman release on or around my birthday week. I lose that final moment that I cherish so much, that memory of me and Jason together. These films being released in that timeframe allowed me to relive that day in my mind, despite his absence. I keep The Dark Knight on my iPad and iPod at all times, just because it’s a piece of him that is always with me. My Batman/Superman tattoo is a constant reminder of the great times we shared but also the mistakes I made.
This film meant more to me than just another Batman movie. It was the end of an era. It was the final chapter in a book I don’t want to end. No, it doesn’t mean I will forget Jason and move on. I wear the bat symbol (and the other comic related characters) in honor of him, but also as a symbol of the pain and regret I feel. The depths of these feelings I will never truly understand, as there are things in this world we aren’t meant to comprehend. I have learned so much from those mistakes and am trying everything to make sure they will never be repeated. Jason was Superman to everyone who knew him, a man with nothing but good in his heart. I will always be Batman, the one who will always have a side of him that is dark and impossible to fix. The silver lining to this all is that the joy and positivity Jason brought into the world is being sent to my son Marshall. He will know how to love and treat people the right way, a way Rachel is good at but I never quite mastered.
The Dark Knights Rises is going to touch the lives of so many people, in so many different ways. The way it touched those in the theater of Aurora, Colorado is not one anyone hoped for, nor knows how to comprehend. It touched me on a positive, yet deeply dark level. Sometimes movies are made just for entertainment but have a way of reaching sides you didn’t know existed or hadn’t acknowledged. I’ve loved the Batman character since I was 12 and never knew why. It took 23 years to understand the connection I felt with the character, but I’m glad I’m here.
I’m reminded of the lesson learned in Batman Begins; “Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” In this moment of tragedy, Aurora will band together to lift themselves up. I will continue to stand tall and work on lifting myself up. Once we get up, though, what do we do while standing? I’ll tell you my goal. My goal is to continue to spread as much positivity to the world and continue that through Marshall. If we can get more love into this world, we might just have the type of place we can all be proud of and feel safe in, once again.