“See You in Valhalla”

Eclectic Media Outlet No. 2

It’s been awhile since I wrote one of these posts; but I hope to start incorporating them into the blog more often… because films (and other media) play such a large — and beautiful — role in my life.

“See You in Valhalla” (2015)

“See You in Valhalla” is a part of several of my film collections — addiction, dysfunctional families, indie films, and suicide.

The Draw and Decision to Own

My father has stated, on more than one occasion, that he would like to have a Viking funeral when he dies; so any title that refers to Valhalla — or Norse mythology — quite naturally intrigues me.

Going in, I had absolutely no idea what to expect from this film… but ultimately found it to be one of those quietly brilliant movies that very few ever saw. (I have yet to encounter another cinephile that has seen it.) After viewing it the first time, I went online and purchased a hard copy immediately… and it will stay in my permanent collection.

Synopsis and Personal Meaning

“See You in Valhalla” is about a family that has lost a son — and a sibling — to suicide (albeit by proxy… but intentional proxy).

Magnus — a character with a soul plagued by meth addiction — returns from a Viking rehabilitation colony with his girlfriend, only to find that she cannot stay sober. When she later dies from an overdose, Magnus charges over to the dealer’s home and kills him with a sword. He is shot in the process, leaving behind a suicide note for his family… who are left to deal with the fallout.

Families are Complicated

When his sister, Johana (“Joe”) sees the story on the evening news, she turns to her boyfriend — explaining that the “Viking Guy” is her brother — and says, “I need to go home. I need to go home, right? That’s what you do after someone dies. I can’t believe I have to deal with these people.”

“Who?” her boyfriend inquires.

“My family.”

“Do you not like them?”

“It’s very complicated.”

Now, originally, I saw this film before my own family lost my younger brother, Nicky, to suicide; but after that tragic event, this scene is one that I have a deeper understanding for.

Families are complicated — dysfunctional or not — and sometimes when you need them most, you’re not really sure that you want to “deal” with them.

One of my favorite scenes in the film is the first time that the family — reunited in grief, after years of not having seen one another — sits down to dinner. The conversation dissolves very quickly into old hurts and renewed resentments; but Brent and Jarret Tarnol (the writer and director) do a brilliant job of infusing humor into dark subject matter; and this scene is no exception.

After the fight at the dinner table, Joe later tries to explain to her father’s girlfriend why it’s so hard for her to return home, “It’s every scar, every bruise. You know. Every stupid f*cking memory is… it’s here.”

Oh, how true that is… but every wonderful, warm, sparkling memory is also imbued in our families; and we often so quickly forget about those, in the face of tragedy.

Ⓒ Tarnol Group Pictures and ARC Entertainment

The Blame Game

Another poignant moment in the film is when Don, the oldest sibling, has an emotional breakdown and screams at his father, “Magnus was f*cking self-destructing in front of your very eyes, where the f*ck were you?!”

When a family loses someone to suicide, there is — unfortunately — a lot of blame thrown around. It’s easier to be angry at the people that are still standing, than it is to be with the person you’ve lost.

There are so many unanswerable questions… and all you want are answers. You don’t just blame the people around you; you also blame yourself.

Michael Weston (“Garden State”), who plays Don, does such an excellent job in this scene that — even if you haven’t lost someone close to you to suicide — your heart feels as if it’s been ripped from your chest and thrown to the floor.

Strength in Weakness

Addiction is a tumultuous disease, because you never truly escape it. You can learn to cope with it, to live with it, to somewhat control it… but you’re never free of it. Sobriety is something that you fight for, or something that you lose. There is no inbetween.

There is a passage from Magnus’s journal that describes this beautifully:

“Our rehabilitation was over, and it was time to face the world ahead. These modern Vikings showed us their tools of sobriety. Our life is no longer controlled by substances. We’ve rid ourselves of bad habits and vices, but I reckon to see no difference between fantasy and reality. But a true Viking, no matter how trapped he may feel, must face dragons head-on no matter the consequence. This is the Viking way. Never give up. Never submit. Never surrender to any man or any thing.”

Magnus manages to not surrender; but cannot handle the pain when his girlfriend relapses (and later overdoses).

There is a saying in the rooms of the Anonymous, “You will step over bodies in your journey towards sobriety.” And unfortunately, most of us find this to be true. I have lost my brother, and a number of friends, to addiction… and it sometimes makes you question the why of it all.

Later in the film, as the siblings gather around their father, he shares his favorite passage from Magnus’s journal, “A wolf is always strongest when he’s with his pack. Every day a dire wolf dies, but the pack must stay together. And when they do, in the end, they will prevail. The tighter the pack, the stronger the wolf.”

This is a beautiful synopsis of how a family survives the tortuous pain of losing a loved one before their time.

My own family has stuck together in our grief. They are my source of solace and refuge… because only they can understand the dark cloud that has followed me tirelessly around, since losing Nicky.

The Moral of the Story

What Brent and Jarret Tarnol convey through the subtle beauty of this film is that home is one of the most painful — and most healing — places we have to go.

I hope, Dear Reader, that you are fortunate enough to find this to be true in your own life.

Stupid Looking Glass

My beautiful blogging friend, Ms. Michelle at “From Famine to Feast”, reposted an older piece this morning entitled “I don’t want to get better, I want to be better” (I highly recommend giving it a read; it’s lovely); and in it was a line that I thoroughly resonate with…

“I want a vacation. The destination is unimportant; the only requirement I have is that I get to leave myself behind. I’m tired of finding myself wherever I go.”
– Michelle, “From Famine to Feast”

This is a common theme in much of my life — both as it pertains to my mental health disorders, and as it relates to my many addictions. It is a sentiment that many women in the Anonymous programs share at meetings; that no matter which mirror you happen to gaze into, the same needy bitch is always staring back at you.

Don’t Insinuate that I’m Crazy

Last night, I was in a state of utter ennui… and for no other reason than I suffer from unpredictable, seemingly inexplicable (they’re a symptom of Borderline Personality Disorder; but knowing that doesn’t help), and crippling bouts of depression.

Every answer to Mitch’s questions (most of which were typical, every day stuff like, “What would you like to do for dinner?”) was, “I don’t care.”

Understandably, this frustrated the shit out of my husband, who made every effort, and used every kind word he could, to try and pull me out of my rather apathetic despair.

He also needed to pick up one of my medications from the pharmacy, and asked me to verify that it had been sent to the correct location (we recently switched, and our doctors are still catching up with the change). When I opened my phone, I noticed a reminder for an appointment with my psychiatrist today and said, “Goddam it. I have an appointment with the shrink tomorrow. Shit.”

To which my husband accidentally said out-loud, “Perfect timing.”

My thought was, “Perfect timing? Perfect timing, you son-of-a-bitch?! You’re the problem here, not me. I’m not crazy; I’m sad. Sad that you don’t desire me, and that I feel undesirable.

But instead of saying that, I slammed the phone down on the armrest of the recliner, glared daggers at my spouse, and spit, “You know he can’t fix what’s wrong, right?”

(Side Note: If I’m being honest, I said this to deliberately sting my spouse. He knows that I am deeply unhappy with our lack of a sex-life; and that I blame a lot of my depressive feelings on such.)

Mitch’s posture immediately shifted to a defensive position, and he said, “I’m leaving. Text me when you go to bed, so that I can come home.”

And I said, “I never asked you to leave. Come home whenever the hell you’d like.”

“What the fuck for,” Mitch yelled back, “so I can deal with this shit?!”

When You’re Nuts, You’re Not Allowed to Have Feelings

One of the worst things about suffering from a mental health disorder is that your feelings often come out sideways. By the time my negative emotions — anger, despair, frustration, sadness — find their way to the surface, my behavior goes topsy-turvy and the Borderline Bitch comes out to play.

As such, I often come off as “crazy” and/or “nuts” rather, than say, sad. I yell. I cry. I bunch my hands into fists; and as a result, Mitch tries to deal with the behavior (out of necessity), and the feelings underlying that behavior get dismissed as irrelevant.

Even in our more rational exchanges, when I am able to express my darker emotions in a logical way, Mitch often turns them around on me. “Honey, you’re exhausted and your brain isn’t working right,” is one of his favorite responses to my darker concerns.

It is true that when I’m exhausted and my “brain isn’t working right”, all of those unwanted feelings float more freely to the forefront of my consciousness; but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t valid and/or justified.

I have a deeply compelling reason for feeling slighted in my marriage — Mitch’s absolute unwillingness to meet my sexually intimate needs. (In his own words, I meet all of his needs. So how is it fair to have mine unmet?)

It hurts to feel undesirable; and I imagine that it would hurt someone who is not mentally ill, just as much as it does my “crazy” self. Their partners, however, wouldn’t have anything to stigmatize and use against them in a conversation about said hurt.

Having any negative emotions (that I might feel) recognized as “truth” is an eternal battle. Mitch doesn’t discount my positive feelings as a symptom of my disease, so why should the negative emotions be any different? They are treated as different because my behavior shifts as my emotions grow darker. The behavior is a symptom of my mental health disorder, the feelings are not.

And I have grown utterly exhausted by having to constantly explain this… especially when the explanation is ignored, as are my underlying needs and feelings.

I’m Also Tired of Finding Mitch Wherever I Go

I love my husband with all of my heart; but having to suppress a part of who I am — a truly sexual being — is a taxing endeavor.

It’s difficult to take on all of the household chores, to keep going to the gym, to try to watch my food intake, and to maintain my mental health (through medication and action) when I feel there is very little reward in it.

Doing all of those things does make me feel better about myself; but when I feel better about myself, I also feel more sexual… and I don’t have a partner who cares about that.

I fear that if I gain and/or harness more self-confidence, then my desire to leave my marriage for greener pastures might increase… and I don’t want to leave my marriage, nor the man that I am so deeply in love with.

It’s a terrible — depression-inducing — cycle.

I have a few good days (in which I perform all of the tasks on the list above), immediately followed by a crash… and when I crash, Mitchell gets hurt because I’m hurting; which absolutely isn’t fair.

Especially, when Mitch is trying.

This past week, he was up before 8 a.m. each day that he was home. But then, quite bizarrely, I wasn’t. I slept in and woke up grumpy and disconnected.

Perhaps it’s a subconscious endeavor to try and make my husband feel all the emotions I feel when he doesn’t get up and then doesn’t want to do anything. I don’t know…

All I know for sure is that I’m tired of the woman staring back at me in the mirror… and I’m frustrated with the man who dismisses my feelings due to the fact that I have mental health disorders and addictive tendencies.

We Remember Differently

I want to reclaim the couple we once were. The goofy people who went bowling and sang karaoke on the weekends, the Cassie and Mitchell that more regularly did things with friends (the Cassie and Mitchell that had friends), the husband and wife that people admired, and wanted to be.

I also miss the long nights that we spent making love so intensely that Mitch sometimes called out of work the next morning… the times when his passion was so intense that I had a hard time keeping up with it.

When I say these things to Mitch, he often says that I remember things differently… that he was never social and/or sexual; but that I was the driving force in those departments. In contrast, I think we both were.

I don’t know when or how we lost those people; and unlike my husband, I believe that they are still here… they just need to be found.

I desperately wish we had a map to our younger selves, because we both need to see them when we gaze into that damnable looking glass.

Soundtrack: “Remind Me” by Brad Paisley & Carrie Underwood

An Awful Cycle

Mitch and I got into it — yet again — yesterday. We had the same argument that we’ve been having for nearly twenty years; and though I don’t fight the same way I used to (i.e. screaming obscenities and often getting physical), Mitchell does (with psychological warfare); and I don’t know how to break this awful cycle.

The Crux of the Problem

Mitch doesn’t sleep well. He’s up until past midnight — often until after 3 a.m. — and then sleeps until noon (or later) if unchecked. I, on the other hand, am often in bed by 9:30; and then I’m up before 6:30 a.m.

Because my health issues (migraines, seizures, stomach/intestinal discord, etc.) usually strike in the late afternoon/early evenings, making plans after 3 p.m. is a difficult feat for me; and Mitchell knows this — not only because he’s lived with me for more than two decades, but because I have to remind him of this fact on a regular basis.

For awhile, he set an alarm for 10 a.m.; which meant he was up by 11 a.m. Then, he spends over an hour in the restroom (something that frustrates me to no end). As a result, we don’t start our days before noon.

I shared with my husband that if he is determined to keep to his morning routine in the bathroom (whatever that entails), that he must compensate by getting up earlier… and unfortunately “earlier” for him is actually getting up at 10 a.m. But when he does, he spends nearly ninety minutes in the powder room — so it’s all a wash.

Plans? Why Make Plans?

Mitch sucks at making plans. He doesn’t like to commit to anything until the last minute; and he’s always running nearly thirty minutes late.

Earlier in the week, he had spoken to his mother on the phone and asked us both if we’d like to go to lunch and see a movie this past weekend… and we were both up for it.

When he didn’t attempt to rouse himself at a decent hour on Saturday, I figured he’d set aside Sunday for our visit with my mother-in-law. When he didn’t get up early on Sunday, I knew he hadn’t made any plans at all… and I was really disappointed.

An Emotional Curve Ball Makes It Worse

My folks are currently in Montana for a family reunion (and my cousin’s wedding). My baby brother, Rige-o, will be flying into Bozeman on Friday to join them. I’m not there, because we can’t afford to travel. (Hell, we can barely manage to pay our bills on time.)

Yesterday, my Dad — very thoughtfully — sent me a short video of my beloved grandmother dancing with my cousin, with my extended family laughing and having fun at the wedding in the background.

It made me smile; and then, it made me cry.

I get to attend all of these types of events with Mitch’s family, because they live here. My family lives clear across the country; and I haven’t been home to see them in more than twenty-one years. So I was a bit sad, and frustrated… and rather surprisingly, angry. Angry that Mitch gets to see his family, while I do not.

It Simmers to a Boil

I managed to explain to Mitchell that I was both happy — and sad — after having watched the video my father sent me, and he totally blew me off.

We got in the car; and on the way to the gym, I broke down into tears. Partly, because I miss my family. Partly, because I knew we weren’t going to see my mother-in-law after all. Partly, because it was so late in the morning that I just wanted to throttle my spouse.

He pulled into the lot, and asked me what was wrong.

“Well, obviously, we’re not going to see your mom today as you promised. I was really looking forward to that, you know?”

“I can call her right now.”

“No, you can’t. We won’t be home until after 12:30. It would take two hours to get ready, and another ninety minutes to drive to Tubac. By the time we get down there, it will be after four in the afternoon; and you know I can’t do that.”

“Clearly, that’s not all you’re upset about, Cass. Let’s have it.”

“I just… I just don’t understand why I’m not as important as all the other priorities in your life. When you tell your mom you’re going to do something for her, you follow through. When you tell your siblings you’re going to do something, you follow through. When you tell Bug you’re going to do something, you follow through. When you tell your boss and/or co-workers you’re going to do something, you follow through. When you tell me you’re going to do something, you rarely follow through. What kind of message am I supposed to receive from that?”

“What do you want to do right now?”

“Do you want me to be honest?”

“Yes.”

“I want to go to Great Falls.”

“F*ck. Why not say you want a million dollars? Or to fly to the moon? You know I can’t make that happen. Jesus.”

“That’s a little hyperbolic, don’t you think?”

“Bring it on, Cass. Tell me all the ways in which I’ve disappointed you and f*cked up your life.”

At this, I began to sob uncontrollably, “I never said you were a disappointment or that you f*cked up my life. I just feel like you don’t recognize my needs. I’ve asked you repeatedly to get up earlier in the morning. If you had done that today, we could already be with your mom. I was really looking forward to doing something with her this weekend.”

“I did get up early!”

“No, Mitch. You didn’t. Early for most adults is before 8 a.m. Not after 10.”

At this, Mitchell took a stronger grasp on the wheel and began to grind his teeth, before saying, “You can always get up as early as you’d like and do this shit on your own.”

I felt like I’d been slapped, “I know I can; but don’t you understand? I enjoy doing this with you. It’s one of the few things that we do together.”

“Like you give a shit if I’m here or not,” Mitchell growled.

“Of course I do! That’s why I wait for you!”

Dead silence. I broke it by saying, “I can feel that you don’t want to be here. Let me take you home.”

“I’ll walk,” Mitchell said.

“Don’t be ridiculous. It’s over one hundred degrees outside. That wouldn’t be safe. I can take you home, and come back. Like you said, I can do this alone.”

Mitch turned away from me; and we sat in silence… me, with tears sliding down my cheeks. When Mitchell spoke again, he said, “What’s really the problem here?”

“I feel alone. I feel unseen and unheard. I feel disconnected from you and everyone else, which makes me want to die. You know how hard these kinds of feelings are for me… but I’m starting to wonder, what is the point? I keep trying and trying with you. I’ve changed everything, and you’ve changed very little.”

After some more arguing, Mitch pulled out of the lot and headed home. While looking at the road, he said, “I’m what’s wrong with your life. I make you miserable. I do nothing right. I’m a total failure.”

“You’re not a failure. You don’t make me miserable. I just wish that you would try a little harder for us.” I then spent the rest of the day trying to console my husband.

And that is what Mitch does. He twists the argument with words I’ve never said, and I switch gears to soothe him.

And nothing ever changes.

Are You F*cking Kidding Me?!

Mitch returned to his day schedule today; and because he has to get up so early to make it to the summit, I told him that I was willing to go the gym in the evenings. Because he doesn’t get home until almost six, I also offered to cook dinner — as long as he was willing to clean up the horrible mess in the kitchen, so that I could.

He seemed pleased with this. He vowed to clean the kitchen, and promised me that we’d keep going to the gym, as long as I was willing to make these changes for him.

And then this morning? The kitchen is a fricking disaster area; and this is how our text messages read:

Me: Have a good first day back as commander-in-chief. Hopefully, they managed to keep the ship in tip-top shape. Love you!

Mitch: I hope so, too. Thanks, Beautiful. If you need to workout in the mornings this week it’s probably best until I get back to a normal schedule. Love you.

And there it is. I know my husband; and what that text really means is, “I had no intention of going to the gym on the days that I go to work, and probably never will.”

And I could clean the kitchen myself; but that and the yardwork are Mitchell’s only responsibilities here at home, and I’m so tired of picking up the slack.

I am exhausted — physically and emotionally; and I am f*cking sick of feeling heartbroken.

I love my husband, but I don’t know how much fight I have left.