Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Barbi Beckett - Dark Rooms

I was fifteen when Amadeus came out. It was a long-ass movie, with an intermission, but I couldn’t get enough of it - the music, F. Murray Abraham, the story and Tom Hulce…Oh, Wolfie. If I were to see it now I’d probably think, that’s a gay man, but at fifteen I just thought, dreamy.

By Oscar time I was 16 and the film was having a long run at a dollar theatre thirty minutes from my house. My dad would let me go by myself, with my brand new driver’s license, on SCHOOL nights to watch it – again and again. He must’ve figured there were worse things I could be hooked on.

When F. Murray won the Academy Award I learned that he was raised in El Paso and his parents were still there. I started plotting how I would get into their house.

I decided a fake interview for my school newspaper was the way to go. I was not affiliated with the class I would later learn was called “journalism”. I had never written anything. I actually struggled for passing grades (sometimes forging my report card) so I could participate in theatre and dance. To boot, I looked ridiculous. I had sort of a Brian Setzer/Cyndi Lauper thing going. Think pompadoured mullet. Still, I got the phone book out and rang up the Abrahams who, just, said I could come over.

I took a clipboard with a piece of paper on it, for my ‘interview’. I did not take questions. The Abraham’s home was bright and open with congratulatory balloons and flowers everywhere. On a sliding glass door was an Amadeus poster and, on the wall, a Fruit of the Loom poster. F was grapes before he was Salieri. I didn’t write a single thing on my clipboard in the 3 hours I spent in his parent’s home.

With great pride, Mr. Abraham showed me his reel to reel player and his extensive bathroom remodel. But, of course, the Abrahams were most proud of their boy. Mrs. Abraham told me that she’d been watching the movie in a local theatre when, at intermission, she overheard two women talking about how incredible that Salieri was. She said, “I leaned in and whispered, ‘That’s my son’.”

I did not want to leave and I had no excuse to come back. “I forgot to take notes” was too weak, even for me to try. And, I finally admitted to myself that there was no casual way to ask people to be your grandparents.

After I moved to Seattle, I was leaving a coffee shop when I saw Tom Hulce walk out of a Blockbuster video. As we passed each other on the crosswalk, I averted my eyes and thought, I wish you could know how you touched my little life.

Soon after that, my brother died. That was bad enough but the circumstances around his death were dark and horrendous. I wasn’t afraid to close my eyes at night because, graciously, the only thing my brain made me see when I did was a soothing, swirling fuschia. Open eyes were problematic. If you’re me, you can still see where his name once scarred my leg. If you’re my therapist at the time, I probably wasn’t the first person you warned against trying to drink bleach. “You won’t die; You’ll just end up in the hospital getting surgery after surgery to repair the damage.”


But then Forrest showed up. I’m not embarrassed to say that Forrest Gump may have saved my life. Another long movie; I sat for hours in packed, vacant, giant and intimate theatres relieved of reality. I came to know when a crowd was about to laugh and curiously observed how different moments landed on different audiences. After the 10th or 12th viewing, I was driving home and thought, I should really commit to acting. Maybe I can make something that relieves someone someday. If it doesn’t work out, I can kill myself. Later. With that, I’d taken the tiniest step back toward the living.

Just two years before all those hours and days grieving with Forrest Gump, I’d been doing Extra work on Sleepless in Seattle. At 4AM, between takes in a restaurant, I was standing near a booth where a shot was being lit. Tom Hanks sat in the booth and yawned, then I did and he said, “Made you yawn.”

I smiled at him – unaware of how he would touch my little life.


  1. I want to see your Brian Setzer/Cyndi Lauper style. That was maybe the funniest thing ever.

    I really love your honesty Barbi.

    And lots of cool things happen to you. I don't think anyone else could write about them so beautifully. :)

  2. Barbi, what a beautiful narrative you've crafted from the shards. Thank you.