We all lose our minds a little bit sometimes. Like the woman screaming as if she had just seen her child murdered when I drove the wrong way down the Wal-Mart parking lot. Or the man who pulled up beside my girlfriend on the road, hurling obscenities because she wasn’t driving fast enough for him (when, in reality, he could have simply passed her at any time). But these are nothing more than minor insanities compared to what’s going on in the rest of the world. If you watch the news these days, or take a look at what’s happening on social media, you will see that everything seems like the end of the world. Supporters of both major presidential candidates have said that electing the other side will mean the end of America as we know it. News reports have at least half the country believing that every new person who crosses the border is going to blow us all up, while the other half will have us believe that guns themselves are the reason for killing sprees. People are ready to fight each other over athletes refusing to stand for the National Anthem. Racial tensions are higher than they’ve been since the Civil Rights movement, at least according to what we see on the television. Police brutality and attacks on the police are at an all-time high. Wars and violence never seem to stop raging, trailing back in history books for as long as anyone cares to read about it. It doesn’t make sense that, if everyone just wants to live in peace, we never stop killing each other. And let’s not forget that even the earth itself seems to have gotten tired of carrying us on her back. Tornadoes and hurricanes are happening at a much greater frequency, and with more intensity, than at any time in human presence here. Sometimes nothing makes sense, so either the entire world has gone insane or I have. I’d rather believe that it’s me. There is a scene early in the 2011 film TAKE SHELTER that quietly sets the audience up for what’s at stake. Curtis LaForche (Michael Shannon) is the crew chief for an Ohio sand-mining company. He is a husband and father, a good and simple man. His family is not wealthy, but he and his wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain), are comfortable and happy. The greatest struggle in their lives is trying to arrange cochlear implants for daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart), who’s been deaf for several years now. After a few drinks following work, a co-worker says, “You’ve got a good life, Curtis. I think that’s the best compliment you can give a man, to look at his life and say ‘That’s good.'” But everything might not be as good as it seems. The other side of having a good life is the fear of everything that makes it good being lost. When Curtis starts to have visions of a coming apocalyptic storm, he knows that he might be suffering from hallucinations. Still, he’s not taking any chances. At first it’s only the dreams. He sees a wall of storm clouds on the horizon, not an uncommon sight in rural Ohio. Then comes the rain that looks like fresh motor oil. Standing with his daughter in the front yard, they are both fascinated by another raging storm that is approaching. The family dog barks and barks and barks behind them, and then attacks Curtis. Just as the dog tears into his arm, he jolts awake in his bed. He knows that it was only a dream, but keeps watching nervously as Hannah plays with the dog at breakfast. Finally, he scoops her up and brings her back to the table. Later that day, he builds a pen for the canine and banishes it outside. “Sorry for this, buddy,” he says, “But we gotta play it like this for a while.” Then he throws open the doors of the old storm shelter, staring down into the darkness for a long time. I’ve always walked the edge of crazy, but there are moments when it grows ever more slippery on the cusp of that abyss. I’ve had many of the same problems that most people deal with: divorce, health scares, the death of a parent. But it’s never the things we think are going to push us over the edge which are the ones that actually do. Nearly a year ago, I was in a car accident. It was nothing serious, barely more than a fender-bender. Suddenly two vehicles were in the same space at the same time, dealing out a reminder in twisted metal that nothing is guaranteed, that anything could be taken away at any time. This one was merely a thump, a few curse words, and some automotive damage that would prove to be fairly long-lasting, whereas it could have been the end of everything. Police were already on the scene when the other driver and I collided, dealing with an almost identical accident. Ironically, it was probably the distraction of their presence that contributed to our own. There was no consensus on how it happened, so neither I nor the other driver were ticketed. In the state of Michigan, this means that we were both on our own when it came to getting our vehicles repaired. Having a thousand-dollar deductible – and a job stocking shelves in a home improvement store – meant that I would probably have a few months to deal with a passenger-side door that wouldn’t open and a tire that scraped against the fender whenever I hit a bump in the road. But I was alive. I informed the claims agent that it would be a while before I could have the repairs done. We selected a body shop in the small town of Plainwell where I live, and they issued a check with both the shop and my name on it. The shop was owned and run by an older couple named Terry and Laura. They were very kind. I explained my dire financial situation, we bitched about insurance companies for a while, and then agreed that I would come back to get the car taken care of. You know, when I finally had the money. A flock of birds gathers above, their numbers growing and growing until they start to block out the light. They look like a coming storm or possibly an approaching cloud of deadly gas. Curtis watches the shape they form, twisting and undulating against the sky, but none of his co-workers seems to notice them. He comments on it, but already suspects that he’s the only one seeing this. His wife is waiting for him when he gets home, late, and they race off to their daughter’s sign language class. Sitting there amidst all the nicely dressed parents, his boots caked in mud, Curtis already looks apart from his community. He signs to his daughter, telling her he loves her. Then she is in his truck, presumably driving home from the class. It’s raining and the road ahead is obscured. Suddenly a human form is there in the road. Curtis jams on the brakes, slamming into the steering wheel. When he awakens, bloodied and dazed, the vehicle is attacked by zombie-like figures who take his daughter from him. He wakes from another dream, but, even for the audience, it’s getting hard to tell where the dreams begin and end. Another storm. Curtis steps warily into the living room. Hannah is across the room, perched against the back of the couch. She’s looking at something outside. When Curtis goes to her, there is movement. Someone is just outside the window, someone who almost doesn’t look human. He grabs his daughter, but the figure, or figures, are everywhere outside now. Beating on the door, the windows. Curtis cradles her protectively against his chest. Then everything slows down. The furniture raises up into the air, holding itself there for a moment, before it crashes back down into the earth. When he wakes, he has peed in the bed. That afternoon, he goes to the local library and checks out books on mental illness. He also buys a heaping cart full of canned goods. Every time my tire scraped against that damaged fender, I cringed. After several months had passed and I still had not been able to get the repairs done, the cringe became a thing of anticipation rather than reaction. I knew that it was coming and dreaded it before it even happened. This pattern of thinking was not something new for me. It got to the point that I would sometimes take a different path to avoid the places I knew my tire would scrape. Invariably, there was some other bump, pothole, dip, or railroad track that had the same effect. Soon I was cringing every time I drove past the body shop that was going to eventually repair my car. Even though I had met those nice people, Terry and Laura, and they were no more than business owners with no stake in what I did or didn’t do with my automobile, I felt a great sense of failure every time I passed their building. I couldn’t avoid the feeling by taking the other path from town, since it would only remind me that I was taking it merely to avoid the body shop. There were days that I considered, only briefly, calling in sick to work. Just so I didn’t have to drive down that road, past that reminder of my failure. I never called in, realizing that I was just being crazy, but the thought was nonetheless there. All the while, that tire continued to scrape against my car. Curtis is not the kind of man to talk easily about his feelings. He works in construction and goes out for a beer with the boys after work, with conversations rarely getting much deeper than jokes about having threesomes. The distress is apparent when he has to reveal so much of himself to his family doctor. “I think I might need some kind of medication,” he says, and both he and the doctor know what might be happening. The doctor prescribes some sedatives and gives him the phone number of a local counselor. He asks Curtis if he’s been up to see his mother recently. When we next see Curtis, he is with his mother (a brief but effective appearance by Kathy Baker) in the mental health care facility where she has lived for the past thirty years. He wonders aloud if she was ever troubled by bad dreams. “Do you remember what happened before you were diagnosed?” he asks. Frail and distant, she explains that she simply couldn’t handle things on her own anymore. Despite her obviously fractured reality, she has enough insight to ask Curtis if he’s okay. In the same way that many traditions allege that knowing a demon’s name gives you power over it, knowing what ails you can be half the battle. While still attending the local community college, I signed up for every psychology class offered. I claimed that it was in order to understand the motivations of the characters I wrote about, but the reality is that I wanted to understand my own sometimes whacked-out motivations. Despite the outward appearance of a fairly normal life, inside I’m frequently a hot mess. The first thing psychology instructors will tell you is that you should never attempt to diagnose your family, friends, or yourself. So I wasn’t supposed to notice that my mother could be quite neurotic and anxious, or that she had shared many of these traits with her oldest son. I wasn’t supposed to realize that, over the course of more than forty years, I had personally experienced (on more than just a passing level) a full laundry list of mental and emotional disorders. I understood depression, trust issues, anger disorders, and a primarily obsessional manifestation of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder called Pure-O. Furthermore, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed a free-floating anxiety that attaches to whatever life-and-universe destroying dilemma seems to be looming next. The obsessive thoughts simply come, pushing up like weeds through the terrain of my mind. They can be yanked out, but they always spring right back up. Sometimes it’s events of the past running on a continuous loop, while the rest of the time it’s an ever-repeating alarm about some present or future calamity. It’s the perpetual cacophony of what-if, with this leading to that, which leads to something else. I can see danger from about twelve miles away in every direction and start to wonder why no one else is concerned. But really, all of it’s nothing more than a hamster wheel of hell in the brain. None of it can be solved right now . . . my stomach is knotted, my head spinning . . . and it just won’t stop. There are good reasons for any of this to exist, but it does make me wonder why some people suffer from certain disorders and others do not. Because it’s not really a matter of having reasons. Speaking with his psychiatrist, Curtis tells her that he’s got two of the five signs of schizophrenia. Then he tells her that when he was a child his mother left him in the grocery store. When she was found a week later, she was eating trash out of a dumpster. “My dad raised me,” he says, “He died last April.” Driving home, he pulls over to the side of the road and gets out to watch an amazing light show across the field. As lightning rips the sky apart, he asks aloud if anyone else is seeing this. In the car, his wife and child slumber peacefully, undisturbed. Then Samantha comes home to find Curtis and his friend Dewart in the backyard, tearing up the earth with their employer’s power equipment. His first words to his wife are that everything is okay, she can calm down. But she knows that nothing is okay anymore. That night he overdoses on sedatives. When his seizures have subsided, she attempts to take him into her arms. “Explain this to me,” she pleads, “Please, tell me something that helps me understand why you’re being like this.” “I’m afraid that something might be coming,” he says. Nearly ten months after the first accident, before I could get it repaired, someone else smashed into my car. The chattering about it in my mind had nearly calmed down. My obsessive thoughts had moved on to something else, then something else after that. I had almost decided that I would just live with the damage, with the door that would never open again and the scraping, scraping, scraping of the tire. My girlfriend and step-daughter were in the back seat as we were returning from the Kalamazoo library. We were no more than three blocks from the site of the original accident. I still could not pass through that intersection without dwelling on twisted metal (as I still can’t stop thinking about another accident, years earlier, that occurred an equally short distance from this one). All of these things were in my mind, but I was watching the road. I was watching the road as if our lives depended on it, because they do. It happened in slow motion. I saw the other vehicle coming and coming, as if we were invisible. He passed two lanes, magnetic fate. I swerved left as much as I could, but there was a curb, a light pole. I watched it all as it happened, again and again and again. Like we weren’t even there. Again, and now, with my girls in the car. It was barely a thump. Almost a nothing. And the hit was in the same exact location as the previous accident. The other driver and I stood looking at each other, then at each other’s cars, for a few minutes. He wore a turban, and I thought, I’m not going to harass you because you aren’t from here. I’m not like the rest of them. And the damage, well, it’s nothing really. It’s the same damn dented fender as it was before. A police car had already driven right past us, an obvious traffic accident, and never bothered to even slow down. No problem here. Nothing new. So I told the man in the turban that he could go. Everything was fine. Curtis has installed a new shelter the size of a railroad car in his backyard. He has fused it to a solid concrete base, equipped it with ventilation, running water from the well, and hooked everything up to electricity from marine batteries. He’s even provided frightening-looking gas masks for himself and his family, just in case. The shelter is a truly impressive thing. But his actions have cost him his job, and he’s turned his back on nearly everyone else. Samantha insists that they go out and try to feel normal for a while. But at the local community gathering, it becomes painfully obvious that they have already passed normal. No one is speaking to Curtis, though all eyes are on him. Those he once called friends whisper about him. Then Dewart, who not so long ago told Curtis that he’s got a good life, confronts him. In a ferocious and frightening scene, Curtis throws over a table like Jesus in the moneylenders’ temple. A quiet man until now, he explodes in a furious prophecy. “You think I’m crazy?? Is that what he told you?? Well, listen up.” He raises his hands to the sky as if he is invoking the ravages of heaven himself. “There is a storm coming like nothing you’ve ever seen, and none of you is prepared for it.” Everyone is silent, cowering, and saddened by what they see as a broken man. Curtis’ wife and daughter are huddled together, watching the man they love with fear and anguish. Then Samantha steps up, going silently to her husband, putting her arms around him. That night, while the world is dark, the air raid sirens begin to wail. I’m great with catastrophe. Tornadoes have always filled me with more excitement than fear. When Hurricane Andrew hit Florida, I slept through the storm. It felt strangely peaceful to know there was an unstoppable force of nature raging just outside. I’ve dodged bullets and kept my cool. I’ve seen Death up close and found my greatest reaction to be fascination. But when debt is piling up or there are adverse driving conditions or something so commonplace as auto repairs are threatening me . . . I lose my goddamn mind. The storm is real. As the funnel cloud touches down, Curtis rushes his family toward the shelter. This must surely be the beginning of the end. But he is determined to save those whom he loves most in the world. Following his lead, Samantha straps a gas mask to her daughter’s face. The lights flicker. Outside, the winds rage and the earth rebels. Then it finally seems to have stopped. But what is left of the world outside? After much time has passed, Samantha removes her gas mask. Curtis is still shaking. Certain that it’s not over. His wife tells him that he has to open the door. “I love you,” she says, “But, if I open the door, then nothing’s gonna change. You’ll see that everything’s fine, but nothing will change. Please. This is what it means to stay with us. This is something you have to do.” Slowly, fearfully, he pushes forward and reaches for the door of the shelter. In those weeks following the accident, I did what I could to fix everything. Because that’s what my life had come down to, fixing everything. Nothing was just fine, of course. About two days after I told the other driver to leave, taking down absolutely no information, the real damage to the car manifested itself. It suddenly handled as if I were driving on ice. The wheel had been bent, possibly even more. Probably something fatal. My father and brother replaced a control arm under the car, but it was no better. The vehicle was nearly undrivable, definitely unsafe. I still had not paid it off. In my head, money rained down like an apocalypse. Money I did not have and would not be able to get. My girlfriend’s car had been parked for several months. The brakes had been squealing, screaming, unsafe, and we had not been able to afford repairs. So we took turns with my car, each of us driving forty-five minutes and back every day to our workplaces in Kalamazoo. I took a deep breath, climbed into her car, and stared out through the cracked, face-scraper windshield all the way to my brother’s house. Brakes shrieking. With a loan from a friend, we got parts and got it fixed. It was still a death machine, but at least it worked. But nothing was working for me inside. The most prevalent feeling was one that even I knew was unreasonable. Dread. How in the hell would I ever be able to pull this off? How could I rearrange everything else that still had to be paid and make this happen? Because it had to happen. The chain of consequences played out in my mind: I lose my car, then I can’t get to work, so I lose my job, I lose everything else, and then I lose my mind. It was my entire existence, it was everything. The past piled up inside my head. Lifetime of poverty. A childhood watching my parents struggle. Growing up in a house that sometimes didn’t have heat, sometimes not even working plumbing. Waves of helplessness and anger washed over me. Desperate thoughts ensued. I made jokes to friends about robbing banks, but they never knew the kind of seriousness that was in my words. I couldn’t escape any of it, my only thoughts were of everything I had to do, fix, be, take care of, provide for, come up with, and save. I didn’t want to eat, and sleep became a rarity. I wanted to run. I wanted to hide. I wanted to do things that I knew were wrong. And sometimes, for just a moment, I wanted to die. So I decided that the repairs had to happen, no matter what I had to do. I returned to the body shop, back to Terry and Laura, explaining that there had been another accident. I would understand if they didn’t want to climb aboard the crazy train with me. Terry came out to look at the vehicle, looking at the tires that, in only two weeks of driving, had been worn bald by a crooked wheel, frame, axle, or whatever the hell had gone wrong. He told me that it was probably the strut, maybe a spindle. They would work with me on getting it all paid for. It could be repaired. “I can probably even get you some cheap tires,” he said. So now all that remained was to wait for the insurance company to reissue the check. My heart had finally begun to slow down. The storm clouds in my head did not disperse, but they were throwing out less lightning. Maybe everything would actually be okay. The next morning, I walked outside to find the car gone. I knew immediately that it had been repossessed. Jeff Nichols, the director of TAKE SHELTER, has spoken numerous times about the nearly crippling anxiety he felt before he wrote this film. His debut, SHOTGUN STORIES, had garnered a lot of praise, with many critics (including Roger Ebert) calling it the best film of 2008. Bigger studios were taking an interest in him and his work. He had just gotten married as well, and everything in his life seemed like it was going very well. There probably shouldn’t have been that much to worry about. But then he started thinking about the uncertainty of our government, the collapsing economy, widespread violence and war, and the fact that towns all over America were being destroyed by tornadoes and other storms. What he felt was a dull, gnawing dread. Like Curtis, a character he said was a very personal one for him, he didn’t want everything to slip away. The world had not come to an end. Curtis throws open the shelter doors to blinding sunlight. He and his family climb up out of the ground, looking around at their neighborhood. Men and women are cleaning up broken tree limbs and debris. Power company trucks are restoring downed electrical wires. Nothing else has really changed that much. The storm had passed. At least for the moment. It’s called Redemption when you reclaim an automobile that’s been repossessed. Don’t believe for a moment that I didn’t find that ironic. The finance company turned out to be less vile and greedy than I would have imagined (due, in no small part, I’m sure, to the fact that they had even less use for a damaged Chevrolet than I did). While I discussed my options and jumped through numerous hoops with their representative on the phone, a very sweet woman with an accent, I relayed some of the story of the automotive saga to her. Several times she exclaimed, “Bless your heart!”, and seemed to genuinely want everything to work out for me. The storm clouds had already begun to dissipate. There was one more tense weekend to get through, but then I finally spoke with someone from the repossession agent’s office. Her name was Faith. She gave me a narrow window of time in which to reclaim the vehicle before it would be shipped off to Detroit. If it had made it to the Motor City, there’s no way that I would have been able to drive it back home. Not shaking down the highway on a bent wheel, and certainly not without a nervous breakdown. But there was nothing to fear. It was much closer than that all along, and by early Monday afternoon I sat behind the wheel again for the first time in nearly a month. Driving home on wobbly wheels, I thought, so this is what all the fuss was about? The reissued check arrived from the insurance company the next day. I went back to Terry and Laura and set up an appointment to get my car repaired. It’s still going to be a struggle to pay the deductible, but I am going to make it happen. As long as the frame is not irreparably damaged, I will soon have everything back to the way it was before a seemingly random event hurled my mind into a tailspin nearly a year ago. When I pushed through the story of the repossession one more time for Terry and Laura, they both shook their heads and laughed. “Well, shit, son,” Terry said. Meanwhile, there’s this strange bruise-like discoloration on my right-hand side, and something that feels like a mass underneath. It first appeared over a year ago. Every doctor I’ve seen has said that it’s very puzzling, but neither x-rays, ultrasounds, or cat-scans have given us any answers. In my mind, I’ve heard words like cancer, kidney failure, and already had moments where I’m convinced that I’m going to die. And there’s the matter of all those growing, unpaid student loans that have been in deferment forever. Those things are really starting to worry me . . . The vacation was already paid for, so Curtis and his family are at a beach house in Myrtle Beach. He is building sand castles with Hannah when she signs the word storm. Curtis looks up and then turns to look back toward his wife. As Samantha steps outside, she holds out her hand. The rain on her palm looks like fresh motor oil. She looks out across the ocean, where an immense cloud formation is massing over the water. Tornadic waterspouts reach down toward the ocean surface, and the tide pulls back. A Tsunami looms in the distance like the end of the world. Curtis looks at his wife and she nods quietly. – j. meredith Writing is not like working construction, but it can still be hard work. There’s a lot of time, thought, and sometimes even research that goes into every article appearing here. If you are reading this, then it was written for you. Please take a moment to “like” this, or any other piece, and feel encouraged to leave a comment (even if it’s to disagree with what you’ve read). See larger image Take Shelter [Blu-ray] When Curtis (Michael Shannon) begins having nightmares of an encroaching, apocalyptic storm, he refrains from telling his wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain). To protect her and their six-year-old deaf daughter Hannah, Curtis starts focusing his anxiety and money into the obsessive building of a storm shelter. While Hannah’s healthcare and special needs education has resulted in financial struggle, Curtis’ seemingly inexplicable behavior concerns Samantha and provokes intolerance among co-workers, friends and neighbors. However, the resulting strain on his marriage and tension within the community doesn’t compare to Curtis’ private fear of what his disturbing dreams may truly signify. New From: 0 Out of Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related John E. Meredith So I get the car back from H&H Auto Body, and it looks better than it has in a long time. I swear the wheel is still just a little crooked, almost imperceptibly so, but it drives okay. I hug my car, because I’m the kind of person who talks to his vehicles and thinks of them like very expensive pets. Then today I took that first longdrive to work, without losing my mind. Back tires are bald. The starter seems to be going out. There’s a strange rattle somewhere. In order to pay for it, rent will now be about two weeks late. But I made it happen. And I drove past the body shop without feeling like a failure. So I’ve watched TAKE SHELTER again since then. Strange, but in this one viewing I saw it differently. This time I felt like Curtis was ultimately correct in his prophetic visions. Because, apparently in my state of mind, the happy ending is the one in which the apocalypse is on, rather than the one where the protagonist is losing his mind. Figures. John E. Meredith . . . and then, after driving it for three days, I start smelling gasoline everywhere I go. I discover that the car has a broken gas-line and attempting to drive it could result in fire and explosion. Due to going in debt to get the alignment and the body repaired, I have no money to fix the gas-line. It’s going to be sitting in the driveway for about a month. There’s some kind of lesson in here somewhere, but it’s going to take more time for me to learn it.