Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Mara’s Top Ten Favorite Movies of All Time - Helplessly Hoping by Douglas Kent #memoir #guestblog

In honor of my first wife Mara – the focus of Helplessly Hoping – I’ve decided to present to you Mara’s Top Ten Favorite Movies of All Time

Despite the difficult times we had together, the one thing we always tried to find time to do was laugh.  And movies were no exception.  As much as Mara loved comedies, she’d find something to laugh at in just about every movie.  Neither of us much cared if people stared at us when we burst out laughing in a movie theater, and at home there wasn’t even a hint of restraint.  Laughter gave us hope and helped us survive as our “nation of two” (as Kurt Vonnegut described it) when we couldn’t face the rest of the world.

So, in no particular order, here are Mara’s Top Ten Favorite Movies:

What’s Up Doc (1972) – Mara was a huge Barbara Streisand fan, no more than when it came to this movie.  And really, what more could you want in a screwball comedy?  Buck Henry’s dialogue, Peter Bogdanovich directing his first big hit, and the teaming of Barbara and Ryan O’Neil.  I never loved this movie as much as Mara did, but she didn’t have to twist my arm too hard to get me to watch it.

The Breakfast Club (1985) – Every generation has their own “coming of age” movie, and for me and Mara this was it.  After seeing this in the theater, we actually went back a week later and saw it again, which was something we rarely did.  (We watched movies over and over at home, but not so much in the theater).  John Hughes perfectly encapsulated the kind of fragmented society we had at our High School.  I suppose Mara fell in with the popular crowd, at least a subset of it.  Ally Sheedy’s character was more of a representation of me.  I had no crowd, and almost no close friends.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987) – Another John Hughes film.  Mara loved John Candy, and we found ourselves quoting dopey little lines from this film for years to come.  Out of context they made no sense to anyone else, but they meant everything to us.  Even in her last letter to me Mara wrote “we’re all right, we can laugh about it now” which only I would recognize.  Couples develop that secret language, almost like a version of twin-speak.  “These aren’t….credit cards.”  I guess we identified with both John Candy and Steve Martin in this movie.  On one hand, angry at the world, and on the other, trying to just laugh and make the best we could out of life.

She’s Having a Baby (1988) – I may as well put this one right here, so you can see the John Hughes trifecta.  Kevin Bacon plays the line between goofy comedy and darker realism perfectly here.  And at the time it matched very well with how we felt.  We were adults, grown up, trying to get started in the world, and we were realizing two major lessons at once: we had no clue what the heck we were doing, and neither did the rest of the world.  The scene about lying on your resume (https://youtu.be/RfqBp4LFuIQ) was both a mirror image of how Mara handled job interviews, and another lifelong source of quotation material.  After seeing this movie, our first response to any embarrassing question from the other would be “…I like alcoholics?”

Dawn of the Dead (1978) – Okay, we both loved horror movies (and I still do).  But this one was Mara’s favorite.  She loved the story, the way the dead were still drawn to consumerism.  And she took great joy in giving every zombie that appeared more than once a special name, and then pointing out when they reappeared in one scene or another.  And, as usual, Mara found a way to take the movie and adapt it to real life: whenever we were in the mall or the grocery store together and people were moving slow, not letting us by, getting in our way, I would hear Mara start to sing the music they keep playing over the loudspeakers in the zombified mall.  It helped relive stress and was always good for a laugh.

Fiddler on the Roof (1971) – In general, Mara was also a fan of musicals.  And this was her favorite; it was the first movie she asked me to buy her on VHS when we bought a VCR.  She though Topol’s performance as Tevye was hilarious, between his conversations with God to his misquoting the scriptures to fit whatever situation he was in.  Now and then she’d start singing “If I Were a Rich Man” and imitate Topol’s stomach-shaking dance.  I guess it didn’t hurt that she had a crush on Paul Michael Glaser either.

Braveheart (1995) – This is probably the only true “epic” that Mara ever completely fell in love with.  From start to finish, she was captivated.  Scotland’s sharp hills or wet bogs, the music, the costumes, the brutal battle scenes.  And, of course, the love story between William Wallace and Princess Isabelle.  She refused to listen when I’d try to explain the ways the movie played fast and loose with certain historical facts.  “Look, just let me believe this is the way it happened.  And let me enjoy Mel Gibson in a kilt in peace.” 

Muriel’s Wedding (1994) – I’ll admit, this is the one film on the list Mara had to watch alone more often than not.  I mean, it’s okay.  But she simply adored it.  And I’d tease her about that, given the chance.  Mara used to record movies off of cable, three movies per VHS cassette, and then had a recipe box with an index card for each movie.  When we could decide what to watch she would flip through the box until she saw something that struck her fancy.  Because her memory wasn’t great, she’d include a short description of each movie.  For Muriel’s Wedding she wrote: “Two Australian girls lip-sync Abba songs.”  That’s pretty much how I felt about it.

1776 (1972) – Another musical, but this time a movie Mara never expected to like, and never intended to love.  She first watched this one 4th of July weekend only because of the patriotic holiday.  Mara hated history; it was her worst subject in school, and she simply had zero interest in it.  Pretty soon she was bouncing to the songs and laughing at Howard Da Silva’s Benjamin Franklin.  She also had a great fondness for the love shown between John and Abigail Adams.  Later this movie became one of her most frequent requests to watch.  “I love this movie…but I’ll never forgive it for tricking me into learning things about history.”

Sling Blade (1996) – I think we saw more movies in 1996 than we did in any other year.  It just sort of worked out that way.  Mara’s health wasn’t improving, but at least het Crohn’s Disease had stabilized a bit, and she knew I was accepting of the fact that if she suddenly felt sick, I was willing to leave the theater without complaint.  Shine came out that year, and so did Sling Blade.  For a while she loved them equally, but Sling Blade had more staying power with her.  She loved Billy Bob Thornton’s character Carl, and the quiet strength he had beneath his simple surface.  But I think it was John Ritter’s comic relief as Vaughan that completed the picture for her.  It was just the kind of movie Mara loved to lose herself in: laugh one minute, cry the next.

Helplessly Hoping
Douglas Kent

Genre: Memoir
Date of Publication: May 8, 2020
ISBN: 979-8641132112 (Paperback)
ASIN: B088CQZSD8 (Kindle)
Word Count: 114,000

Cover Artist: Shawn Burkett

Tagline: When Love is All You Have Left

Book Description:

High school sweethearts Mara and Douglas are young and in love, but they’re about to discover that the nightmares of the past have a way of haunting us in the present. Together they will face the demons of Mara’s childhood…but will either of them get out alive?

A true and hauntingly candid look into the tragedy of sexual abuse and mental illness, and the struggle to stay afloat when everything seems hopeless.


One night we were lying in bed watching television. As a general rule at this stage, I would fall asleep hours before Mara would. She’d stay up until 2am or later watching television, unable to sleep, and instead would sleep until 10am or later in the morning, waking up only for a moment to take the handful of pills I’d give her before leaving for work.
Mara had been strangely quiet all evening, neither laughing at the TV nor complaining of any discomfort. I rolled over, gave her a kiss goodnight, and started to settle in to fall asleep. At that point, Mara reached back and opened her own bedside drawer, pulling out the Bowie knife and showing it to me.
“Tonight, when you are sleeping,” she said in an emotionless monotone, “I am going to stab you to death.”
“Okay,” I replied calmly. “And why would you want to do that? Did I do something wrong?”
“No, but I’m tired of living. And if I kill you, I won’t have a reason to live anymore. So I will be free to kill myself. And that’s what I am going to do.  I’m sorry, but I just can’t take it anymore. And I don’t want to kill myself and leave you behind to deal with the guilt and the mess.”
I could actually see the warped logic of what she was telling me. But I didn’t know what to do, or what to say. Life had been dragging us both down, and for a long time I’d had no hope of things getting any better. At any rate, I was tired too, physically, mentally, and emotionally. And I felt completely helpless in my life. I didn’t see how anything would ever really get better. Sure, there would be better days and worse days, but the trend was set: downwards.
I rolled over on my side and faced away from Mara. I didn’t want to look at her. I just put my head down on the pillow, said “I love you,” and closed my eyes. Death has always been a huge fear for me; trying to fathom the concept of nonexistence makes me shake all over, and when that happens, I have to snap out of that quickly. I knew Mara was serious, and I felt fairly certain she would follow through with her plan. But in my state of misery, it didn’t matter. The fear of death, and the thought of that knife plunging in and out of my body, barely moved the needle. I simply didn’t care any longer. In only a few minutes I was asleep.

About the Author:

Born in Danbury, CT, Douglas Kent now makes his home in the Dallas, TX area with his two black cats. While he still dabbles in fiction and satire, his published works have focused on personal experiences in the form of memoirs.

He is also an avid supporter of independent film and music, and a lifelong animal lover.

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