I didn’t know Michael Hopkins. But I had known of his and his wife’s story and work. Grace and his love affair was the stuff of legend. At least, on the documentary circuit it was.
Their work was known to be groundbreaking and at times they had corporate America running scared.
But not that day. That day was about giving the Episcopal South Congregation South a visual work of art as a way to say goodbye to Grace Hopkins. That was my day job.
I didn’t know Michael, but for one day, he would know my work.
Outside of there I knew I was putting together a film that I hoped would capture the world’s attention. I also knew right now that my job required that I do my due diligence and show Grace Hopkins true dignity. And see to it that Michael Hopkins had something that could bring him peace of mind.
The crowd in the reception hall was stuffing their faces. But the widower, Michael, was nowhere to be found.
I made my way back to the sanctuary.
There was no casket as Grace had been murdered across the ocean in Russia while following a lead for a young documentary filmmaker’s work and Michael had witnessed it all.
Their equipment and evidence had been destroyed and then he’d been imprisoned for six months.
He’d been home for all of a month. Her family had already mourned her and moved on. Except for her brother Kevin. He’d come to Episcopal South to set this up.
Kevin had already left and Michael was nowhere to be found.
It was time to take my work down.
I stood before the cycling silent film and thought of my own documentary, Black Gold, and began to cry.
I was dealing with my own grief. A member of my own creative family had died. Luke.
Kneeling at the altar I clasped my hands together and bowed my head. Closing my eyes I started to pray.
“God. We ain’t talked in a long time. You know how I feel about you choosing to take Luke home to be with you in December. I haven’t forgiven you for that. But I’m not here to talk about me. Someone is grieving today who you robbed of a chance to properly grieve his wife. They did good work. They changed lives. They made the world a better place. I know he’s not in that Russian prison anymore, but I looked in his eyes. That man is no more free than I am. So I’m praying for him. Bring him the peace I can’t seem to bring myself or Luke’s husband.”
“Who are you?”
I heard this deep voice demanding answers from me. It shook me from the inside out. I had thought I was about as alone as I could get. Showing no fear I slowly I stood up. When I turned around I thought I might die. Of grief, of embarrassment, it was one of those moments where I hoped the ground would open up and swallow me.
It was Michael Hopkins.
He stood there, tall, lean and in a charcoal colored suit. His jet black hair cut just so, his bright blue eyes filled with pain and confusion. He repeated the question. Only this time, less harshly. With a bit more compassion.
“Who are you, Miss?”
“I…I’m…I’m the, I’m in charge of the slideshow.”
“You seem awfully invested in it.” Michael began to walk towards me and I froze. He stopped in front of me. “Take a breath. You’re a documentary filmmaker aren’t you?”
“Do yourself and everyone else on your team a favor and get out of the business.”
I said nothing. He had every right to feel the way he did. And given what he had been through I suppose he had the right dump on somebody. But I didn’t feel like being dumped on someone I idolized so much.
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
I side stepped him and forced myself not to cry. I kept my head down. I was grieving too.
I could already hear him shouting. I made a beeline for my car. I got in and turned the ignition key. The awful sound of my starter going dead wasn’t what I wanted to hear. Neither was the knocking of his fingers on the glass window on the driver’s side next to my head.
I pulled the keys out of the ignition and hurled them at the windshield, screaming in frustration. Then, and only then, did I roll my window down.
“Is it safe to ask you if you want me to get it towed to a local mechanic?”
“Har har har. Tow it don’t tow it. It figures it would die on me now.”
“It’s probably something simple. Like the battery or starter.”
“Well simple might as well be a million dollars to me. I have a trip planned for a month from now and now everything for a film you so callously told me not to do is in jeopardy.” I could feel my emotions getting the best of me. “All we need is footage for the end. And even if you think my film isn’t worth the risk…damn it…”
My throat closed off and the tears came.
I could see this was not what he’d bargained for, I was prepared for him to freak out like any other guy. Instead he opened the car door and his demeanor completely changed. He was the complete gentleman. He was the grieving widower but he was deferring to my moment of crisis. I wasn’t used to that. I could hear my father with each glancing blow of his belt across my face. You want something to cry about? I’ll give you something to cry about.
Michael stretched out his hand to me. And for minute I was five years old and my dad was backhanding me. I flinched. Recovered and took Michael’s hand. He gave me an odd look but didn’t press any further.
He shut the door and he asked, “What’s this film you’re making about?”
“Standing Rock and what led up to it.”
“So you’re going to rattle some cages.”
“I think we already have. My agent is getting hit with blowback, warning me to stop making the film.”
“The big banks and the oil industry just are always so backwards. Were you thinking to look there when you found whatever it is that’s driving you to make this documentary?”
“I was just looking for a cursory statement and got a call from National Dakota Bank from their VP of Communications. It was without a doubt the weirdest fucking phone call I’ve had. I got the sense they were watching me. That they were trying to intimidate me. And make me afraid.”
“Did they succeed in getting you to drop your film?”
“Ultimately no. But I did have gastritis. And had to withdrawl from trazadone.”
“An anxiety medicine?”
“I never itched so badly in my life. Benadryl became my friend. For a little while anyway.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Don’t be obtuse. I have a co-morbid diagnosis. Bipolar 1 with mixed episodes, PTSD and anxiety. Lots of letters after my name, just not Ph.D.”
I rubbed my arms. It was warm for January but it was still too cold for no coat or jacket. He took off his jacket and placed it on me.
“Did you go to Standing Rock?”
“Once in October when the clashes between prayer protesters and the militarized police force started happening, and again in December,” my voice caught, “Luke was targeted by the oil company’s security forces and got a nasty dog bite. It got infected. He died on the way home. Worst experience of my life. I was lucky his husband immediately sprang into action.”
“Does he blame you?”
“No,” I said, the cold wind biting through the warm sun. “But that doesn’t stop me from doing it.”
Our eyes met. There seemed to be a quiet understanding there. A bond in that people that we loved more than life had perhaps followed us around one corner too many.
“Should we go inside? I asked.
“People are probably wondering where I am. Truthfully I wish Kevin had stayed. He’s good at this sort of thing.”
“You mean peopling?”
He actually smiled and he looked beautiful. “Now that’s a word.”
“I’m not so good at it either. But I have a director Amy and a real Amy.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Director Maria is always in control. Knows what to do in a crisis. And never lets her crew see her vulnerabilities.”
“What happened when Luke died?”
“Director Maria took a hike. It shook up the other members of the crew.”
“They still with you?”
“Yes, much to their credit they stuck it out.”
“I think that’s more of testament to your leadership than you realize.”
“Can we go inside?”
“Not just yet. Well meaning people are going to swamp me with questions like are you alright, are you sleeping, are you eating. The constant phone calls are driving me nuts.”
“Do you have family?”
“My mom. Dad died while I was in prison.”
“Is it okay where you’re staying?”
“On my own, although the house is haunted with memories of Grace. And the future we might have had. Memories from the end that I’d rather forget.”
Another stiff breeze cut through me and my teeth began to chatter. “I know we don’t really know each other, but I have an apartment. My roommate recently got married. If you want to crash on the couch just to get away from it all, feel free to.”
“So I’ve been told on several occasions. But if you don’t mind I’d prefer it if you didn’t use that word.”
“Okay. I’ll do you one better. I’ll pay for your car to be towed and fixed so that you can make your trip.”
“Are you crazy?”
“No. You’re the only one here who even has an idea of what I’m dealing with. I’ve never heard anyone pray for me quite like that before. It was kind of innocent. And god knows my innocent days are long gone.”
“Let’s go inside here. I’ll run interference and you can avoid as much painful social interaction as possible.”
“Sounds like a plan. I’ll call Tony’s Fix and you should be up and running by Wednesday.”
“I don’t know how to thank you. You’re saving my whole life here.”
“Just be safe.”
I nodded and we headed indoors. I had never met anyone quite like Michael Hopkins. Later he would tell me I had charmed him. But the truth was, he had charmed me.