‘It’s Dark Here’: Every Parent’s Nightmare

Reading Time: 4 minutes

This story does not have a happy ending. It’s about a film called It’s Dark Here, and it does get dark here. It’s a true story, and it’s every parent’s worst nightmare.

I went to high school with a guy named Dave. He was part of a circle of friends, mostly drama geeks, with a few music geeks and the occasional gearhead thrown in, who all hung out together like the guys in an ’80s coming-of-age film. We were mostly guys with lousy home lives, so we created our own family, as teenage guys are prone to do. Dave was (and is) a good guy; he coached my little brothers in Pop Warner football, and later sold me my first motorcycle.

After high school, I went to the local community college and did a lot of theater. One of the girls in the drama department was a very funny, very attractive girl named Linda. It turned out she already knew a lot of my friends from high school, as they traveled in the same circles.

Eventually, Dave and Linda met and got married.

A few years after that, Dave and I got into a really stupid political argument at a party. It got heated and ugly, and after that we avoided each other for a while. He apparently believed that our friends were going to close ranks to protect me (he was a big guy and I wasn’t), so he somewhat distanced himself from some of his oldest friends to avoid the conflict. Time went on, we each went on with our lives, had kids, changed jobs, moved around. The usual. Then, through the magic of Facebook, we crossed paths again. We talked, apologized, forgave each other and became friends again. Dave and Linda came to our Halloween party, we attended their summer barbecue, but we got together only a few times over the next year, since we lived 50 miles apart. At one of their dinner parties, we finally met their son Jason.

Jason was 20, a musician and a martial artist, and a really great kid. He was smart, funny and charming. We spent an evening discussing pranks and hoaxes and archery (he shot compound), and made plans to hit the range together some time. I showed him the fake websites I had put up at my long-abandoned domain Monkey Spit. He played some songs he’d written. We had a great time together, and planned to have him come out and meet our kids, who were all about his age.

A few weeks later, Dave posted a goodbye to his son on Facebook.

The logo I designed for the Jason Tennies Memorial Foundation. The one project I most hated having to do.
The logo I designed for the Jason Tennies Memorial Foundation. The one project I most hated having to do.

In late September 2010, Jason suffered a schizophrenic break, and for a week endured hallucinations: hearing voices, talking to people who weren’t there, and wandering the streets at all hours, unable to sit still or sleep. His parents took him to be tested for drugs, had an MRI to check for a brain tumor, took him to hospitals and psychiatrists, but found little to no help anywhere. Because Jason was over 18, the law prevented the doctors from telling his parents anything about his condition. Jason had to make his own appointments and treatment decisions, which he was incapable of doing. The doctors could only do something if they determined that he was a threat to himself or anyone else, and he was able to maintain a facade of control long enough to get through a psychiatric interview, so they saw nothing but a somewhat distressed and anxious young man.

Finally, after enduring his personal hell for a week, on September 25 at about 3:00 AM, not far from his home, Jason stepped into the street in the path of an oncoming SUV. He was killed instantly.

This is where Dave and Linda reveal what kind of people they are. If it had been me, I’d have probably just curled up in a ball of despair and depression. Others might have tried to sue the driver or the hospital, or tried to find someone to blame. Some might have created a mythical version of the story in which their son fell victim to drugs, accident or crime, or anything but mental illness. Dave and Linda decided to do what they could to make sure what happened to their son didn’t happen to any other child.

First they created a foundation to raise money for brain research (now merged with BBRF), partnering with NAMI: The National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation to host events to raise funds and fight the stigma of mental illness. Then Linda wrote a movie script detailing the last week of her son’s life.

© & TM Tennies Productions. All Rights Reserved.
© & TM Tennies Productions. All Rights Reserved.

Through persistence and determination, and by spending the money they had put aside for Jason’s college fund, they got the movie made. It’s Dark Here stars William Mapother, Illeana Douglas, Bubba Lewis and Greg Grunberg, directed and written by Adam Copland. It has been entered at film festivals, but more importantly, it’s been screened at a lot of community meetings and for police, social service and hospital employees as a tool for learning how to better protect and serve the mentally ill. It’s a heartbreaking film but well worth seeing, since it humanizes “those crazy people on the street.”

One out of ten schizophrenic people commit suicide, and that doesn’t include the ones who do it before they are diagnosed. Many drug addicts are mentally ill people desperately trying to self-medicate, whose mental illness is camouflaged by their substance abuse. The shame and stigma of a psychiatric diagnosis keeps many people from seeking help or admitting their problems, paradoxically increasing the likelihood that they will harm themselves or someone else. Dave and Linda believe that only by honestly facing the reality of mental illness can these problems be addressed, and they put their money where their mouth is.

For the next 9 days, you can see It’s Dark Here for free on Cinevolt. It’s worth an hour and a half of your time.

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