• Anne Jo Lee

Tragic Loss and New Beginnings

Blog October 28th 2019

This has been THE most challenging blog to write, I’ve felt stuck, for months; as to what I can even put into words from the thoughts and rollercoaster of emotions, I’ve experienced lately. The truth is, that I experienced an incredible loss and I’m still healing from it.

November 11th 2019

Life happens, this is a perfect example (of one of many) life altering incidents, that has drastically changed the course of my life and ultimately, this film and the scheduled tour. It has literally taken WEEKS to get this far, on this one blog, so if I finish today, it will be a miracle.

In my previous blog, I wrote about how good friends and strangers have helped me, in ways that are beyond kind and kept this film (and I) going. At that time, I had just returned from a trip to the Keys with my friend Brandon … yep… break time….

November 21st, 2019

This is tough.

December 20th, 2019

Every time I try to write, my eyes fill with tears and I’m reminded of how tragically beautiful life is and how much I miss my friend.

March 4th, 2020

Seems fitting that I would finish this post today; it has been a year since my last blog entry and I’m much better now. I’m going to refrain from going into great detail here, I’m writing a book about the experience I’ve had while making this film and this chapter will be an important one.

Last February, I met up with my best friend, from grade school, who I always stayed in touch with but had not seen in maybe, 9 years, Brandon Warren. He was my confidante and the kind of friend that you could literally call any time, day or night and he would listen, give advice if you asked for it and generally have anyone laughing in minutes, no matter what mood they were in.

We took a trip to the Everglades from Orlando and that’s a nice amount of time to get caught up on all things important. He came to visit because he was having difficulty with an ex, who wouldn’t leave his place and it was stressing him out so badly that he couldn’t be in his own home. My friends are my family and I couldn’t stand to hear this or the phone calls he was getting, so I made the decision to move to Colorado once I saved enough for a vehicle. I was working for an Electrician at the time but still experiencing severe panic attacks and thus the reason I figured being back in nature on a Farm, would be good for me and I’d be able to work on the film.

A few weeks pass and I’ve saved up for my trip to Colorado and looking at Vans and cars that will make the trip and friends brave enough to drive with me, in case I broke down.

March 17th comes and my employer randomly texts all 3 of us and says he can’t pay us and he’s no longer working with his client so I was out of a job and only had enough money to get a vehicle, not gas and insurance too.

By March, I had moved, with my dog and no vehicle, to another friend’s couch, in Orlando (Thanks Josanne Love!). I had previously stayed on Chris Niemi’s Couch a student at Full Sail and in my same apartment complex. This was after I sold my truck and computer to try to save my apartment, which I only kept for 6 months. In in June of 2018 I had been to the ER 3 times, had a stroke and was trying to just stay a float but I also was wanting to keep moving forward on the Documentary because I was right next to Full Sail, (the Film School I graduated from) where I though I’d be able to get plenty of help.

Well, I realized I had to take care of my health first so all I could really do is walk the dog and go to church, then I started working the camera and lights at church and got better gradually. Then, got the job as an electrician’s assistant. I realize this is jumping around a bit but it a blog….

So there I am trying to decide weather to fly to Colorado or get a junker and hope it makes it and ask for spare change along the way. Brandon was really under a lot of stress and I wanted to get to Colorado to help him with the Farm ASAP so I asked if it would be better for me to have a car and he said definitely but that I could go to his parents then to his place.

Then, the totally unexpected happened, I got a call from a friend, who couldn’t make it to a shoot and had recommended me for it, as an under water camera operator!

I had been trying to sell my underwater housing and camera for 2 years, I spent $25K on it and barely used it so here’s my chance to make back my investment AND do what I what was my dream job for 15 years!!! This way I could come to Colorado with a car and fly back for each episode. So, I postponed my trip for a month and spent the money I had saved for the vehicle, to take a trip to make sure my housing worked and go for a dive because it had been a while.

Well, I had not been in the water since I quit taking Neurontin (gabapentin) and it was when I started reducing my medication (because insurance decided they would only pay for half), I realized soon I would have no insurance and had to taper off this medication myself and the ONLY relief I had was CBD, which is another reason I wanted to come to Colorado, it was 1/8th the cost of good CBD. That held my nerve pain and panic attacks at bay and I had not been out of a 5 mile radius, alone, in a year after, I was diagnosed agoraphobic.

JBO Productions, after ASL Productions is the best company I could have asked to been hired by. When I got to Key West, to test the gear, I met up with friends and went sailing. When I was on the boat, I had a panic attack, just like the one I had in the canoe when I was in the Everglades with Brandon, when I nearly swam to shore.

It’s an overwhelming fear that I have to run or that I feel trapped and have to go, now, I know it’s the agoraphobia but then, I just thought I was loosing my mind. When I would get stressed or anxious, it would trigger a seizure and I would temporarily forget where I would be and have to piece things back together, the that would stress me and it would be a cycle. I know it was a combination of the medication change and the amount of stress I had been under for years without realizing it but I couldn’t afford a Doctor.

The day after I went sailing I started feeling horrible, coughing, fever, drenched in sweat. I went to the ER because I wasn’t about to dive and test gear with a cough and feeling crappy, turns out I had pneumonia. Being in Key West with Pneumonia or a leg injury is the WORST, no fun at all! I stayed with my friend, in their guest room, who had been my friend for years, and it was right after I came back from the hospital, when he expressed his love for me and wanted to be more than friends. Guys, let me tell you, when a girl just puked her guts out and is not giving you ANY signal that she is interested in you, as more than a friend, the last thing you should do is give her a spicy chicken taco and ask if she want to date you. Upon my decline to both lovely offers, i retired to room and began to plan my escape, but to where? I couldn’t go on a shoot with pneumonia, couldn’t stay there, too awkward and I was too weak to take a bus back with all my gear. I stayed in the guest room and the bathroom for the next 3 days till I realized I would soon be too weak to even get back to Orlando. Finally, I convinced my friend to lend me the $100 to get a rental car back to Orlando where I could be with my Church family.

Josanne, being the loving friend she is, took me back in while I recovered and by this time I had spent nearly all the money I had saved to get to Colorado and I couldn’t travel sick.

Things had gotten worse in Colorado and I just had this feeling like I needed to go so I started asking everyone I knew to help and to please pray for me to get there. It took about a month before I got over the pneumonia and finally get a ride to Colorado. By that time, I was down to $200 and there’s no way I could fly with my dog and gear because I was still weak.

My previous roommate, Chris had expressed wanting to take a road trip so I said this is the perfect opportunity and I had $200 for gas. I was finally all packed and ready to go, we get to the airport where we are renting the car and his mom drops us off only to find out, neither of our Cards are good to cover the hold for the rental. I literally sat in the baggage claim and burst into tears. I had been trying to get to Colorado for 3 months by then and Josanne was moving at the end of the month so I had no where to go back to. Chris kindly offered to have me stay with him and his parents but I’m guessing his mom knew that wasn’t going to work so she drove back to the airport and helped us get the rental, which they upgraded to a van because they saw I had been in tears, thanks Enterprise! Off we went to Colorado…..

We drove straight from Florida to Colorado, stopping in Baton Rouge for a 2 hour nap to be woke up buy a bum snooping around and my dog barking at the near intruder. I drove 30 of the 33 hours and by the time got to Brandon’s Farm, I almost couldn’t walk up to the door and was greeted by hugs and then a head but from the biggest ball of floor I’d ever seen in real life! It was his Caucaisan Sheapard, Griz, giving a friendly hello. When I came in the house, my heart sank.

I suddenly could see why Brandon was so stressed and overwhelmed. The dishes were piled so high I couldn’t get to the sink and the bathroom sink was clogged, he hadn’t been there in weeks and I could see why. The first thing he said is, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t have the energy to clean before you came, I don’t normally live like this.’ His ex had moved out and not cleaned and he had a new roommate that, I later found out was also contributing the problem.

The next morning woke up to a buzzing sound, it was the mass amount of flies that had gathered around the trash on and under the porch, I stepped outside and understood what Brandon meant about the place being “trashed” and the bear problem, there was trash strewn from a flatbed trailer down the driveway, surrounding the house. I put on gloves, grabbed a trash bag and started cleaning. Brandon said “you don’t have to do that now, we can chill for a bit”, nope.

I can’t chill and let my friend live like that, Chris and I picked up the trash while the room mate and Brandon ran errands.

Since Brandon’s Truck was needed a transmission, he (we) relied on his roommate for rides, so he found a Jeep in Denver and was going to pick it up there when he went for the opening party for a CBD shop, he was working with.

It’s roughly a 6 hour drive from here in Pagosa Springs to Denver, over Wolfe Creek Pass, which is over 10,000 ft. When he got the jeep, he said it needed some work so he was waiting for parts and some help to get it repaired before driving it back. He said he didn’t feel good so he was coming back and just going to put on the other parts when he got home. His father and brother were visiting from Texas to help put the house back in order and be there for him, because he had been so stressed the previous weeks.

I’ve know the Warren Family since I was 12 and all through High School, they were the family that always had a home full of neighbor’s kids, having fun, playing in the pool riding motorcycles around the neighborhood, and obscenely loud bass, it was the family I wish I always had.

I was very excited to see Phil (Brandon’s Dad) aka Pappa Smurf, and Ryan (Brandon’s Brother) aka Adrenaline Junkie, who would be arriving around the same time as Brandon would get back from Denver. By this time, Chris had left and I had been there for only 2 weeks.

Brandon was taking longer to get back than he thought and rolled in just before Dark, I ran out to see him and the new Jeep and give him a hug. He just sat there like he had drove through a war zone, it wasn’t till later when I drove the jeep that I understood why it would have been white knuckle ordeal, even for the best of drivers.

He came in and we spoke, then I stared to warm up food while he was in the room talking to the room mate. I came in and he was opening his mail and excited to see his family and also said he was exhausted from the extra long trip. I suggested he lay down and rest while we wait for his family, since he was feeling nauseous and had such a long trip. I cleared the mail from his bed and he leaned back and fell asleep immediately. 30 minutes later Phil and Ryan get to the house from a 2 hour drive from Texas and we stayed up and visited for about an hour while we could hear Brandon snoring and decided he needed his rest. I had tried to wake him up but he’s always slept like rock so we thought nothing of it. When I went to bed he was snoring heavily so I propped him in a position with all the pillows to keep his head and chest up and even shoved my arm and shoulder to hold him in the position where he sounded better and that way I could feel his breathing, and very once in a while he would cough, so I was awake and playing peaceful Tibetan singing bowls with rain sounds so I might get some rest with the snoring, the time I looked at my phone to pick another track, it was 5 AM. at approx 6AM I woke up and my arm was asleep and then i realized there was NO snoring, OR breathing, OR PULSE, I ran upstairs to get the roommate who began CPR and I don’t know what else happened after that except some really nice ladies who were grief counselors came and helped me clean up the room that I now sleep in.

It was hard enough to loose my best friend but to watch his Father and Brother try to grasp what had just happened, simply shattered my heart, what followed was nearly as devastating. They left to go back to Texas and I was now alone with man, (the roommate) I didn’t know, except for the 2 weeks I had been there. I began to throw up every day and couldn’t eat, I went to the ER and they said the anxiety and stress was telling my brain to puke.

Two weeks later, I began seeing the real person the roommate was, around my birthday; actually, some friends of Ryan’s came to visit and one morning, the roommate came down and began to violently yell at me about something rather insignificant, in front of the guests of ours.

It was only downhill from there, stealing (from the family), name calling, threatening, and lies just kept coming; for the 1st time in my life, I had no desire or energy to fight back. I just prayed and shut my door, I didn’t want to tell the Warren Family (home owners) because they had been through enough and might sell the house if we couldn’t figure it out and get along.

Isn’t this just how abuse starts though?… We tell ourselves, well, he/she had a bad day….it’ probably won’t happen again.

It’s wasn’t until he physically tried to grab my purse from me, then block me from getting out of the driveway, with a ladder, (that he stood with behind me, until he realized I WOULD run him over in reverse, so instead threw at my vehicle) than I realized how truly dangerous the situation was and from that day ‘till when he finally left, (an early Christmas Gift!) I slept with my gun always loaded and in reach, or had my knife on me. Luckily, I had places to go but I dare not leave and allow the darkness to take over.

Some people would ask why I didn’t call the cops, I (like many women in that situation) believe that would have only made matters worse. I didn’t want to leave because I knew what would happen to the house if I was gone.

I could not have handled any of this without having a relationship with God, I feel it was divine guidance for me to be here. I love the Warren Family and my Church Family, appropriately named, Amazing Grace, the Church here, I had been to only once, in a sheep barn, a mile away from where I am now. These people, now my Ohana, have rallied around me, helped me, loved me, fed me, and met my every basic need. Now to get busy with finishing this Documentary! I found an Editor and a new fundraising platform I’m going to use to raise the finishing funds and I found a bus for the tour, needs some work so will be raising funds for that and applying for more grants, while planning a screening, locally!

Today is the first day I have written anything over a paragraph, that I didn’t delete. A bit rusty; likely a lot of oversharing, and I regret nothing. I’m now, finally, in a position to finish this project. God willing.



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