Will the real "Joe" please stand up? / by Justin Warren

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but the other day my iPhone vibrated while it was touching my coffee mug. The loudest, most otherworldy sound jolted the room. I squealed and unintentionally discharged teensy droplets of wee in my pants. For a moment, I thought judgement day was upon me.

Thankfully, it was just a text message from an unknown number. I usually delete those, but this one had an Arkansas area code. Leaning closer, I narrowed my eyes. Three words was all it took to know exactly who it was:

Whaddup Young Thang?

My mouth fell open. I had to read it three or four times just to be sure.

It was Jamie. My brother. The real Joe.

The guy who disappeared for three years. The guy who was supposed to make my first movie, Then There Was Joe, with me but skipped town and went on the lam because he was doing very illegal things. The guy who has more potential than anyone I know, but has only succeeded in leaving trails of broken hearts and promises. That guy.

But this time something was different. A split-second later he sent this photo:

He was clear-eyed. He was smiling. Beaming even. This is not normal ladies and gentlemen. Texting with the actual Jamie shares similar odds of successfully snapping a photo of Bigfoot taking a picture of Elvis. I weighed my options. Could my mini-poodle have slipped meth in my coffee? Did a government agent construct an extremely impressive, Oscar-worthy-Jamie-skin-suit? I assumed the texting would end there...but it continued.

I was finally talking to my big brother.

The back and forth felt effortless. It had a different energy this time -- one of someone finally aware of their mistakes and willing to put in the work to make things right. Despite all that’s happened, despite everything he’s done and hasn’t done, I found myself filled with gratitude. Thankful for that small moment.

In film school, a professor of mine said something that stuck with me: We tell stories to heal. I’ve carried bitterness about Jamie much longer than I’d care to admit. But something happened to me while I was making “Joe.” I learned the immense power of confronting something that hurts you and deciding to laugh through the pain. When used correctly, laughter is therapy you don’t have to pay for. A chuckle here, a knee-slap there, all chipped away at my resentment for Jamie, and opened me to perhaps our greatest avenue we have for healing -- forgiveness.

It stings when people you love let you down. And it totally jiu-jitsues the living shit out of your brain. When love and hate intertwine in equal parts, it rots you from the inside out. At least it did for me.

I’m very drawn to this picture of Jamie and me. It’s twenty-eight years old now. It represents potential. Of what could have been. Up until a few years ago, whenever I’d see it, I’d get sad: I’d ruled out the possibility of redemption.

But since we’ve been talking again, this picture has new context. Now, it fills me with hope. Can we begin again? Is it too late to say sorry? Too late to say I love you? I know now that as long as we are alive, right now, this very moment, we have the power to change our destiny. We can decide to point our ships toward the shore. Toward home.

So, nearly three decades later, not much has changed. I’m still that little kid sitting on my big brother’s lap. I still long for him to build legos with me and play NBA Jam. And despite what we’ve been through, I believe our future is bright. I believe in people’s capacity to change. We still have a lot of work to do, but it’s work that, for the first time in my life, I’m willing to do.

-Justin Warren, Writer/Director