QFest features story of brutal attack, forgiveness and the will to live in "Where I Am"
Robert Drake is a novelist and literary editor from Philadelphia who fell in love with an Irish doctor, and moved to Dublin to start a new life in a new country.
After two years, tragedy struck. While temporarily staying in the small town of Sligo on the western coast of Ireland, he was savagely beaten by two strangers in his own apartment.
He was in a coma for months, and suffered brain damage. Drake had to relearn how to talk, and to eat. He is now confined to a wheelchair and relies on assistance to do almost everything.
Drake does not know why he was attacked, but suspects it might be because he is gay. His attackers were apprehended, put on trial, and sentenced to eight years in jail. Neither of his attackers made any statements during the trial.
Sitting in a Center City coffee shop, Drake says as soon as he woke up in a Philadelphia hospital he forgave his attackers.
"That was the first thing I did when I regained consciousness, because I knew there was no moving forward if I did not forgive them," said Drake, a Quaker. Through his Quaker meeting, one of the attackers sent Drake an apologetic letter, leaving no way for Drake to return correspondence.
Reaching out to attackers
Drake is the subject of "Where I Am," a documentary by Pamela Drynan, screening on Friday as part of QFest, the annual Philadelphia gay and lesbian film festival. Drynan followed Drake as he returned to Ireland 12 years after the attack.
"He wanted to meet his attackers," said Drynan by telephone from her home in Dublin. "He wanted to talk to them about why this happened. He was happy to meet with them if they were prepared to do so."
But that didn't happen. The attackers did not want to meet Drake, and Drake was not particularly interested in revisiting Sligo. He was more interested in catching up with his friends in Dublin.
Drake was accompanied by a caretaker, Butch Cordora, a well-known figure in the Philadelphia gay community for his local TV show, "In Bed With Butch" and, more recently, a nude calendar project called "Straight and Butch."
"He's very cerebral and very smart, and I'm a gym boy," said Cordora. Although they are roughly the same age, active in the same gay community, and had known about one other, they could not be more different.
"Somebody told me that you used to watch my show once in a while," Cordora said to Drake.
"Somebody lied," Drake shot back, his slurred speech labored and deliberate.
With money from the Irish film board, the filmmakers funded the trip to Ireland and urged Drake to revist Sligo. He has no memory of the attack or its aftermath, and the detour through Sligo left him cold.
It was Cordora who wept while standing in front of the building where Drake was brutally attacked.
"You know how weird things trigger you," said Cordora. "I just lost it."
It was in Dublin that Drake broke down in tears, remembering the good times and people he knew there, and thinking about what could have been. The tears came so forcefully that the film crew wondered if they should seek medical assistance. The editor left only a taste of it in the film.
"The crying scene in the film actually went on for a while longer," said Drake. "It wasn't just 'boo hoo.' When I cry I really get into it."
Drake now lives in Philadelphia, where he is working on a memoir about his recovery. He says he has relearned to type, but only with one finger.
The film will be screened Friday at 7:15 p.m. and July 19 at 5:15 p.m. at The Ritz East 1.