I wish it worked that way
Me: Do you wanna watch it now?
A little while ago, Mouse mentioned that she never saw Forrest Gump so I convinced her to watch it. It’s kinda hard to explain why it’s so endearing; you just gotta watch it to understand it.
I’ve always liked it on a personal level because I could relate to one important theme: The things that you think are holding you back as a child are actually the things that push you forward as an adult.
In the movie, young Forrest can’t walk properly so he has to wear these heavy braces. Because of them, his already outsider status is made all the worse. One day, while out with his best girl, he’s attacked by some local bullies. This is where the famous line, “Run, Forrest, Run!” happens.
So he runs. And while he runs, his braces tear off and he finds that he can run faster than anything because the years of carrying all that extra weight on his legs made them strong. It’s his ability to run that set off every good thing in his life. He never stops.
People don’t seem to believe me when I tell them I was a super fat kid. I don’t look like it at all. In my head, I still carry that weight with me.
Yet, I think that almost every good thing about me came from my being fat. I started on a diet at 14 and, like Forrest, never stopped; I’ve been watching everything I eat for over three decades. I know exactly how much fat, fiber, protein, and carbohydrates I eat and have for 32+ years.
I’ve also been exercising and stretching for that long. I’m more flexible than most people half my age and regularly pass for someone in my early 30s despite almost pushing 50. I also regularly physically fight people – literally – half my age.
It also turns out that it’s not just your body that ages as the years pass but your mind as well. There, the diet has helped me as well, but so has other childhood misfortune.
You see, I had no friends as a kid. And we were poor so that meant every summer, I was home alone with my siblings with no air conditioner and no cable. So I went to the library every single day from the moment it opened – often until the moment it closed.
Remember sitting outside, alone, waiting for the librarian to come to open it. This wasn’t just for one summer, this was for years.
I remember that I decided to read every single book on the east side of this library (the children’s section). Took me three or four summers but I did it.
Every. Single. Goddamn. Book.
And when I did, I had no one to tell. In fact, I think this is the first time I’ve ever told anyone that.
The thing is, that enabled me to know things that other kids didn’t know. Like:
- People used to do their hair with bear grease (The Little House Series),
- that con-men were called swindlers (The Great Brain series),
- that lobsters turn red when you cook them (The Encyclopedia Brown series),
- that girls would be getting their periods soon and that I wanted to live near Central Park (The Judy Blume books) and
- that Nike was the spirit of victory and followed just wars, led by Athena; as Strife followed her brother Ares, the god of unjust wars (D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths).
Again, already outsider status is made all the worse.
Yet, once again, the things that made me weird, makes me interesting now.
Alison: (the first time we were on the phone together) I’m doing a crossword puzzle. It’s asking me for Caesar’s first name but Julius doesn’t fit.
Me: That’s because it’s his middle name. His first name was “Gaius.”
She told me that she set me apart that moment.
Which brings me to my current existential crisis: What to do about the boy?
And yet, I know he needs them.
I don’t want him to be fat, nor do I want him to be friendless, nor do I want to strap weights onto his ankles. But adversity makes us better – if we survive it.
Just like art only happens with restraint, all I know from personal experience is that excelling comes from limitations. But the boy will grow up in the heart of Manhattan, by Central Park, surrounded by the wealthy and the lucky. And with friends.
How do I make him anti-fragile? Or is that out of the hands of a parent and only left to life and chance?
Then again, perhaps he’s been dealt enough blows already with the loss of Alison. I feel guilty alla time that he only has me, a sleepless and strange old man, to keep him company and raise him.
Perhaps that’s enough adversity for a lifetime and I should give him as comfortable a life as I can.
But I find myself unable to do that.
Him: I wish mommy was here.
Me: Me too, all the time.
Him: (thinking) Can I have ice cream?
Me: Because. You can’t have anything you want, just because you ask for it. That’s not how life works. I wish it worked that way, but it doesn’t.