The similarities are uncanny.
I’ve always loved the film Forrest Gump. I was never really sure why I had such an affinity for it. I assumed I just liked it the same way everyone else did. Tom Hanks was awesome and the story was entertaining. While struggling to find a cover for this issue I popped the DVD in and looked for an escape from magazine work. Then it hit me; we’re basically the same dude, Forrest and I.
Both of us walked through our childhoods completely oblivious to the events and world going on around us. For Forrest it was a matter of a learning disability that kept him blissful in his ignorance. It’s just the way it was in his era; you figured it out or you were left behind, no matter your disabilities. My ignorance to the outside world was drug induced. I spent nearly my whole childhood under the haze of Ritalin. I don’t talk about my childhood because I can only remember snapshots. When I got to foster care, the pills disappeared. This is why I can talk about my time in foster care and what followed with such clarity, my mind is free of the Ritalin haze. I’m not angry that I was pilled up, though I probably could have been a pretty special kid myself without it. But I get it. It’s just the way it was in my era; it’s what they did for us “energetic kids” back then.
Both Mr. Gump and I share backs that are “more crooked than a politician” as so eloquently stated by Forrest’s family doctor in the film. Forrest was given leg braces that miraculously blew to bits the first time he ran. I have what they call, degenerative scoliosis, all that means is that my back is all screwy from the twisted spine I’ve been given. My doctor said pretty much the same thing Forrest’s doctor said, except my back was in such peril as a kid I had to go to the DuPont center in Delaware because they were the only folks that had seen a back like mine. Those folks gave me a super specialized (and super embarrassing to wear) back brace. The brace started below my armpits and went all the way down to just above my buttocks (movie line!) which made my pants raise up in the back when I would lean forward. Try Jr High with that happening! It would latch in the front with a Velcro strap to insure it was corset tight. It wasn’t horrible to wear, comfort-wise, fashion-wise I was a mess. I got into Hip Hop for the baggy clothes initially, turns out I really loved everything about the music but that’s another story. So, much like Forrest, folks noticed me whether I wanted them to or not. And much like Forrest something special happened when athletics came into play. In the film, he starts running and it shatters his brace to bits. In my world, basketball became impossible with that cage around my chest. Like Forrest my athleticism forced the brace from my body. Hang on a second. The thing did not bust off of me because of a throbbing chest or anything, it was expensive as hell. I took that thing off carefully and placed it ever so gently next to the court. I’m no dummy!
There are a lot more similarities. Neither of us were any good at school and yet we went on to college. Granted Forrest’s time at college was far more successful than mine. We both had the military come knocking. He went, my back prohibited my entrance into the Armed Forces. We both spent a lot of time in hotels, though I never created a national scandal with my stays. We both rock at Ping Pong. We both have that one girl that we just couldn’t shake. We both married that girl. We both have remarkable sons, though I have the bonus of two daughters. We both walk through life with a positivity that goes unexplained.
And we both meet/met people we had no business meeting. His list is a lot longer than mine but I feel I’ve been just as fortunate to meet the folks I’ve met as he was. I mean, in what world does a goofy kid from the middle of Pennsylvania get to rub shoulders with athletes, actors and actresses, as well as his rap along with his hip-hop idol, DMC? It makes no sense. I went to NYC and got to see some of the cast of The Unbreakable Kerry Schmidt, including Tina Fey at a benefit for foster care nonprofit You Gotta Believe. As a Saturday Night Live fanatic I was beside myself, but the realist in me realizes this makes no sense. How did I get here?
I guess that’s the difference between Forrest and I; I am completely aware of what’s happening now and I can’t for the life of me figure out why.
I feel like Gump and I just walk through life and fall into amazing things Mr. Magoo style.
I couldn’t be happier.
I started the fifth year of a magazine a while back, a magazine I didn’t expect to last a year and it has taken me on a movie worthy journey (though I wouldn’t want that kind of attention, so maybe like a comic book or something?). If I hadn’t experienced these things that are happening to me firsthand, I would think I was lying!
The places I’ve seen and the people I have met could rival Mr. Gump’s experience.
He had Lt. Dan. Angry, jaded by life, lacking hope. I know those people too. I give some of them a voice in this magazine. He had Bubba. Bubba told him that with hard work they could be shrimping millionaires. I had Dave Miller. Dave believed in everything I did. So much so that he swore that my magazine could be the biggest thing to hit foster care. We both lost our biggest cheerleaders. Bubba died at war and Dave died on lonely road outside town in a terrible car accident. I like to think that much like Forrest, I have honored my friend’s memory by working as hard as he would have wanted me to. They were both right by the way, Bubba and Dave, hard work did pay off.
Forrest and I wander through life without an exact purpose. We just want to be happy and be surrounded by people we help to make happy. I kind of like that. It suits me.
We lose people. We gain people. Colorful folks dance in and out of our life while we move forward.
Should I be more aware of what I am doing? Put more thought into each step I take? Maybe. But where’s the fun in that?
One of the most famous lines from the film, and there were a lot of them, was “Stupid is as stupid does”. Urban Dictionary says “It means that an intelligent person who does stupid things is still stupid. You are what you do.” I agree with that but I would like to add something. A lot of people thought that pouring all of my money into a magazine about foster care was stupid. Maybe it was, but someone had to do it and the ride it has taken me on has been worth all the stupidity.
“Stupid is as stupid does” until stupid steps up and smacks the hell out of expectations.
That’s what my time as Editor of Foster Focus and that Academy Award winning film are all about; blasting every expectation of those who don’t believe in the dream to bits. Just like those braces that held Forrest Gump and I back all those years.
Chris Chmielewski aged out of foster care. He is the editor and owner of Foster Focus Magazine. He and his wife Trisha are proud parents of three lovely children.