“It’s the worst movie ever made,” the guy across from me said. “By far. If you like being told what to do by the government, then sure, yeah, celebrate Forrest Gump. But if you have a mind of your own, then you ought to know better!” The guy leaned across the table and leered at me.
He was challenging me since he walked in. A friend of Sapphire’s, he had a noticeable crush on her and hated my guts. He looked across the table at me. I curled my hand into a fist under the table, and Sapphire reached over and massaged it.
“He is right, you know,” she said.
I looked at my lap. We were at McWhatever’s. It was Sunday and she had invited this guy to our standing date. Because this is where I was every Sunday night starting at five and going until at least nine.
McWhatever’s was a tiny pizza shop just off the corner of campus, well within walking distance and just as pretentious as it could make itself. It was the only “acceptable” pizza in town. They had toppings that other places didn’t. They had different crusts you couldn’t find anywhere else, and they had a bar-like setting without the beer.
Now at this point in my life, I didn’t drink anyway. That is about to change and change hard, but for now, I never touched any alcohol. I wouldn’t have drunk a beer if they had them, but they didn’t.
They did have wheat crust. Have you ever had wheat crust on a thin style pizza? By thin, I mean, about a half an inch thin. Just thin enough to be called thin, but not thin enough to register thin to the mouth. What you have when you cook a wheat thin crust a half an inch thick is a board. You couldn’t cut it with a knife or a fork. It had the consistency of unleavened bread and it tasted like. Well, it tasted like cardboard. She always ordered it with the honey in the crust, which was an option, and she always ordered a medium. Too much for one person to eat, too little for two. I left that place hungry every time I went there, but that was not strange back then.
Now we are getting back to the asshat and the Forrest Gump thing. I’m not going to leave that out there and not explain it, but let’s linger here a little bit longer. Just a bit.
I was hungry all the time. Could eat my fill one minute, and a half an hour later be hungry again. It was my thyroid. It was overactive and it made me thin as a rail and starving all the time. More on that when things come to a head but for now, let’s go back to Asshat. I think that is what I’m going to name him.
Has a ring.
So, Asshat beams with pride as she agrees with him about Gump, as if her agreeing with him is suddenly going to mean she comes flying at him hips first.
“Fine,” I said, because he was looking at me so smug and would not elaborate on his statement. He wanted me to admit that I didn’t know why Forrest Gump was a pro-government movie. “You are bursting to teach class, so why don’t you tell me why Forrest Gump is evil.”
He looked at her to make sure she was picking up on the fact that I didn’t know, then when she turned to him with a “don’t we pity him” look, he began.
“Forrest Gump is stupid just like the government wants us. He does all the things he is supposed to do. He goes to college. He plays football. He joins the army so he can fight for The Man in an unjust war. He is rewarded by meeting famous people and meeting the President himself. He works his job like a good little boy. He makes it rich because, sure, capitalism works, and then he is rewarded at the end with the last days of the love of his life. Forrest is the perfect American. Don’t you want to be just like him?” He grinned at me and Shadow looked at Sapphire.
“Does he want to get his ass kicked?” Shadow said to her. “Want to get stomped into the ground?”
The boy’s face went white and he shoved his chair back. “Dude, I am just trying to drop a little knowledge on you. You don’t have to be a barbarian.”
“Sometimes it takes a barbarian to say what everyone else knows.” Shadow stood and the kid leaned way back, bumping into the patrons sitting at the table behind him, displaying for him that he had nowhere to go. “Sometimes only the barbarian knows when an asshole is being an asshole.”
Sapphire touched my forearm and Shadow shook her off.
“Gonna go drop a deuce,” Shadow said. “When I get back, talk to me like I am an adult or I’ll shove that wagging tongue up your ass.”
As he walked off, the table was silent. When he came back, the kid looked at me and said, “First of all, don’t threaten me. And second, I was being an ass. I’m sorry.”
“Your opinion does not make you better than me,” I said.
Sapphire took my hand in hers and her friend saw it. “The Simpsons are coming on. Let’s move to the bar.”
We loved The Simpsons. It was high art if you watched it with a critical eye. This I actually agree with. The Simpsons are genius.
We made it back to my dorm and stayed up late. I fell asleep at four in the morning, then got up at six. I walked out of the dorm, into the campus. I had class in four hours. There was no reason to be up at this hour, but I walked it anyway. I stopped, sat on the steps of the administration building, and looked at a massive tree growing within view.
I closed my eyes and remembered the first time I had seen it.
I had been walking to the admin building with Bekah when I had seen the way the wood grain moved and the huge knot had darkened. I remembered the first thing I had seen when I looked at that tree, and I smiled.
It looked like an elephant. From about half way up the trunk came a long smooth groove that looked like a tusk. The knot looked like an eye and the rest of the tree’s bark looked like the thick, knobby skin of an elephant. I remembered looking at the tree and showing Bekah. She had giggled, closed her eyes, and opened them again.
“You’re right!” she said. “I can’t not see it now.” We had giggled together and I had even written about it in an essay for my Art in Context class.
If you looked to the left, just within sight, stood a tree with expressive limbs that stretched and rolled in every direction. They swooped and dipped, and a day into our relationship, Sapphire had brought me here to show this tree off.
It was her climbing tree. She said she climbed it all the time right in the middle of the day when everyone was around. She was very proud of that. It was her way of saying she was still young at heart. She made me climb it that first night and I remember sitting there uncomfortable, gripping a branch and unable to go any higher. I did not feel like a child at heart. I felt like a poser.
This is not a section where I am talking trash about her. Anything that makes you feel like a child is a great thing. It’s a perfect way to express a part of yourself the world is desperately trying to beat down.
But I didn’t fit here. This was not me. This was her favorite spot on campus, and when we got here, all I could do was stand and watch her climb this tree. She would get into it and I would see the bliss on her face. I would see her face beaming with happiness.
But I could not join her. I could not be up there with her. All I could do was wait for her to be done feeling that bliss so we could move on.
This was us. I hated McWhatever’s pizza. She loved it. I loved Forrest Gump. She hated it. She was a vegetarian. I was not. She wouldn’t touch Pizza Hut pizza because they bleached the flour that went into their dough. That kind of thing never registered to me. She could climb a tree. I could only see magic in the trees I stood in front of.
Sapphire would be easy to demonize. She was extreme, and I could pound on those extremes as long as we could sit here, but that is not fair. It was not her. She did not deserve to have to deal with me. I would put her through hell and break her heart. She didn’t ask for that. She should not have been dragged into me and Bekah’s hell. No one should have.
But this is what I had. A girl who was interesting, smart, beautiful, and in the end, someone else’s girl. She was not mine. I tried—we tried—for a long time, to make it all fit. We tried to get it all together. But I couldn’t be hers because I was sick with Bekah. I was dying of her. This was a poor medicine for my sickness.
I thought I would die of this disease. The fact was without Bekah, I was plagued. Without Bekah, I was dying.
This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 2: Normal Street.