What happened to chapter three – how I stayed there? I’m not ready to write that chapter yet. It was emotionally draining enough to do chapter two, and they are related. I’m skipping ahead. I will come back.
Forty years I been asking permission to piss. I can’t squeeze a drop without a say-so. – Red, The Shawshank Redemption
I once met a man within a half an hour of his release from prison. He had been in for many years. He was a loyal listener to the Robert Paul radio show on 88.9 WQSU where I often subbed as “Rev Lovejoy.” We met this guy at the Subway at Reptiland across from Allenwood Federal Prison, as he was released, and heading to a halfway house. I recall the first words he spoke to us “man, I haven’t been in a car in years.”
Riding in a car. It may still be an odd experience for a good portion of the earth’s population, but not for someone in the US. It’s such a basic part of my everyday existence that I can’t imagine it being a big deal to me. But for people released from incarceration, the simplest things become a big deal.
I’ve already written about simple things. Walking up stairs. Riding a roller coaster. Holding my children. As I am slowly feeling the difference between prison and freedom, those simple things mean the world.
There is another side of that coin, at least there is for me. As living normally becomes a reality, so do the visions of extraordinary things. When you’re locked up, if you think about what you would do when free, you may as well dream big. Thinking about walking around in the sun free? May as well make that thought about palm trees and clear water beaches. If you’re a lifer, you have as much chance of that as you do just walking in the park a mile from the prison. Cut off is cut off. It’s all the same.
As I dreamed about what I would do if I wasn’t so penned in by the self-made prison of obesity, it didn’t do to dream about simple things. As far as I was concerned, I was as close to running a marathon as I was to walking four miles slowly. When it’s all out of reach, it’s all equally impossible. But then, because of my all-or-nothing approach to life, once the switch is thrown, now it all seems possible. And why not? Other people do it. They are subject to the same chemistry, biology, physics and gravity as I am. The only difference has been mental. That is changing.
So is it any wonder that it’s not good enough for me to do some local 5ks and be happy? There was a time, not very long ago at all, when the idea of moving myself for an hour seemed as impossible as running across the Sahara. Now I’m moving, and I want to see how far. I don’t want to stop. Call it extreme, call it replacing one addiction/obsession with another, but we’re all flawed human beings, and I may as well swap out a bad obsession for a good one.
In the prison, I don’t merely think of marathoners. I think of ultramarathoners. I obsess over Badwater. I think of swimming Gibraltar, a feat undertaken by fewer humans than Everest. I want to be an Ironman.
Crazy talk. But you know what else is crazy? A year ago I didn’t even know I couldn’t really swim. In 15 days, I’m going for 5k in a lake.
You ever read those stories about the way lottery winners end up broke? There are multiple reasons, but one may be that when poor people suddenly have millions, they buy stupid crap that usual millionaires wouldn’t waste their money on.
Well, it’s not an analogy I am entirely proud of living up to, but I can see that a bit in myself. It would be nice to just be happy feeling normal. But now that I am starting to breathe the air of a man seeking freedom, normal isn’t enough. I want to maximize the experience. I want to do things beyond normal. I want to run through the streets like George Bailey wishing Merry Christmas to inanimate objects.I’m alive again after feeling nearly dead for a long time.
I’m feeling alive, and I like it. Being normal just will not suffice.