The process of researching my past that’s gone into The Long Odds has provided me a measure of catharsis. In the last month, I’ve spent time researching the whereabouts of my own grave, contacting the doctor who first diagnosed my heart defect (who thought I might have died years ago) , and getting all sorts of emails from old friends I hadn’t heard from in years when that Courier Journal article hit. It’s come to put into perspective the weight of my personal story, which is something I’ve been telling so often over the last 26 years of my life that the story had just become words to me. Something that I would tell people who were just getting to know me, or telling to government officials that I might be talking to on behalf of the American Heart Association. You know how a powerful word or set of words can lose it’s meaning upon too many repetitions? That’s how my story had begun to feel to me, and for a guy who’s been working to become a career storyteller, that’s not the best thing in the world. The experience of writing all of it out has begun to bring back the power and gravity of everything that I’ve always known, but I guess, somewhat forgotten.
I started learning the importance and the weight that a story can hold at the age of four years old, when my mother, who was desperate to find some way to save my young life and only had a matter of years to do so, began working for the AHA as a volunteer and advocate. She used to be a very nervous public speaker until she began getting out there on the stump on my behalf. Slowly, after a number of times with telling my story to crowds of people through a stream of tears, she became more confident in the story she told and the power of what she’d had to say. Not long after that, with my mom’s permission, began using me as their poster child for CHD research. I thought it was pretty cool, even if I only had a limited understanding of what exactly was going on.
Now that I’m spending time in my old hometown for a little while, I went to our storage locker a few blocks away from my brother’s apartment to go through some of my old things and see if I could find any old things that could be used to enrich what I’m doing here and I found a whole box full of old AHA campaign fliers from over 20 years ago which centered on my mom and myself. I brought a couple home and scanned them to share here.
What was interesting about finding a huge box full of these cards and fliers was how four year old me, in the world full of medical uncertainty I was born into, and then to see it juxtaposed against the image and words of this flier from four years later…
(The learning to ride a bicycle part? Never really took to that. Still can’t stay balanced on one of those damn things, no matter how I try.)
My time with AHA has continued and increased in the time since both of these pieces were printed. After spending my years growing up letting my mom tell her version of our story and ultimately being the champion of everything that got me where I am today. I got my sense of never giving up from her, no question. I couldn’t be more grateful for the lessons that she, and by extension my work for the AHA has afforded me. In the years since I started out as a poster child for AHA, I’ve gone on trips with them to Washington DC on numerous occasions where I have spoken to members of US Senate, Congress, as well as loads of other government officials on heart related issues for the states of Kentucky and Connecticut where I have held residence. Last year, I actually helped get a law signed in Connecticut that made Pulse Oxymetry screenings mandatory for all newborns in the state. All of that happened on the back of stories like my own and the stories of parents like my mother who spoke on behalf of their small children who would likely have passed away if not for Pulse Ox screenings.
I’m here to tell stories. Whether they are works of slice-of-life fiction like Love Buzz and The Zipper Club, biographical stuff like The Long Odds, or some of the more floaty, weird shit that I’ve been pitching lately with my agent (More on that soon, hopefully).
That my friends, is the importance of story. Everybody has one. Some of us might think they’re more boring or uneventful than others, but I don’t buy that. Unless you’ve lived tied to a chair in a dark room all your life, you have to have done something interesting with your life. Sure, life is boring about 95% of the time. I spend the majority of my time sitting on my ass in front of a computer screen all day. It’s that other 5% of the time that gives us something to talk about. You have to have the awareness to spot the “stories” in your life when they unfold.
Odds are, you’re more interesting than you might think.