When I was little I was fat and loved to go to the beach. The past couple of days I have been staying with my aunt and grandma by the beach in Connecticut, home to the media archive of all things me. I have three previously used personal hard drives down here, all the items recovered from my childhood home, as well as the full collection of family pictures, from when my sister and I were born until the present. Rarely do I explore these media. But tonight, after salad, pasta and bread, I did.
Looking at the aged photos, the first thought that crossed my mind was how hard I was running when I left the East Coast for Chicago after high school. I must have forgotten, or been blocking, the memories of the beach. Now, that was a hard time for my family and me. I clearly couldn’t take living with my mom and her problem any longer, and remembering the good times at that point could only have been bitter and cruel. I cried when I left my house for the drive to Chicago because even for just that one day my mom couldn’t bring herself back.
The Midwest is young and restless as I was. It has its lakes and its peaks, but they are about as different from our ocean and mountains as can be. For one, the Great Lakes are fresh water, not salty like tears, and the peaks are steel skeletons dressed in concrete and glass tuxedos. I was about as conscious of being lost when I got way out there that anyone so lost can be. Anyway, I think what triggered these thoughts was the Gus Van Sant film I watched last night, late and alone. That would be, “My Own Private Idaho.”
To be honest, I didn’t enjoy watching this movie. Nor did I find River Phoenix to be convincing as a young gay prostitute. He seemed positively straight to me. Keanu Reeves (whose first name means “cool breeze” in Hawaiian and is one of my favorite actors) I thought played his part magnificently, but River seemed out of touch with the femininity required. Shit, he wasn’t even subtly feminine, which may be a West Coast thing, correct me if I’m wrong. I wouldn’t characterize River Phoenix in “My Own Private Idaho” as typically gay.
The ideas the film presented that dealt with the search for a lost mother and homosexual desire towards a heterosexual friend dwelt in my mind long after I had switched off the TV. In fact, I very well may have opened up the photo boxes tonight on a quest to aid my mind’s grappling with those topics. I was looking for pictures of my mom before she got sick… Sparing too many details (hopefully), I found what I was looking for, kind of.
I was shocked to see my chubby self on the beach circa fifth grade without a shirt on. After that year I deemed my big belly and mipples too embarressing for public consumption, and swam always with a shirt on. Several of my favorite shirts lost all of their color from repeated dips in salt water and chlorine.
And there was my mom, looking healthy and smiling wide. Bottle of rose in the open fridge but not drinking. She was happy and beautiful and I miss her. I guess you could say that in those boxes of photos I discovered a newfound admiration for, or at least empathy with, River Phoenix’s performance.
I know for sure that this once fat kid still loves to ride the waves.