*This blog contains explicit language. It is not a habit of mine to write blog entries packed full of swears, but I felt it was important to keep Brandon’s dialogue true so his feelings could be fully felt.*
“Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow.
Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead.
Walk beside me and be my friend.”
~ Albert Camus
“Hey!… Hey!! Hey, look at me!”
I glanced up and saw a guy about my age standing up from his seat and waving over at me. He had sandy blonde hair, wore a light blue polo shirt and khaki shorts. I paused on the busy sidewalk outside of a cafe where ten or so tables were packed full of people reading their papers and talking over coffee. I took out my iPod earbuds and looked over at the man yelling at me, giving him a small smile.
“Hey!” he said, “Aren’t you that idiot I saw on the news last night?” He laughed and the guy sitting down at his right chuckled. The girl to his left tried pulling him back down into his chair but he just pushed away her hands. A few people looked up from their papers and glanced between me and the guy.
“There are a bunch of idiots on the news, buddy. You’ll have to be more specific.” I retorted and to my relief a few of the bystanders gave a chuckle. The man just slowly sneered and I knew I should have just kept walking.
“Yeah… Yeah, you are that fuckin’ idiot walking for them fucking Haitians.” He gave a laugh and looked down at his buddy, who gave him a feeble smile and then took a drink from his water glass.
“Brandon!” the girl to his left hissed. “Don’t! Just leave him alone.” The guy, Brandon, paid her no attention and his sneer broke into a wide grin.
“If it isn’t Forest Fucking Gump. A fuckin’ retard walking across the country for a bunch of idiot people who don’t give a fuck about any of us.What do you say to that, Forest?”
An older man to my left scoffed and almost everyone else sitting at the tables had now turned their full attention to our conversation. A very large muscular man sitting at the table between me and Brandon had a strained face and I could tell he was holding back his words, but for what side of the argument, I didn’t know. I considered for a second then said, “I say… I don’t understand why you care so much. I’m not asking you to like my cause. And it’s not like I’m taking money away from anything. The people who donate to my cause do it because they want to. So, I say you don’t need to like it, but you should work on showing a little bit of respect…”
Brandon laughed and the girl rolled her eyes at him, giving up on trying to make him sit down. When he finished laughing he turned his eyes back to me and I gave a little start. His eyes were fire and his smile had turned back into a sneer, though this time it was icy. Menacing. “Is that so, Forest. Retard Forest. You’re a fucking idiot to think walking will make any kind of fucking difference. You’re raising money for those fucking Haitians when it should be going to our own country. You masquerade behind that fuckin’ mask of yours, calling yourself an American, when all you care about is getting rich by using those brown folk across the sea – who, mind you, don’t give a fuck that you’re doing this for them – as an excuse to get on TV. Don’t you see you’re fucking wasting your time. The New’s time. America’s time. How about you help out America. Do something worth while. How about you walk your ass around the country for the oil spill, huh?”
The moment I had decided I was going to walk across America to raise money for a different country, I knew I was going to meet some negative feedback. I considered changing my cause early on because I thought maybe I could get more support or donations for a cause closer to home or for one that more people cared about. But I realized that I cared about the people in Haiti and that was a good enough reason right there. Over the nearly 100 days of walking I’ve gotten some flack from people about my cause and that I should take care of my own country first. I’ve tried my best to explain that doing any kind of good should still be considered good. Or that God doesn’t have borders or boundaries when it came to helping people out. Or that they themselves should start up a little charity themselves and raise some donations for a cause that they’re passionate about. Usually when I said any of this they just laughed or turned away, but I felt I always got my point across. Now, 5 days from finishing my walk, I had encountered a person who would not change the way he felt no matter what I would say. I could making the most compelling story for my cause and he would just spit at it. He had situated himself into a tight corner and there was no way he was going to go back on what he had originally said. No way I could change his mind, so I tried to accept that and walk away.
“That’s a good point, man. So I challenge you to do something for a cause that speaks to you, like the oil spill, and raise money for it.” I knew it sounded stupid, but I was done with this conversation and by the looks of it, the muscular man between us just about had enough of it as well. I gave the cafe patrons an apologetic smile and turned my back on Brandon and started walking away.
“That’s right, fucker! Run away… Run, Forest Run!” Brandon laughed. “Or should I say walk away, Forest, walk away!”
I heard the girl try to calm him done again as I continued to weave in and out of the cafe tables towards the sidewalk ahead.
“None of it matters!” Brandon shouted after me. “You’re a fucking waste. You’re all alone and you’re a fucking waste.”
I stopped. My head was buzzing and I could feel my anger reaching boiling point. I turned around a looked at Brandon who was still standing in front of his table, sneering. I noticed the girl and guy who had been sitting with him were walking down the street in the opposite direction, throwing glances back over their shoulders.
“What did you say?” I asked. His last comments had for whatever reason stung and he knew it. His face lit up with the satisfaction that he had finally got to me and his sneer turned into one of those evil smiles that were reserved for only the most sinister villains in the movies.
“I said nothing you’re doing matters. No one cares about those dirty fucking brown people, or their country No one cares about your walk. No one cares about you. Haven’t you noticed that no one is walking with you? It’s cause no one fucking cares. You’re a fucking retard. You’re all alone.”
“A man is never truly alone…” came a voice coming from my right, “unless he himself believes it to be so!” I looked over and saw the older man who had scoffed earlier now rising out his seat. He must have been pushing 80 and wore a blue shirt with blue shorts and bright white socks that came up to his knees. My heart leapt and fell at the same time for the old man. While I couldn’t believe that this old man was standing up for, I felt like he didn’t realize that clever lines like that one didn’t have the same impact in fights these days as they may have fifty years ago. He gave me a small smile as Brandon burst into laughter.
“Oh, I was wrong, Forest! You aren’t alone. You’ve got stupid old geezers with you as well!”
The old man scoffed again and I noticed he was swaying back and forth trying to keep his balance. Resting against a chair next to him was a walking cane and I could tell he was trying his best to stand his ground without it. The old man then chuckled and pointed over at Brandon. “It looks like it’s you who are alone now, son.”
Brandon looked behind him and noticed his two friends were no longer with him. He just shrugged and said, “Whatever. They feel the same way as I do. Everyone here does! I’m just the only one who has balls enough to say it. Everyone here thinks you’re a fucking loser!”
With that the muscular man exploded out of his seat, still not looking at either me or Brandon. A vein in his forehead looked ready to explode and his face blushed in a deep red. His mouth was thin and in a small frown. He then looked at me and I gave a step back. Then he looked over at Brandon, who still had a smile wiped across his face, but the heat behind his stare had faltered. Finally the man said, “Not everyone here feels that way.” The three of us stood there, looking over at Brandon and for the first time in the conversation I felt myself swell with pride. I suddenly felt like my 10,000 Facebook followers were right behind me. That my family and friends were at my side. That all the people who I had met over the last 100 days had my back. That not just one, but two countries stayed steady beneath my feet. My face, which had crumbled into a sad and sorry look, now beamed with appreciation and I stared into Brandon’s eyes which were now hastily sweeping the faces of the people staring back at him.
The patio was absolutely quiet and everyone looked between the old guy and me, the muscular man and then Brandon. Finally Brandon puffed up, his face contorted into a grimace full of hate. “Well believing that is what makes you guys so fucking dumb.” He spat at the ground, turned on his heel and marched after his friends. For a few seconds no one moved a muscle. Then the muscular man glanced over at me, his face still stone cold and for a split second I could have sworn he gave me a small wink. He then sat down, sipped his drink and stared ahead. I noticed everyone else was still looking at me and I suddenly felt very uncomfortable. To my right, the older man asked, “You headed up the street there that way.” He pointed and I nodded. “Great!” He exclaimed. “You can walk this old man to his car!” He gave a chuckle, left a few bucks on his table, grabbed his cane and then took my arm.
We passed by the rest of the tables and a chatter ignited from them the moment the old man and I got onto the sidewalk. We walked down the street where we introduced ourselves to one another. By the second block he had me laughing and the thought of what just happened started to sink below corny jokes and the warmth of the sun. We walked another two blocks until we came to a dark green car and the old man propped his cane up against it. We stared at each other for a few seconds before a face of concern came over his face. “You don’t believe him, do you?” he asked.
“That you’re alone.” He simply replied.
I considered for a second and then said, “Well, I believe that I’m not, so that makes it so… right?” I gave him a smile.
He smiled back, just a little, and then continued to stare at me. Finally he said, “I have a better saying, I think…”
I laughed. “Yeah?”
He cleared his throat, looked me straight in the eyes, then said, “While a man may find himself alone, he never truly will be if his friends reside in his heart.”
His eyes were brimming with tears and I couldn’t hold back mine from doing the same. Finally I stuck out my hand and said, “Well… What do you say then, friend.”
He laughed, grasped my hand with a strength that took me by surprise and said, “I say… walk on, Jordan… Walk on.”