It’s been six months. I think it is time to tell the truth about a traumatic event. A kid beat me up. Okay, hear me out.
In the spring of 2014, an event encapsulated just how far I had come along in my personal development. The previous winter, I began training for a half marathon to benefit the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Coalition with a group of friends who based on their level of fitness could possibly be covert CIA operatives. I ran alongside them, in complete disbelief. Inside of five years, I somehow molded myself into something barely resembling an athlete. Just five years before I weighed over 350 pounds, living in constant pain, attempting to support the massive strain on my body. Physically, I was feeling my absolute best, and running harder than ever before, I was looking forward to potentially finishing my best time yet, approximately two hours total. I had become obsessed with hitting this mark, knowing that goal setting had served me well in the previous couple of years.
During my eighth week of training, I traveled to Oxford, Pennsylvania to visit an old friend and his family. I met my friend in high school choir, where he participated between playing football. Over time, he developed into a bearded, Jeep-riding, boot-clad cowboy, with the Superman logo tattoo covering his broad chest. As teenagers, I found that while he appeared to be a brute, he had a heart of gold. Next to my overweight, church choir fashions, we looked like polar opposites in public, and got along famously. Years later, I would help usher he and his wife into marriage before their parents, siblings and her young son, with an intimate ceremony in Maryland. After a few missed occasions, he let me know that I was overdue for a visit. I scheduled it for the weekend of his daughter’s third birthday, while preoccupied by work, upcoming weddings and the nine-mile training run I needed to complete that weekend.
After several years living in Washington, DC, I had mastered the art of multitasking. As usual, I was determined to do everything, all at once, even as I traveled through rolling hills in Maryland and Pennsylvania, passing cows, horses and the even the occasional buggy. I rarely drove anymore, instead using my feet to get around the District, walking nearly 10 miles daily. That daily devotion to fitness helped me lose the bulk of my weight. On this clear, April day, it was wonderful to be on the open road. At the birthday party for his daughter, I began greeting the various friends and family members I had not seen in some time. The now-twelve year old stepson approached me, greeting me with a warm hug. I was taken aback by his increased height, and noticeable voice change, which made me feel old and a bit territorial.
“I know you are getting bigger,” I noted, “But I just want you to know that I could still kick your ass.”
This was not the first time I had spoken recklessly to the youth of the nation. Weeks before, I had gifted my “little” brother on his birthday, along with a card that read, “Please refrain from conducting any illegal activities. Best, Kodi.”
When he read the card, he asked, “What does that mean?”
I replied, “Basically, don’t do any hood shit.”
It was the least I could do for giving a thirteen year old a ninja-esque ski mask for his special day in post-George Zimmerman America. I want the young man to have fun, but nowadays, the soundtrack can go from Drake’s “Started From The Bottom”to Boyz II Men’s “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday” in a matter of seconds. (Zero to 100, real quick, son.)
These moments emphasized my increased comfort interacting with children. As my sister Amber and friends began to create families, it dawned on me how little I interacted with the five foot and under crowd. As a bachelor, I have lived a life relatively free of responsibilities to others. My desire to volunteer was based not just on having an excuse to refrain from one weekend day of alcohol consumption, but also to acknowledge how fortunate I was to grow up under a two-parent household. While it was challenging to exist under the supervision of two people, I now have a lot of respect for my parents, especially my Dad, who would sometimes unexpectedly punch me in my chest and exclaim, “That’s just in case you did something you shouldn’t have been.” Sometimes, I look at him and flinch like a dog in the shelter. I don’t even know why. He didn’t burn me with a hot iron like Penny’s mom on “Good Times.” I spent years terrified by the presence of kids. Personal experience showed me how easy it could be to affect a child, positively or negatively, leaving me skittish in their company.
That being said, I stood there, having just threatened a dear friend’s child, not comprehending that he was sporting Army fatigues (he had recently joined a boot camp-style program to learn “discipline, respect and responsibility” and I’ve been so great with spotting clues all of my life).
“No you can’t,” the 12-year old said, calmly balling his fist, raising his hand and landing a feather-light punch directly between my pectoral muscles.
Instinctively, my body tensed and I jerked backwards, barely feeling the blow. I laughed off the punch, thinking little of it as I palmed his head with my hand, and shoved him away, nearly knocking him to the ground and walking away.
Hours later, with birthday obligations fulfilled, my friend and I departed for my playground: the bar. Over drinks, I began to sense tightness in my chest, which I chalked off to indigestion. Departing the bar, we approached a crosswalk, where I suddenly fell into the street, causing cars to halt to avoid my clumsy frame.
In my heavier days, a horse tranquilizer was needed in order for me to gain an alcohol buzz. Now, a scotch on the rocks could put me on the floor, legs akimbo like Patti LaBelle at the climax of a church number. It was a rookie move, and I responded like anyone in my situation would do: I jumped to my feet and ran away to avoid embarrassment from onlookers. With a size thirteen shoe, I have been a ungraceful klutz my entire life. Considering I have fallen walking up stairs, this event was seemingly no real cause for concern. The next morning, I hit the pavement for my nine-mile training run, which was more difficult than I recalled. I was forced to stop several times, which I chalked up to fatigue and the outdoor heat. An hour and thirty minutes later, one less task could be taken off of my list.
That evening, I laid down for bed, and found that I couldn’t sleep on my back or stomach without feeling an ache. I started to ponder what was wrong with me. I convinced myself that a good night of rest would solve my problems. The next morning, back in Washington DC, I could barely walk a half mile on my daily commute to work before I found myself completely out of breath, unable to fully expand my lungs to breathe deeply without a sharp pain. As I headed to the hospital, I began to sweat profusely and develop panic attack-like symptoms. My mind raced, imagining what could be wrong with me. Since 2008, I dedicated myself to taking control of my life in every area. A medical emergency was unfathomable to me, and not on my strictly-controlled calendar of events.
At the hospital, the doctor, a slight, handsome Indian man named Navid ran a battery of blood tests and x-rays. Repeatedly, the doctor asked me what could have caused the injury. I sat with the doctor, recapping my entire weekend as if it was an episode of “Without A Trace,” amid occasional commentary from the staff.
“You continued to consume alcohol even after you fell?,” the doctor asked with an air of judgment. Having been raised by a Baptist mother, I felt right at home, answering respectfully and quickly.
“Yes, sir,” I stated plainly. Looking concerned, I asked, “Did I have a heart attack?”
My query was ignored. The doctor continued asking questions.
“The chart also says that you then consumed bacon cheese fries, buffalo chicken wings, and deep fried Oreos? Is that a real thing? The Oreos?”
“I also had a Diet Coke and a few pieces of celery and carrots, if that counts.”
“Sir, before you judge me, I think it is important to note something,” I said. “I was in People magazine,” as if mentioning appearing in America’s #1 magazine was a “Get out of jail free” card.
“Oh?,” the doctor said, smiling at the other nurses. “We have a celebrity in the emergency room. For what?”
“My weight loss of one hundred seventy five pounds,” I said, proudly. “I popped Mary Kate and Ashley right off of my hips. Their black bodyguard, Diet Coke, cigarettes and Prada bags came off as well.”
“And at this rate, they’ll be re-joining you,” he said, nonplussed. “I suppose after running nine miles, you could occasionally stand to have a food bender. I’m just surprised,” he added, looking down at the chart.
“Why is that?”
“The way you ate, you would think that you were a prize fighter or a competitive eater.”
Suddenly, it dawned on me where my malady transpired.
That little f@#$%er in fatigues hit me with the “five finger death punch.”
In my hermit youth, I spent countless hours watching professional wrestling and martial arts films. I had seen how a mutton-chopped muppet named Stan “The Man” Stasiak would finish his fatigued opponents off, hoisting their right arm above their head, before striking them squarely in the heart, easily gaining a pinfall victory.
It was befitting that my moment of shit talking almost sealed my doom.
I looked to the doctor, unsure of how to explain.
“So, I think I was hit.”
“Someone hit you?”
“Yeah. A friend.”
“You have friends that hit you?”
I half expected Dr. Navid to place his hand on my shoulder and offer to call witness protection.
“It was a friendly hit, I would say.”
“Friendly enough to land you in the hospital?”
“Who was this person?”
“Look, doctor, I wasn’t abused. I don’t need you to blink twice if I am in distress. No one’s listening in.”
“Based on that, you should feel comfortable telling me how this happened. I can protect you from the paparazzi outside, I assure you.”
Our banter made me want to ask him if he was married. Suddenly, I could picture us spending our days together, listening to Sade records and petting cats.
“I was hit by a child. More accurately, a pre-teen.”
“No, really, Mr. Seaton,” the doctor said, mortified yet amused, reviewing the x-ray once again.
“Mr. Seaton, it appears that Baby Hulk did quite the number on you.”
I suffered an injury called costochondritis, an inflammation of the cartilage that attaches the ribs to the breastbone. The chest swelling made it difficult for my lungs to fully expand, and caused me to go into panic-like symptoms.
The doctor was mortified that I had spent the entire weekend aloof and determined. Traveling, barely sleeping, drinking, eating and exercising excessively had all helped in exacerbating the situation. What he didn’t realize was that after gaining control of my life, I knew no other way. I had spent so many years watching life from the sidelines that it terrified me to no end when he advised me to stay home for the next three days, taking medication, icing my chest and—get this—resting.
First, the kid messed with my life. Now, he was messing with my money and my newly-slim hips. There would be hell to pay.
The doctor then advised me not to exercise for at least a week. I looked at him as if he had two heads. I realized that my whole identity was now wrapped up in fitness and weight control, in the times that I wasn’t gorging out. If my past were an example of a life out of control, my present was a reflection of how disciplined I had become, as well as the pride I developed in it. The doctor offered me a healthy dose of “Chill the f@#$ out,” and I couldn’t accept it. My childhood was spent in an endless exercise of perceived perfection, so naturally, I have brought many of those neurosis into my adulthood.
Weeks later, after following doctors orders, I was back on the road running, nowhere near the pace I had been prior. Just before the race, I felt that my dream of completing the half at my “best” seemed out of reach, and my training runs came with a sense of dread as I marched to the Brooklyn Half Marathon in Brooklyn, New York.
In no time, I went from being indestructible to feeling like “Mr. Glass” from the movie Unbreakable, minus the bad ass Afro and trenchcoat.
That day in Brooklyn, I looked at my watch midway through the race, aware that I would not be meeting my desired goal. I could not control the weather that day, or the road conditions. After six years of willing myself and my body to its limit, I could not push my body any further than I was attempting to at that moment. I just had to be, and I had to be okay with it. Arriving at the finish line in Coney Island, I repeatedly mouthed, “Thank you,” thinking of the people I ran in honor of. As I met up with my crew, no one in my circle cared about my time as they congratulated me. They were just happy that we stood there together with our earned medals.
Moving forward, I’m going to quell the sound of this Type A animal inside me and keep in mind that I can run the race and be okay with my place in line. I’m also going to respect the crumb snatchers from this point out as they could possibly end me without much effort.
One thing is for certain: I have worked hard for this life, and I’ll be damned if a twelve year old takes me out.
Photo credit: Touchstone Pictures