Everyone has a story. We assume that ours is like everyone else’s – our truth is their truth – or we believe that nobody else has gone through what we have, that we are alone. The best thing we can do to connect with others is to find out each other’s story. Every story is important.
This is Todd’s story. It’s not really mine to tell but he’s letting me try. It’s hard telling someone else’s story. Bear with me.
Todd started running at the end of 2012. He ran his first 10km trail race in December, in knee-deep snow at Pack Mentality Ultra. 56 minutes. Eight months later, he paced a friend at an ultra and accidentally ran 56 kilometres in six hours. That was the beginning. He was a natural, and he loved the trails.
It didn’t take long for Todd to get private invitations to run with the fast kids. I didn’t get those invitations, I wasn’t fast enough, but I was excited for him to connect with the trail community. Strangely, he declined most of the invites, only accepting ones where I’d cajole him to “try it out, meet some people your pace, make some friends”. It wasn’t long before he’d be back to running alone or letting me chase him along cliff edges and wildlife trails. Occasionally, he’d find a kindred spirit – someone his pace who ran with him for the love of the trails and not for competition or ego. Otherwise, he didn’t seem to care about the attention of others. It baffled me. Probably confused many others. For Todd, that was him just forging his own path. Something he’d been doing his whole life.
The Square Peg
To every story, there is a back story. And no story seems to have more impact than that of our Family of Origin. Todd was born in the late ’60s to a catholic 18-year-old girl from a Norwegian immigrant family. His dad was black and not in the picture, that’s all he knows. An adorable boy with thick curls, big dimples and an easy smile, he spent two years in foster care: nobody wanted a bi-racial baby in Quebec during the political unrest of the FLQ years. He was eventually adopted by a workaholic dad and an alcoholic mom. Childhood years were blurred by chaos and neglect.
Todd’s upbringing made it hard for him to fit in. Every fall before school, his dad took him to the discount outlet store for a new wardrobe, purchasing pants that were a foot too long at the start of the year and inches too short by June. His mom, in rare moments of sobriety, would make months’ worth of sandwiches and freeze them for the countless days that he and his adopted younger sister fended for themselves. He still cringes when recalling the texture of a thawed egg salad sandwich squashed inside a saggy lunch bag. Most days at school, he ate alone.
The Cool Guy
The summer before high school, Todd was sent to Sept-Iles to spend some time with extended family. It was the first exposure he had to living in normalcy, picking strawberries with cousins, staying in a home with laughter and smiles, not needing to be in a constantly hyper-vigilant state of anxiety and apprehension – “what was going to happen next”. Just before school started, he returned to discover that his parents were getting divorced (a relief after years of fighting). Mom was in rehab again and dad couldn’t take care of the kids while sorting out his affairs. So, Todd was thrust back into the foster system, everything he owned boxed up and thrown away. Within hours of returning home, he was living in a foster home of thirteen other boys – a different kind of chaos. Later that year, his father had a heart attack and passed away. At 15, “home” as he knew it was gone.
In the midst of this, Todd figured out that he was truly on his own and needed to find his own way. He got a job at Harveys and the pay cheque offered him a better wardrobe, one that actually fit. He stopped parting his afro hair into a caucasian side-poof. Looking less like Gumby and more like a “regular guy”, he noticed that all the people who had bullied or ignored him for years now wanted to be his friend. Almost overnight, he’d gone from outcast to cool.
We all remember those coming of age movies where the geek becomes popular – Sixteen Candles, Almost Famous… Todd’s story could have played out the same, the quintessential tale of transformation. Whether it was the hard knocks he’d experienced or just who he is and has always been, he wasn’t interested in the fairy tale. He could see how others treated him better when he looked a certain way even though he was still the same guy he’d always been. The only thing different was how he was perceived. The story that others knew. Todd recalls how fake the attention felt. He wanted nothing to do with being defined by others. He instead chose to hang out with a few who thought the way he thought and didn’t need the pull of the crowd to feel important.
The Story Within the Story
There are more chapters to Todd’s story, chapters that got worse before they got better. Those chapters are for another day. The story of what happened to him and around him isn’t really the Story. They’re just the circumstances. The story that defined him – that defines all of us – was the one inside his head – the beliefs he held about himself and the world around him. He learned at a young age and never forgot that people will always chase what they perceive to be cool. Don’t get caught up in it. That does not define you. Choose wisely and well where you invest your time and with whom, from friendships to races to the person with whom you share your life. The only thing that needs to make sense is what makes sense to you. Be undefined by others.
And for those of us who only know our stories, learn the back stories of others. Get to know the quiet runner in the mid-pack who doesn’t say much but smiles all the way to her eyes. Chat with the new guy who shows up wearing sneakers and a pack of cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve of his cotton tee. Learn their stories. Tell yours. Don’t define others by what you’ve known – re-define your view of the world by what you learn.