Lieutenant Dan

On New Year’s Day morning, an image found its way to me. It’s from the film Forrest Gump and it’s of Lieutenant Dan sitting in a bar on New Year’s Eve in the early seventies. He sits next to the bar, which is covered in confetti, and one glass of beer, which is almost empty. His long hair is full of confetti. He wears a Happy New Year headband. People are celebrating behind him, but he’s simply sitting there, in his wheelchair, staring into oblivion. I take a lot of comfort in this image. This is the year I turn 40. I’m in the process of making peace with it. There’s nothing I can do to change it. And if I could, what would I do? Wind the clock back 10 years? 20 years? What would I do differently? Probably a lot. But I feel good looking at this image because I can understand Lieutenant Dan’s pain in that moment. He’s alive. He believed it was his destiny to die on the battlefield like the men in his family before him. In his mind, Forrest robbed him of that destiny by saving his life. Now, he’s just a Vietnam Vet with no legs. He doesn’t know how he’ll live and his face shows this. It looks like he’s staring into another dimension, trying to figure it out. I have found myself doing the same thing: sitting and staring. Not knowing how I’ll live. And yet, I live. There were times when I was younger where I felt like I had a bigger purpose, but I couldn’t figure out what it was, and it bothered me. I went to grad school seeking that higher purpose, but it still eluded me. Now, I’m nearing 40, I’m divorced, and I live with my parents in Hockley, Texas—a place I never saw myself living in. I’m in the process of writing what feels like a memoir, but not quite. I don’t have a grand narrative. I just have snapshots. Lieutenant Dan eventually fought God on Forrest’s shrimp boat. He eventually met a woman and got prosthetic legs. Both of my grandfathers were Marines. The grandfather I knew fought in Korea, but I know nothing of his experiences. He never shared them. From my own experience I can say this much: no one is in control of their destiny. And I feel like I’m still trying to connect with mine, even at 39.