I was in the gym wondering why, as in
the myth of Sisyphus, human beings spend so much time pushing a heavy
ball up the hill, working out, pumping iron only to watch that ball
rolling down, muscles dwindling, fat returning with a bout of the flu or
a single indulgence.
I was thinking of the vanity of some of
the muscle men whose blood-curdling hollers while weightlifting sounded
like women in labour. I have to confess that at times like these, I am
guilty of objectifying and judging these men as vacuous peacocks, just
as men are of objectifying beauty queens.
Feeling guilty about my stereotyping
(glad he couldn’t read my mind), I asked a bodybuilder (whose brain I
didn’t think I would ever be interested in) for help. As he obligingly
tossed about my pathetically light weights like air, an exchange of
pleasantries turned into a kind of confessional. People get ponderous,
expansive around journalists. It’s a perk of the job.
All these years I have been biased
towards women, thinking us more economically and physically vulnerable.
In doing so, I may have denied the wounds of boys and men, demonised
“the man” as an automatic predator.
It must have been a blind spot. It’s not
like I haven’t met broken men: men who have been taken advantage of, men
who were bullied when they were little, men who were neglected as
babies, men who never ever got approval from their fathers when they
were boys no matter what they did, how hard they tried, men who got
licks, men who simply weren’t encouraged to develop their emotional
intelligence, men whose hearts were stunted and stained by all kinds of
All I saw was the manifestation of the
wounds. The taciturn, unspeaking, sometimes violent men. I turned away.
On this day in the gym, Alvin (not his real name) said he was 60 but
looked 40. I’m guessing he has not destroyed his body with steroids and
drugs to win competitions. To digress: in yoga they sometimes say
“soften your eyes,” during a particularly difficult pose. To do this you
have to consciously unfurrow your forehead and literally allow the
stones in your heart—disappointment, loneliness, fear, sadness, loss, to
melt away. Alvin’s torso was ripped, his eyes soft as he told me his
Alvin was just nine months old when his
Vincentian mother abandoned him to his father and went to England to
work as a nurse. She never made any contact with Alvin. I asked Alvin
the usual questions. Was his father abusive, was he a womaniser? No,
Alvin said, his mother “just wanted a new life.” It didn’t include
When his mother left, Alvin’s father
remarried. Until he was 15, he didn’t know he was a stepson. He was
treated just the same as his half-brothers and sisters. Same love, same
buff. One day after his stepmother allowed a remark to slip— “I wonder
what your mother would have to say about that?”—Alvin’s world splintered
into bits that he was always picking up.
He wanted to meet his biological mother
but hadn’t a clue where to start. When he was 40 his inquiries led to a
relative who told him his biological mother thought he was dead. She
told him, “You were only a baby when she left and doesn’t know if you
survived without her.”
Alvin flew to St Vincent, where he found
his mother’s details. He phoned her. I got the impression they spoke,
cautiously, hesitantly. The past was a heap of fragile bones. He found
out he had four siblings. “It was just like the movies. Suddenly I had a
whole new family. I couldn’t wait to meet them.”
The softness in Alvin’s eyes turned into
water. He said, “I was ecstatic, but a doctor advised me not to go to
England to meet my biological mother unless she sent a ticket for me. I
didn’t take him on. I spoke to my half-brother before I got on a flight.
I asked him how I would recognise him. He said I would just know because
that is the way of blood.
When he received me we recognised one
another at once. We hugged and cried. It was like the movies. “When I
met my mother for the first time, I found after all the anticipation I
couldn’t call her Ma. The doctor was right—and wrong.
“I shouldn’t have gone unless she’d sent
me a ticket to show me she really wanted to see me.
“But also wrong because I am happy I met
her. I know now my real mother was my stepmom, the woman who looked
after me, loved me so completely as her own that I could never guess I
was her stepson until she told me.”
He added, “When my son comes to meet me
in the gym I hug him, kiss his forehead and people think I’m ‘funny,’
but I don’t care, because I know what love is.”
“What is it?” I asked. “Love is
associated with blood and marriage, but it is actually a choice. Anyone
you truly love is family.”