Despite being a huge Tom Cruise fan in my younger days, I never watched Born on the Fourth of July. I think at that stage of my life I was much more interested in Cocktails and Risky Business than I was learning the story of a Vietnam Vet.
I chose to write about Ron Kovic for a paper I’m doing on trauma. I figured that since I’ve been fortunate enough to never experience war and the story was one that happened to a man in the 1960s that it would be less traumatic for me to watch.
Well, I was wrong.
After Ron Kovic is shot he gets sent to hospital in New York to recover. There were men lying in rows of beds completely at the mercy of the medical staff, many unable to move or advocate for themselves. It was easy to see that the staff was totally overwhelmed and were being asked to preform way beyond their abilities.
And I thought of my mom at 11 getting polio and being in a ward similar to that. She used to describe hearing the iron lungs and how terrifying that sound was, and how it was even more terrifying when the noise stopped because you soon learned what that meant.
The doctors came and told Ron that he would never be able to walk again, and they then showed him with absolute determination dragging himself on his crutches. They told my mom that she’d never sit up again until she sat up. They told her she’d never walk again and so she learned to walk with her crutches.
Although mom didn’t talk much (like never) about what things were like when she was sick, I grew up with what I thought was an understanding of the basics of what it was like.
After watching Born on the Fourth of July I now see that what I thought I understood wasn’t even the surface of what actually was. It’s given me a whole new appreciation of who mom was and how hard she worked to create a new life after losing so much.
Because at one point while she was in the hospital she had to make choices. She had to decide how she was going to be, what limits she was going to push, and who she was going to become. And she fought every single day of her life to push through and past the limits that were put on her.
Watching the movie was traumatizing for me, I cried the entire time I watched it and then had to just lie on the couch quietly for a few hours longer. I’ve never been that affected by a movie before, and I feel extreme gratitude for the lessons that it gave to me.
Fortunately I didn’t follow up that movie with Inside Out to fully examine my feelings.