Stepping off the train in Atlanta, Georgia, I honestly had no idea what to expect from the family that has been so close to me for so long, and from my friend who has been through more than anybody I know. I took the train from Union Station, a thirteen-hour ride down to Atlanta, and spent the entire trip thinking about all the times Forrest and I have had together. It is impossible to describe the transformation I have seen from the broken boy who I watched airlifted to the UVA hospital, to the strong, determined individual who pushes every day to improve, to learn, and to remember. Austin and I grabbed breakfast at Starbucks Saturday morning, and then drove over to the Shepherd Hospital to meet Forrest in his room. The minute I walked through the door, I was greeted with a smile that stretched from ear to ear. Forrest and I “dapped it up” like we always would have, and hugged. The room was halfway packed up for the big move of the day. After looking through all the great toys and clothes, balls, and gear that so many people have sent to Forrest, we headed down to the cafeteria where I met Rodney and Jeanne, his nurse and help at Shepherd. After returning to the room, we worked and packed up for the big move, Forrest’s first time living out of the hospital and moving to the family apartment next door. Forrest remarked that the hospital didn’t “look like my room” when everyone’s decorations had been taken down and put away. After a couple trips, we all headed through the double swinging doors of Shepherd, a landmark moment when compared with his first entrance in a gurney.
We spent the first part of the day in the new apartment exploring everything in the building, including the rec room in the basement, complete with carnival basketball hoops, air hockey, foosball, and movies and books. Forrest challenged us to a foosball game – me against Austin and him. I own a foosball table at home, and I have to admit that I’m a pretty great foosball player, some would say champion, but Forrest scored the only three goals of the game, slamming all three shots past my defense. His smile of victory made it worth the loss. After exploring the apartment, getting settled in, and everyone taking a well-needed nap, we decided to head out to the Atlanta Botanical Garden. We spent the next couple hours exploring the Japanese garden and the canopy walks, which Forrest claimed was his favorite. Austin and I remained determined to find the prize of our plant obsessions – the bonsai tree – but despite an hour of searching, could not find one. Afterwards, we took a trip to get Cold Stone Ice Cream but decided the line wasn’t worth the wait and spent the rest of the night watching movies and playing Wii Super Smash Bros.
Sunday, we packed everything up and drove to the Atlanta Zoo, passing the stadium of my favorite baseball team, the Atlanta Braves. We spent the afternoon exploring all the exhibits and watching Forrest as he intently observed each animal. His favorite were the giraffes, but he loved the tiger, rhinoceros, elephant, bears, and gorillas and monkeys. After returning to the apartment, it will soon be time for goodbyes and hugs as I leave to head back on the train to Virginia. It has been an incredible experience to spend the weekend with my good friend, who triumphs through so much. As I remember him walking into my house on the morning of his accident, excited for our trip snowboarding for the day, I can still remember the goofy clothes and excited grin that always defined Forrest, but it is not only a memory, because the smile and the loving, funny, and perseverant personality of my old friend is still apparent today. He has never lost his sense of humor, and the ‘fist-bumps’ and constant thumbs up let us know that he is doing just fine. Forrest is an inspiration to everyone, and I was lucky to share this experience with him.
quote of the day: "The strongest steel is forged in the hottest fire."
-Chinese proverb from Brian Selfe
Forrest's smile upon seeing Peyton
Forrest winning at foosball
Walking in the Botanical Gardens
Forrest and his entourage at the zoo