Okay, I won't actually be 50 until August 1st of this year, but I've always done things a little faster than most. I skipped T-ball and went straight to Farm League. I graduated high school at 17. I was the first one from my high school to win a first-place math trophy, and the first to bench press 450 pounds.
I was unbreakable. When I was 23, I volunteered to be a counselor at a Muscular Dystrophy summer camp. This required a physical so I went to our family doctor. After the nurse took my vitals, I waited a very long time for the doctor to come in. When he did, he carried a manila folder and had a confused expression on his face.
"I'm sorry I took so long," he said, "but you listed that I was your doctor so we tried to find your information. We finally found it and this was inside." He handed me the one sheet that made up my entire file: the document of my birth.
I had never been to a doctor. I had never been sick. I had never had a headache. And I had never once taken any form of medication.
When I was 28, a man in a car rushed across an intersection and broadsided me on my motorcycle. It totaled my bike and threw me about 200 feet. It broke the car in half. Although I tried to assure the paramedics that I was fine, they rushed me to the hospital because they were sure I had multiple broken bones. But the x-rays confirmed that I didn't even have a hairline fracture.
This might all simply sound like bragging ... and well, yeah, mostly it is. But the truth is I'm not unbreakable. I'm not Superman. And just like I was quicker than the average person at being able to accomplish and achieve certain feats, so will everything come faster: old age and even death.
For years restaurant cashiers have been confused that I don't accept the senior citizen discounts. More times than I can count people have assumed my younger brother was my son. My face reflects a much older image than is real. I guess the old adage is true that says it's not the years but the mileage.
The men in my family have a very short life expectancy. My dad was very athletic and a mathematical wizard. He could do advance logarithms in his head and outrun most people while running backward himself. On the mountain where I grew up, they still tell folklore legends about my grandfather, who was even faster and they say he could stand behind a tall man and leap completely over him. Both died in their 60s.
Perhaps another old adage is true about a candle that burns brighter also burns faster. I am about to turn 50 and already I feel the pains of old age and the shadow of death slowly creeping up on me. But it wasn't years of football, or powerlifting, or arm wrestling completions, or even wild drivers treating me and my motorcycle like a pinball machine that did it. It was something much less grand.
As José Ferrer said as the title character in the 1950 black-and-white version of Cyrano de Bergerac: "I know them now, my ancient enemies."
I, too, finally know my nemesis, and they're not the majestic enemies I always imagined they would be. No, they're smaller. Much smaller. Much, much smaller.
As summer is approaching I have to make sure I don't go anywhere without Benadryl. One sting from a wasp, Yellow Jacket, or Honeybee, will immediately result in gruesome whelps all over my body and I'll have approximately 15 minutes before my throat swells shut. Oh joy. It still baffles my mind to think a tiny little bug can best me.
Even microscopic dangers abound these days as I suddenly seem to be susceptible to viruses galore. I've gotten bronchitis three times from shoveling snow, and the crud more times than I can count. Never when I was a young man. Never.
But the tiny little thing that has evolved into my arch enemy, the one that will surely soon be my demise, is the size of a grain of sand. This tiny white crystal found in almost every food, and certainly the ones I can't stay away from, is kicking my butt.
Think of all the great rivalries throughout history: Jesus/Satan, Sampson/Delilah, David/Goliath, Lee/Grant, F.D.R./Hitler, Tyson/Holyfield, and Batman/The Joker, just to name a few. All of these share a common denominator: all had worthy adversaries. The Apache Indians believed that a man was measured by the strength of his enemy.
And I, Neal Wooten, just shy of 50, with over a dozen powerlifting and arm wrestling trophies, who once walked away unscathed from a harrowing motorcycle wreck, will be done in by an enemy one millionth my size, a tiny little speck of death -- sugar.
How's that for a tombstone inscription?