The original Rocky was released in 1976; I was born the same year. In a weirdly literal sense, we’ve grown up together. We recently turned thirty, and neither of our prospects look good. Rocky has to contend with the films Stallone has made since; I have bad knees, student loans, and credit card debt. What keeps me up nights, though, is that I’ve yet to publish the book I’ve been writing for ten years. I’m not sure how healthy it is to inventory one’s life next to that of a movie or a celebrity, but I can’t tell my story without telling Stallone’s. I know how strange (or, in the words of Rocky III, “mentally irregular”) that sounds, but I have Stallone to blame. He introduced me to the world of stories—and, later, when I was nineteen years old, Rocky taught me something about grieving. I’m too old to be looking to Stallone or Rocky for inspiration and guidance, but I do. I’m hard-wired. I’ve heard or seen Rocky thousands of times; I can’t prove this, but it’s true.
In 1982 the Academy Award-winning Rocky was the CBS movie of the week. I was six years old and enraptured in front of the television when my parents told me it was time for bed. Kicking and crying, I refused my mother’s appeals that I listen to a story from the pile of books by my bed. As a child, I was an insomniac with an imagination. I saw snakes in sock piles, legions of monsters poised under my bed, bats inside my closet. To get me to sleep, my parents had to do some hefty reading. On that night, though, I didn’t want a child’s story. I wanted to know what happened to the man in the baggy gray sweat suit. I’m not sure what it says about Stallone’s film that it captured the imagination of a six-year-old, but as my parents tucked me in, my father promised to tape the rest.