I Heard From An Old Friend Last Week…
I’m at work late last week when my phone begins to vibrate. Instinctively, I reach for it, thinking it may be my kids. Instead, it’s out of the 816 area code…
Immediately, I begin to assume the worst. I’ve always feared (hoped?) that someone from the old life would come looking for me, hoping to settle up. But I severed ties with the old life years ago, and when I left, I made sure I owed no one.
Phone in hand, I beeline to the breakroom, trying to figure out why someone in Kansas City would be looking for me. I check my voicemail and a slightly familiar voice is on my recorder—and he calls me out by name. My real name. He sounds brain-damaged or something, and I can hear a woman coaching him in the background. He doesn’t wanna fight, he tells me, and he would just like to talk to me.
My fears subside as I try to remember where I know this voice. I figure I have a few minutes to kill, so I punch in the number and tell the man that answers that I’m returning his call.
He sounds happy to hear from me, asking if I remember who he is. Unfortunately, I don’t, but I get the idea I’m talking to an opponent. The woman continues to coach him on…and when he gives me his name, it clicks. Not his name, but the way he says it. The rapid speech and arrogant inflection that made me think he was from Brooklyn or something. I’m overcome by a number of positive emotions as we try to cram almost eight years into five minutes.
And then it hit me; that was eight years ago…
Has that much time gone by? It makes sense; I’m about the age he was when we met. It was a sunny day not far from the shelter I was staying at in Kansas City. My youngest son had just been born. We had just been evicted. The fight was hastily planned (if you can call it planning), but both “Jason” and I needed the money. He got twenty percent if I won, and odds were three-to-one against me. As always.
We met on this barren field where the grass was dying. The homeless used it to sleep if they didn’t make it to the shelter on time. During the day, it was a shantytown of sorts.
He was muscular, lean, and gray. That was the first thing that hit me; this guy had short, curly, black hair that was beginning to turn gray! What the hell was he doing out here?!
He also looked like the illegitimate son of Sylvester Stallone and John Turturro, with black eyes, bad teeth, and a triangular-shaped head. He had reach, too.
He took one look and started berating me (at least, that’s what I thought at the time). He looked to his contact and kept asking who the “kid” was. He was here for a “real fight” and he wasn’t gonna beat up on “some kid”. And me, being my cool, level-headed self, responded in kind. He shut me up quick, saying that he wasn’t disrespecting me; he didn’t wanna hurt me. Go home, he said, do something real with myself. I shouldn’t be out here.
I asked him if he was scared. That made him mad. He gave up, and the fight was on.
I don’t remember much of the fight. He could hit. That was his strength; he could hit harder than you could. And he could take more damage than you could. You could stand toe-to-toe with him and I guarantee you that he’d knock you down first. Trust me on this.
In fact, I remember that vividly. I took a left cross, but before I could recover from that, he caught me again with a right. It felt like my brain exploded in my head and I could feel the force of the world spinning. It was like I hadn’t had enough time to recover from the first blow before taking the second. He knocked me down and knocked my hat off my head. I thought I was so cool when he knocked me down (again) and I rolled back to my feet, replacing my hat and telling him; “Okay, let’s go.”
Oh, what the hell. That was cool.
The moments we were in close were intense and insanely fun. I made it a point to never take two shots in a row from him and his balance was lousy. He was a hitter, I thought I was a martial artist. He had no answer when I started kicking.
But at one point, I caught him in the stomach when he was rushing me, and when he doubled over, I punched him in the back of the skull—which was a really bad idea. I screamed as every bone in my hand splintered, or that’s what it felt like. I couldn’t have unclenched my fist even if I wanted to. I hurt myself more him.
The fight finally ended when I caught him with a butterfly kick to the side of the head. I got back up. He didn’t. Jason and I collected our winnings and that was that…
Talking to him a week ago, my conscience crept on me. His words were perpetually slurred, and the woman in the background had to coach him through most of his speech. Did I help do this?
When I told him that I was working (ironically, back in Missouri), settled down (sort of), and off the streets, he actually laughed. He kept saying, “Good for you. Good for you.”
When I was training Tim and Ashley, I tried to talk them both out of the life. I understand now that back then, when I was young and stupid, he was trying to do the same to me. I have no romantic illusions about fighting or being homeless. Truthfully, there are only three possible outcomes. One requires that you beat the odds, the other two are not pleasant. One of them is fatal.
But we all wound up okay in the end, didn’t we?
So I sign off for now; I have to work in the morning.
This blog is dedicated to Pat Mason, a good fighter who was kind enough to look me up after all these years just to see if I was alright.
(c) Avery K. Tingle for Akting Out LLC
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