Friday, October 24, 2014

Wrestling in the Dark

I was too lonely to know I was cold. I was too cold to know I was lonely. The world seemed dark and gray that Friday afternoon in October, but I would soon know something so deep and warm and good that it could never be taken away.

As I walked home from high school, one of the tough kids in the neighborhood said come to my house. I was a bit afraid but also glad for the invitation. I thought he was a poor kid--he lived in a small house--but apparently not. He showed me his electric train, his darkroom for photos, his ham radio gear, and that was not all. His single-car garage that looked small from the outside had skis, snowshoes, camping gear, waterskis and a blue and white boat motor boat. 

He smiled and said "This stuff is just toys, it’s not really important, what matters is friendship." It sounded like something he'd heard his mom say, but still these were such gentle words from a tough kid. 

He was an only child and we were alone in his house. His mom was at work and his dad was out of town on business. He told me there’d be no one around until later that night. I said I’ve got to go, my mom will wonder where I am. But he said there’s something else I want to show you downstairs in the dark.

As we walked down the stairway, I felt a sense of gloom. We entered a hallway and he lit a long match. "Don’t you have lights down here?" I asked. 

"Of course we do but it’s more fun this way." He walked to fireplace and lit a gas log. "Isn’t that fine? I’m not supposed to light it but no one’s around." He was proud of himself. 

Then he did something strange. He grabbed me by the neck and pulled me down on the carpet. "You’re not a afraid to fight are you?" 

I answered with a punch to his gut. I was afraid. I'd wrestled with my dad and my cousin, but that was years ago. I tried to defend myself and eventually realized he wasn't going to hurt me.

We wrestled for what seemed a very long time. It was probably only a few minutes, but I was breaking a sweat. So was he. His sweat smelled both rancid and familiar. I finally pinned him which he seemed happy about. Maybe he'd let me win. I didn't care. The fight was over. We went upstairs and ate vanilla ice cream from the big chest-type freezer in his garage. And that's when I realized I was warm for the first time that day. 

We never wrestled like that again, but we became and remained friends though high school and into college. We've sent a few Christmas cards back and forth over the years. I don't think he'd remember our wrestling match. I don't think he'd guess that it's one things I'll remember when I've forgotten almost everything else.