a few summers ago, i found myself coaxed into a girl wrestle in the midst of a sweaty crowd, on the floor of a theatre in nyc.
i didn’t meant to find myself there. it just kind of happened, like joining a sorority or getting kicked by a mule. you put yourself in the proper circumstances and you don’t even have to try.
it was an improv festival and there was a lot of day drinking going on.
my roommate at the time and renowned thrower-under-the-bus- er was dannielle owens-reid. you may recognize her in such blogs as “lesbians that look like justin beiber,” and from such films as “not another celebrity teen movie,” where she played justin beiber. anyway, dannielle volunteered me before i knew what was even happening. i moved to the front of the crowd, blindly accepting whatever was about to happen.
the girl i was face- offing with had demons in her eyes. seriously.
ask anyone who was there.
this girl, crouching on the matt in front of me, crouching like a peeing drunk in the wild, this girl had swallowed some anger in her life and she was looking for a release. i was in a bad way. i wanted to take it back, to laugh this off and sink back into the people behind me. at least kick her in the teeth and run. but i felt the pulse of the crowd. people drinking. people having fun. people here, palms open, gifting me with the opportunity to perform for them. be a star! be a star! so i took off my shoes and crouched into fighting stance? ( i think? do fighters crouch?)
emily rose was killing me. k.i.l.l.i.n.g. me. i did expect this to be aggressive. i did not expect her to lunge at me like a cat out of cage fire. she was skinny but strong. her bones cut into me like steel beams into soft calf skin.
it was at this moment that time stops. in a panting, look- sweep of the crowd i find the eyes of a friend. kneeling on the ground next to me, keeping his hands out, as any good spotter would, my friend matt. sweet, kind, baby- headed matt. matt with a war past. matt who had seen a thing or two, but you would never know it because he was as gentle as any pop pop i know.
i was exhausted and kind of scared. i had to win, had to win, or at least not lose and i could see that he knew that. in his eyes i could see he understood my need to be liked, loved, adored. he could see i was a duck in a swirling pond about to go under. he looked at me, his eyes strong and steady, and with a nod, just lipped “now!”
old demon eyes was distracted. i leapt! sneak attack! she went down, hair like streamers backward. in less than a second she was on her back, a crab flipped over. the crowd actually screamed in happiness. it might have been my proudest moment.
i mean, it didn’t last.
i don’t even think i won.
i think we fought some more and eventually someone called a draw. but for an hour afterwards, i was a hero. local improv legend matt besser who had been an on-looker (and pressure to the cooker, honestly) told me later that he admired my fighting style. i will never forget those words.
but here’s the thing: it wasn’t my fighting style. i’d like to claim it but it was quick advice whispered in an olympic second. it was a word from a friend that gave me the courage to spring forth.
matt ulrich was a friend, indeed, a friend i had known for many months. and trusted in a way that you begin to trust people that you go on stage with, without any preparation. (i speak of improv)
but he was not a close friend. we had not spent summers growing up together building sweat lodges, or roommates in college pulling the best pranks everrr! we were just casual friends. and this is the idea that i just can’t forget. one of those things that just burn burn burns in my mind, something i will never shake and always remember. why did he do that? why did he help? had i ever done anything for him?
i have had great friends in my life so far. best friends in boarding school, lifetime friends from college, friends like families that you develop away from families in the cold of the greatest city on earth. but i am always always happily blown away by the friends that you make that you aren’t even really aware that you’re making.
in our youth thru thirty while searching for life partner, a lot of time is spent contemplating loyalty.
is he faithful? can you be faithful? will he stand up for you when someone is talking down to you? will you stand beside him when his world crumbles around him?
all this time and energy looking for loyalty, expecting it, from a partner. but how loyal are we to our friends? how good are we to them? even the ones that just brush against the outside of our lives?
being back in spartanburg, the town of my adolescence and early teen development, i am running into old friends. friends that i lost touch with, or thought hated me, or that i thought were too dumb to get out. (what a deep deep asshole i am.) i find friends in bathroom stalls, friends behind counters of bars, friends thru facebook and then phone calls and then staying up all night listening to records.
i am finding people who are not against me. not judging me. not ready to crouch and spring for my throat. there are a lot of friends that i let go when i left here. i guess i had to at the time. life happens and you keep your eyes forward so you know what you’re next move is. but that doesn’t mean you can’t pause sometimes and just be really kind to someone. help them out just a teeny bit. get in their corner for a little while.
i feel very wonder years here but. i’m going to try to start being a friend to everyone. it’ll be hard because so much of my time is taken up with eyore-ing around, but i’m going to try.
thank you to all friends, close and not so close.
thank you for kind words.
thank you for sending me that thing in the mail.
thank you for late nights on back porches and front porches and talking under the stars.
thank you for just smiling at me.
and eye contact while toasting.
thank you for picking me up from the airport and going with me for coffee.
thank you for getting me back up when i trip and fall hard and break my teeth on the pavement.
thank you, matt ulrich, for helping me not get my ass kicked.
i got your back, ninjas!
clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose!