Green Room II
My arrival at Mr. T's house was expected. Blabbermouth Graham spilled the beans, as well as the reason for my visit. Mr. T began by asking a load of questions about my attitude towards Craig. The two had already met. He admitted that Craig was a spoiled brat, but cautioned that Craig is an awesome swimmer and very strong.
THANKS A BLOODY LOT! I KNEW THAT ALREADY! Don't worry, G, I didn't say that out loud. Mr. T also thought Craig was a nice kid. NICE KID??? Was he referring to the same Craig? Yes, he was. Mt. T had met Craig a few times, but said that I could beat him in a fight if I got him angry enough to do something stupid.
"You need to watch his eyes at all times, Stuart. His eyes will signal exactly what his next move will be, or where he aims to plant you."
"Think I can beat him?"
"Craig's a good kid, but he can get too cocky. Make him mad enough and he'll make mistakes. He and Kyle faced each other once, and Craig backed off. Kyle got angry, yes, but he channeled his anger the correct way. Stuart, I'm not saying it's cool that you blokes want to knock each other's blocks off, especially not now. You're both old enough to do serious damage. But, from what you tell me, Craig will follow you around forever if you don't stand up to him. It will be good to settle this dispute. I also don't like what he said to Melanie, so you have me in your corner, mate."
"No problem. But don't try any power shit with him or he'll beat you. Use your head to control your fists."
I also spoke to my dad during a gym session while I held the bag as he pummeled it. Held it? It was more like struggling to stay on my feet. WHAMMO! In a corner, Graham quietly watched proceedings.
"So what do you say, dad? You've been pretty quiet about this whole Craig thing."
"Is he on the school boxing team?"
"Don't think so. He's a swimmer, but he hits around in the gym quite a bit."
"I'm not happy, son. If he trains with boxers then he's got boxing savvy. Stuart! Don't look at me like that! I realize this is something you must do--to meet this challenge. But that doesn't mean I have to be happy about it. I've seen a lot of damage done, even to guys who wear protective headgear."
"I think I can beat him, dad. I really do."
"I don't know this Craig fellow, but I think I can give you some pointers."
My dad then instructed me on how to take a hiding. Each time I backed off, he hooked me. Each time I moved in, he hooked me. Even when I was a decent arm's length away, he hooked me! Thank Christ he didn't put all his power into the punches. Nonetheless, he gave me a helluva work over.
The lesson? Don't give Craig the space to throw a hook. Then my chin took a hammering. "Block! Keep your gloves up and your elbows in!" OOOMPH! My dad connected me in the abs, then, as if I were an expendable trifling, asked Graham if he'd like a spar.
It was cool to watch the grommet. He didn't give a damn. He threw a flurry of punches as hard as my dad's. Even when my dad began to increase his power, Graham somehow managed to penetrate the blur of punches. Lesson? Allow Craig to power punch because it's difficult to control an opponent who uses measured tactics. Don't stand flat-footed.
Actually, G, my dad spoke almost exclusively to Graham. Why? Maybe because he reminded him of the son he lost. Who knows? But it was cool to see my dad loosen up. I think he even smiled once. Hahahaha! Nah, he was amused at Graham's fiery determination to give as good as he got.
Okay, so I've been a good boy and followed everyone's advice. Now it's time to phone Brett for his opinion.
"Have you tried to speak to Craig, Stuart?"
"Yeah. He answered with his fists and his boot."
"How deep are you into this fight?"
"Pretty much. My dad and Graham have helped me with training and advice. I've focused on fitness. Brett, if you're suggesting I walk away from this fight, it's too late."
"Craig's not a great boxer, but he's incredibly strong. Anyway, what possessed you to arrange the fight at school?"
"I didn't arrange it, okay? Now you're not helping at all."
"Okay, if you have to do it, that's it. He'll try to psyche you out--might even get some of his mates to phone you at home before the fight. Remember, he's on his own turf so he'll organize his mates to be present even if they can't watch the match. They'll stare you down and intimidate you. You're not welcome there, Stuart."
"Pleasure. And remember this, every time they try to psyche you out, respond by directing your anger at Craig, not his mates. Don't internalize the shit they dish out. Go to your gym and smack the bag hard. When the big day arrives, and the coach gives the signal to begin, Craig will plough right into you because you won't expect it. But now you are. Right? RIGHT???"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, I hear you."
"Then say so! Serious question: what do you think your chances are? Even without help."
"I think I can take him, and beat him."
"Don't place your bets on what you did with me here in Fremantle. That was play. But anyone can beat anyone else if their mind is set. Keep your gloves up, and your elbows close together. He'll go for your gut, but forget about going for his. He's very muscular, and you'll do minimum damage. Go for his face and head, especially at the start because he won't expect that from you."
"What's his weak spot?"
"He doesn't have one."
"So I'm dead?"
"Only if you listen to yourself. Craig rides on a massive ego. He has more to lose than you do. His ego is his weakness. Sounds to me like you need to get your mind right. Want me to rock over there and smack you around a bit?"
"Hahahaha! Sounds cool."
"Each time doubt creeps into your brain, remember what he said to Melanie, and what he did to you. You could win this thing, Stuart."
"Do you think you could beat him?"
"I was a boxer; that's the difference. That's also your advantage. He swims and you surf. You both train. He's stronger but I think you have more savvy. I think you can beat him if you maintain the right focus. Don't look away if he stares at you. Keep your eyes on his all the time. You'll detect little hints about what he plans to do. Don't fall for the dummies. Watch the eyes."
Spring school break was pretty damn hectic with rigorous training and psyching sessions. But I felt confident of winning this fight. Fact is, I know I can beat Craig. I've trained hard, and feel much stronger. Maybe that puts paid to Brett's comment about Craig being stronger. At the time of writing this, I know I could get Craig down in a wrestle if we were to engage in one.
Graham visits every day, and puts me through the whole fitness routine, as well as punching the bag. "You should get a speedball. It improves reflexes and sharpens aim and timing." Melanie, meanwhile, has come to terms with the situation. She now realizes a bloke's gotta do what a bloke's gotta do.
Let's get this `Kyle's passing is sealed' thing out of the way, Stuart. Your making love to Melanie is another milestone in the aftermath of Kyle's death. One of the first, one which I found difficult to deal with, was the scattering of his ashes. I couldn't wrap my mind around an urn full of ash as being Kyle. He was all about life and energy, but I didn't blame Mr. T for scattering his son's ashes, just as I don't blame you and Melanie for making love. And I certainly don't think you made love simply to `score points'.
I wrote what I wrote because that's how I felt at the time I read your email. It had nothing to do with you or Melanie personally. I'm just pissed off at the way life marches on without Kyle. Like you can, I'm unable to pick up the phone to be comforted by Mr. or Mrs. T, or Brett or even you. My only link with Kyle now is you, Mr. Invisible. That's how it was for you earlier this year. I was your only link. Now, that's changed. All Kyle's friends are your friends, and his folks welcome you as a son. Come to think of it, all my friends are now yours too. And that's how it should be. But don't lose sight of where I am, still hanging by a single thread--you.
Good advice from Mr. T about Craig. I agree that his weakness is his temper. I like your confidence, Stuart, but don't get carried away or underestimate your opponent. You spoke to Brett, Mr. T, your dad and Graham all of whom analyzed Craig pretty well, from various perspectives. That's your edge. Craig knows very little about you. He'll be fighting the mystery man!
Hey, Stuart, you began the year virtually friendless, except for Bob. Since then, you've earned the respect of many friends, including cyber friends.
Making love to Melanie the other night was very special, G. Nothing will ever erase the magic. Despite that, I still think of Kyle and me together, with my head on his chest while his fingers play with my hair. The feel, the smell, and the sound of his voice are as clear to me now as they were a year ago. I don't expect anyone else to quite understand, but I'm glad his memory is as strong now as ever, and I hope it continues.
Is that void filled by Kyle's friends? Nobody is capable of that, or to simulate the effect he had on my heart and my head. And the more I reflect on what we had, the guiltier I feel about not fully appreciating what Kyle and I had, or showing him how much I loved him. I'm sure Kyle thought I treated our relationship as ordinary. I robbed him of the chance to truly know just how much I appreciated him.
When he died, and I dove into the more hard core drugs, it was supposed to be a temporary escape, just to help me over the hard times. But drugs took control, and I lost sight of my future.
Kyle once told me he had some email debates with you, G, about Christianity. You had different views. Kyle chose the view that as long as people lived decent and honest lives they embraced respectable spiritual values, where nobody hurt anybody else, and differences were accepted or at least tolerated.
Kyle spoke often of you, G. He had enormous respect for you and felt the need to talk to someone about his old fossil friend. Do you think I would have pestered John to inform you of Kyle's death if I didn't believe that?
Don't give up on what you do, G. Kyle wasn't your friend for 4 years for you to turn your back on what you and he shared. You have the respect of so many people, G.
Hey, Kyle saw some good in me that I never expected. That has to count for something, right? And a lot of what he saw he learned from you.
Do I see any good in Craig? Sure I do! I reckon Craig will look pretty damn good lying on his back in the ring while the coach lifts my arm into the air and declares me the victor! So you see? There's even good in that mongrel. Hahahahaha!
Graham sticks rigidly to his daily training lessons at my place. He's becoming stronger too because he does it all with me. My dad takes a keen interest in my technique as well. But Melanie, being female, still thinks I should find a way to end this dispute peacefully--somehow. Yeah, right.
Am I worried about Tuesday? Not as much as previously. I have confidence now. In fact, I'm almost positive I can beat Craig. I've worked my butt off and believe it must pay off. Do I look forward to the match? Hell no! I know he'll get a fist in there somewhere, and he hits damn hard. I rather look forward to the end of the match when I help him up from the canvas to shake his hand and declare a truce.