Very little of me doesn't ache today. A bum left ankle, scraped knees, scratches on my left arm, soreness throughout my back and neck, and ears that are rubbed raw. It hurts every time I swallow, the muscles in my throat bruised to constriction by the choking they received in an avoidable, hopeless fight.
My last night of a visit to my hometown, I had drunk too much, smoked too little and was openly looking for a scuffle. Standing near the bar, I had been pushed more than a few times by folks ordering drinks, chatting with the barkeeps and mingling. Incidental perhaps but rude nonetheless.
I at first protested and stood in the way of a few fellows before realizing the futility of my plight. I scooted closer to the seat of my date, right up against her, and hoped whatever gap that then existed behind me would assuage my attackers and let my own contempt for them subside.
And then I felt it, a sizable shove to my back that could not have gone unnoticed. Literally nowhere to go, I was stranded between the horde and my dear. And then the second hit came. This time I stepped back, just a few inches, but enough to declare my territory. And then another. And then . . . now . . .
I swing around and see four beefy youths carousing with some young ladies. I announce to them, in what now seems like absolute martyrdom, “Don't mind me.”
“What?” call the two closest guys, who obviously caught my remark.
“I said, 'don't mind me.' I'm just standing here.”
Now I have the attention of all of them.
“Unless you want trouble,” grouses the one closest me, playing instigator. “You better shut the fuck up.”
“Maybe that's what I want.” (Oops, that was definitely the alcohol.) My mouth has ensnared me and forced elimination of any such doubt.
The boys begin to hoot and part as their resident bulldog walks through them to me. “You want some?” he asks, stepping into my face. “Let's go now. Follow me.”
He makes for the exit with his buddies in tow. They are all calling for me. Another chap, an apparent employee of the place, attempts to intervene.
“It's not worth it,” the nice young man says, indicating he's seen this with our foe before. “He's not worth it.”
“I know, I know,” I reply, agreeing more than I could ever show. “But who the hell is this guy and why should I fear him?”
I don't wait for an answer. Blood is pumping so loudly in my ears, I can't hear one if it's offered. I pull my hand free from my girl and nod as if to say this has to be done.
When I emerge from the bar, the man-boy is across the street and yelling for me to follow him around the corner, down a dark alley.
“Fuck that,” I shout. “So I can get shot? No thanks. Get your ass back over here!”
His friends, straddling the distance between us, relay my request. “He wants it over here.”
My opponent turns back. With his shirt already off, I can see he's got mass and muscle on me. He's at least a decade my junior and now sprinting across the road directly toward me.
I brace myself and lean forward. We collide with an impact I haven't felt in years. Thud!
Grappling for priority, he gets me into a headlock that strangles me with experience. A wrestler! Sure enough, I can feel his legs working around mine for a take down.
I try to counter and ram him into the plate glass window of a neighboring business. His hold is taking effect. I can no longer breathe.
I give him three quick shots to his side with my left fist - my best fist – and feel his grip loosen. I gasp, get both hands between his arm and my neck, and wrench free.
He lunges to tackle me, and I take him along for the ride, working to put him under me before we land. We roll over one another, jockeying for an opening to land blows.
Just as he begins to get the better of me, setting me up for heavy punches, three bouncers appear and pull him off.
I jump to my feet ready for the impending second round. The other fighter, separated from me by those faithful doormen, taunts me, telling me I can't stay in the safety of their care forever.
I move toward him and he bursts through the crowd. We lock together as if immemorially bound. He once again goes for my throat, but I resist and catch his neck in my own arm.
The bouncers and my rival's friends yank on us fiercely and push to drive a final wedge between us. My adversary is now below me and clearly open to attack, his head and face exposed as he holds hard onto my right arm.
But my left hand is free. I consider swinging on him, knowing I could deliver vicious hits before the melee ends. Sucker shots, sure, but fuck this guy.
I don't. It's better to lose than win like that. His friends are on me, telling me to go before it all starts over.
They break for their truck, and I grab the hand of my date, who is now shaking uncontrollably. I guard her to the front of the next bar and tell her to wait there, sensing the hoarseness in my throat for the first time.
I walk another block to my car, expecting the truck to appear at any moment. I jump in, flip around and scoop up my lady. I go to make the next left out of town, notice it's the alley where I was invited to fight, and think better of it.
I take the next turn and then back just in time to see the large, silver 4x4 full of raucous young men heading past me.