I Lost My Fight
And nobody tells me the truth
I was having dinner with a girl I was dating at the time after my karate tournament. I lost the fight pretty terribly by what people told me. They said things like “you did great”, “thanks for letting me come watch” or “winning doesn’t matter”. People only say that when you absolutely failed at something. I only remember the first half of the fight, I think I got hit pretty hard, but it’s in the past. It doesn’t matter.
Michelle, that was her name, just finished her food and drink all while avoiding eye contact with me, looking off at the band on a half lit stage somewhere behind me. I was on my fourth or fifth glass of water. How long did it take her to finish her steak, mashed potatoes and Caesar? Like three, maybe four and a half minutes? There was no way of telling. And why was there a smoke machine under the live band at a neighbourhood bar? And why was the band playing the instrumental of “For Free?” by Kendrick Lamar? Only god knew the answers to these questions, and I squeezed my eyes shut at the pain of trying to find an answer.
Talking to Michelle was impossible. The music was deafening and it pounded my brain with each strike of the keys or slap of the snare. On top of that vomiting smoke machine was the fact that the lighting in the room was particularly rancid. I could hardly see my hands and my eyes screamed in their sockets. What bothered me most was that there was something I wanted to ask Michelle, or tell her, but the thought kept getting lost between my shattered neural pathways. And she didn’t say a word to me the whole dinner. Maybe because she saw me get knocked out, maybe because she couldn’t see me or probably because she despised me. It was like I wasn’t even there.
She said something without looking up as the waitress cleared our table and I didn’t quite catch what she said. I leaned forward, cupping my ear.
“I think you did really well tonight.” She said, hardly audible.
Exactly. I knew it before she even said it. There was an effort to her words, and the way she swallowed after speaking, she didn’t mean it. And she didn’t even look at me.
I nodded and got up, she asked where I was going. I told her I was going to pay and she laughed one of those awkward chuckles that one does when they’re kind of unsure of where they stand. If she wanted to come with me she would, and if she didn’t, well, she wouldn’t. So, I walked to the front, paid for our table, which was really only her meal, and left. It didn’t make a difference whether I returned to her or not, she had her thoughts of me either way. Whether I turned left, right or went straight didn’t matter, all I knew was that I couldn’t go back into the restaurant and sit down in front of Michelle. She hated me and I knew it. A group of middle aged women walked past me and one of them was saying to the other, “what an absolute loser, you should break up with him.” Rather convenient, no? So I let my feet and the air decide where I ventured until the wind landed me at a library.
Who knows why I stopped there, but there was something about the finality of the brick walls, weathered steps and faded sign that caught me. It grabbed me by the neck, pulled me in and told me “you too, one day, will crumble.”
Making my way through the aisles, I finally noticed the lack of sound. Without the music in the bar, the traffic and street sounds outside, my head was free, liberated to spill itself into the air. I walked between the books with fragmented consciousness, half alive and mostly brain dead, unable to make sense of the letters on the covers of books. My hand seized a book and I clutched it until I found a seat. When I sat down, I glared at the book’s face forcing myself to see something, but found nothing. After turning the first page I blinked and opened my eyes to the find the coarse paper against my cheek.
A prickly hand shook my shoulder, the dry skin raking across my shirt. I opened my eyes and was met with the face of a frail looking man with a white mane that dangled to his mid chest. His skin hung off his bones like a deflated balloon and his breath smelt like the pages of old books. On his shirt was a badge that said “SECURITY”. I stifled a chuckle.
“You sleeping?” He asked.
“I think so.” I said.
“We’re closed, I’ll walk you out.”
The old man and I made it to the door and I noticed my fingers were still wrapped around the book. It was a social psychology textbook, and I gave it to the old man to put back. The muscles on his face pulled up at his eyebrows.
“Is it interesting?” He asked as his bones seized the cover.
“You know. I was a psychology professor back in Germany some many years
“What a coincidence.”
The old man turned the book in his hands, coughed all over it and glared right into my soul.
“Boy, I can tell you things about yourself.” He said.
And I believed him. He drew in a slow breath and I awaited the knowledge that would slip from his tongue and pierce my skull. I waited and waited, and as his lungs filled with more air to spill more secrets, I leaned closer and closer. What insight could this learned man gift to me? Then he sneezed and coughed over my face. He sniffled, tossed me an undoubtedly used handkerchief and wiped his nose.
“I’m terribly sorry.” The old man said as he turned on his heels and sauntered back into the library.
“What were you going to tell me?” I asked, stepping after him, the pitch of my voice betraying my desperation and I cursed myself for it.
He paused and looked over his shoulder, holding me in my tracks.
“Oh, well, you’re a decent type of kid.” Was all he said.
Then he sunk into the jaws of the library, likely to go sneezing and coughing all over the books. I dropped his handkerchief on the steps, preferring my own sleeve for the job, but I found I wasn’t bothered by the old man’s mucus spread over my face, I was dwelling on what he said. He didn’t mean it. There was no chance he meant what he said, in fact, that sneeze probably rattled him so hard that he forgot what we were talking about. I saw it in the way he lifted his shoulders when he said I was “a decent type” and how he first looked at me with those glass eyes of his, like really looked at me. He didn’t mean it. The streets had quieted a little bit and I checked my phone to see a few missed calls from Michelle. When I called her back she didn’t answer.
I decided to go straight and then right.
I lost my fight tonight, the third one in a row. Michelle hated me and the old man thought I was a bum. It was all bitter-sweet. I appreciated the forward attitude of the old man, but I just wished he and Michelle would tell me what they really thought. There was a group of teenagers blasting music on a small speaker and skateboarding under a bridge. I watched them for a while, and it was funny hearing them talk.
“Yo, Nick got shitered at Micah’s eh.” “Yeah, Nick’s a fuckin goon.”
“That fuckn guy.”
The mood struck me, however moods strike these days, and I walked up to one of them, asking them to punch me.
“Nah man. Are you good? What are you talking about?” Was the kid’s response.
Michelle hated me because I wasn’t good at nothing, and the old man thought I was a deadbeat because I fell asleep in the library. That didn’t matter, but I just wanted them to own up to their lies.
“It’s a rather personal matter. But I’ll shell you a dollar if I don’t have to explain it to you.” I said.
His preferences were peculiar. He’d rather argue with me than rotate his body and extend his arm for a dollar. That’s was absolute profit in my book, but perhaps he valued something greater than I had expected.
“You need an ambulance, man?” Another asked.
“Nah,” I said, mimicking them. “I’ll put in two dollars for one of you to just hit me. That's a deal, no?”
They picked up their boards and speaker and left, keeping an eye on me from over their shoulder as they walked away. They didn’t even care enough to hit me once, and I would’ve paid them for the courtesy. I watched as they jumped on their boards and slid into the night, never for me to see again most likely, and all I could think about was how they were all a bunch of posers, pretending to care about me and all. They offered to get me an ambulance but they really just wanted me gone. They asked if I was “good” but that was really just the first set of words that kid thought of. Their pulled back posture, their slingshot dialect and their tone gave it all away. I wasn’t a fool.
My mind was in absolute shambles, or just in the right state depending on your perspective. I was just looking up trying to find a star when Michelle called me.
“What the fuck?” Was her first question.
How was I supposed to answer a question like that?
“Where did you go?” She followed up.
That was infinitely easier to answer.
“I went right, I think. I’m not one to take left turns.” I told her. “I was worried about you.”
“You’re not mad at me?”
“Are you okay?”
“I think so.”
I heard Michelle sigh on her end of the phone and it occurred to me I wasn’t going to get the truth out of her any time soon. So I played my boldest strategy. Often times if one party meets the other with honesty, truth will be reciprocated.
“I know you don’t like me. I just want to hear you say it.” I said.
“What? I... love you. Why would you even say that?”
I hung up the phone. She hesitated and her pitch was too low, too calculated.
She was lying. I was hoping for different results, but there’s nothing you can do about it when you can’t do anything about it, so I turned off my phone and made my way up the street. Those skater kids were even better to me than Michelle, who took my money and wouldn’t hit me when I asked for it. How can you accept half a deal? At least the kids were straight up enough to decline the proposition in full.
The night was oozing with silence until someone called out to me from the shadows of an alley. The voice was soft, but one that knew what it wanted to get at. A solid type of soft.
“How you doing?” The voice asked.
I turned to see a woman in a flannel jacket and toque cough into her elbow and take one step into the light. Her shirt crumpled unevenly at the side of her waist and I knew she concealed a knife. She held one arm behind her back, her hand resting on the hilt of her tool. I didn’t know her, and since I wanted truth, I resorted to my only strategy, to deliver truth.
“I don’t know how I’m doing. Recently I’ve been going about my life and everything feels the same. It all seems so predictable sometimes. People say one thing and I look at them nice and proper to find they never mean what they say, it’s too easy. And I lost my fight today, my girlfriend hates my guts but doesn’t care enough to tell me and everyone I meet lies straight to my face. This could either be the worst or best day of my life, but I’d have no way of telling. Every hour feels the same as the last even though the transpired events are different, the effect is the same. Nothing matters anymore. Whether I go this way or that way or do this or that, it doesn’t matter, it never did. Even if I won my fight, the women would have had the same conversation, the old man would have kept coughing on the books and the kids would keep butchering the English language. I just want something different, something real.” Was what I said.
The woman was taken aback, and her hand fell away from her knife. She was frowning and cast a heavy gaze at me as she stepped forward once, twice. I was tired.
“Oh.” Was all she said as she slid the knife between my ribs.
I gasped, but the motion pained me more than I could have imagined. She took everything out of my pockets and in that moment I caught her eye. The way it was glazed over, seeing everything yet nothing, she understood me. I knew it by the set of her jaw and the twitch of her fingers. She felt what I was feeling too. I was surprised to find myself on the ground, and when her silhouette rose with my wallet containing a twenty dollar Starbucks card and school ID, I saw the muscles around her cheeks contort and twist just like it does when one conceals tears.
“Do yourself a favour and call an ambulance before you bleed out.” She said with such a matter-of-fact tone that I reached for my phone as she spoke. “Take care of yourself, kid. It’s all about perspective.”
Who knows how much blood I lost while waiting on the line for someone to pick up. As I laid on my back in that faithful alleyway I caught a glimpse of a shooting star streaking between the clouds. It appeared and left just as quickly, just like the woman who stole my Starbucks card and school ID. It was all so raw, real and undeniable. I thought of the stiff air in the restaurant, the fluid spraying old man at the book store, the vulgar teenagers under the bridge and the good samaritan in the alleyway. She was right, it was all about perspective.