Our theme for February is actually a challenge: write a piece without using first person pronouns (I, me, we, etc.)
There’s a memory of a boy. It’s tempting to call him a man, because memory makes it seem that way, but he was young. It’s funny, the people who impact you—sometimes you don’t even know them, you don’t have a relationship with them, you see them for a small window of time and they are made immortal. They are frozen in your mind as a picture, built complete, all their strengths somehow appearing stronger, all their flaws nonexistent.
The other boys at hockey camp called him Chief. It was a nickname that he earned, almost certainly, for his tan complexion, and then one that he grew into for his standing as a leader. He was tall, over six feet, and strong—especially for his age. Any hockey player worth his salt could bench press their body weight ten times. He did it. Probably. His muscles looked like he belonged on the cover of a fitness magazine. He walked around naked in the locker room because that’s what the older boys did. He seemed to be naked more than other people. He was the Chief, after all.
The boys looked up to him because he was a man. He embodied what everyone wanted to be when they turned seventeen or eighteen. Strong, handsome, fearless, just the right amount of anger and charm. His bright white teeth showed a brilliant smile, like a Crest commercial. He joked, and he knew the funny things to say. He laughed at other people’s jokes, too, because deep down he was a good guy. He wasn’t afraid to tell someone to shut up, and they would shut right up. He wasn’t afraid to tell a younger boy to go get him something, and the younger boy was considered lucky to have been asked. This man was a celebrity. It was idolatry.
Locker boxing happened for fun, or because of pressure, or honor, and most certainly stupidity, but as young boys with underdeveloped brains, it was love. We loved to fight, and we loved to watch. The younger boys fought in the younger boys’ locker room, which was right next to the older boys’. Once, Chief came in and saw a fight and nodded at the boy who won. Once, Chief was fighting in the older boys’ locker room and he was so angry after beating someone foolish enough to fight him that he kicked the guy’s helmet against the wall where all the kids sat to watch. The helmet barely missed striking a boy’s head. He didn’t care. He didn’t apologize. He was ruthless. He was a man. The boy he fought was bleeding from his mouth and nose, but didn’t cry. He picked up his helmet and washed the blood from his face and put on his pads and went back on the ice for the second session.
Chief was always asked to demonstrate drills on the ice because he was strong and talented and in the mind of a eleven-year-old, there was no one else who could demonstrate. When he started skating, his blades hit the surface so hard that it sounded like he was swinging an axe at the ice. Chunk chunk chunk-chunk-chunk. When he took a slapshot, the boards rattled deeply, as if one more shot and they would give up. What is it about strength that boys admire so much.
Chief had a job at a restaurant. He talked about women like he knew what he was doing. He had everything.
Seems like the more you remember something, or the more you think about someone, or talk about them, the more your story alters and blends. You squeeze memories so tight that they change and shift, like a ball of dough oozing through the fingers of a closed fist—try to make it a perfect cylinder again and it will always come out different. Other people and characteristics and memories get melded to the original until you’ve built someone or something superhuman. It happens with old loves, old homes, old cities, old everything. That’s why everything used to be better. If you’ve ever returned to one of those, then you know.