Lucky Fumble

Larry Craighead was my high school’s nose guard and offensive left tackle. He was a fierce competitor and the largest boy in the school, clocking in somewhere close to 250 pounds. As is often the case with young men his size, he had a preternatural gentleness to match his girth, having learned, I would guess, that he had little to fear (physically anyway) from other boys. Given this, his options were bully or gentle protector, and he chose the latter. It was the middle of the season my senior year and we had just lost a close one. Steven Santos, our starting running back, had had a bad game. He’d fumbled and generally underperformed. We filed into our locker room and Steven sat on the bench in front of his locker with his helmet in his hands, penitent and miserable before us.

Larry arrived last and saw his friend there, still not moving to unlace his cleats or remove his shoulder pads. Putting a hand on each of Steven’s shoulders, Larry said, “Don’t worry, Steven. You’ll go and get yourself some pussy tonight. You go get yourself some pussy.”

I did not care for that word when I was 17, and I care for it even less now. But in that moment I did not mind it, because Larry wasn’t talking about pussy. I felt in Larry the father I am quite sure he would become, a man who would have a view of life beyond touchdowns and fumbles and loss. I turned back to my locker wondering if maybe Larry and Steven were lucky just then for Steven’s fumble.

At graduation, there was a mass of robes and hats and Sunday dresses and neckties milling around the street outside the auditorium. It was a great, big, extended so long. I looked up from my latest handshake to see Larry coming my way. “Billy,” he called. “Come here.” The next I knew Larry Craighead had me in his bearish embrace. That was my last memory of high school.

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