Among the boys I grew up with, their oversized heads on necks like flower stalks, I was considered an athlete. In their presence I never had occasion to fight, or act tough, though it was within me.
In my early twenties I spent a couple of seasons in the Bay Area where I had a peripheral acquaintance named Joey. Joey had a small white car, perhaps a convertible, and was ahead of his time with a vanity license plate. The plate announced: JOE OUI.
We played touch football one day on a huge field of grass, two on two. It was a close game, the teams evenly matched, and Joey and I ran full speed for hours going out for passes or trying to intercept passes meant for each other. The cool afternoon turned to dusk and then into a chilly evening. When it got too dark to see the passes, and our legs were burning with the cold and fatigue, we called it a day. As we walked to the car, bone tired, Joey playfully launched himself into the air and tackled me from behind. I did not take hitting the ground hard very well.
Joe Oui seemed shocked at how quickly he was on his back, an angry maniac on top of him, forearm pressed against his throat like a piece of wood. The maniac’s eyes were merciless as Joey’s face changed color and panic began to show in his eyes. In time, the maniac stood wearily and let him breathe again. He clutched his throat and muttered something about a complete overreaction.
I practice ahimsa now, but nothing about that story makes me feel sad.