BY GREGORY PATROLA
I met Rick on the first day of wrestling practice during my sophomore year of high school. I noticed him as soon as he entered the locker room, because he looked around the same weight and height as me, so I knew I would probably be paired with him. We started our regular sprints and warm up exercises. I was sure to keep an extra eye on Rick to ensure my varsity spot wouldn't be snatched up right before my eyes. He was a strong kid, and could most definitely beat me any day in a push-up contest.
The second half of practice came along and we broke into groups for one-on-one, six-minute rounds of wrestling. Of course, I was paired in a group with Rick. We shook hands, and Rick immediately backed up into this frantic stance hopping up and down ever so slightly. He had the face of a lion, but the stance and hop of a bunny rabbit. He came at me with this ridiculous charge towards my knees, with his face looking directly at the ground. If you can imagine a swan attacking someone in the park, it looked something like that. I had a few years of experience under my belt, so I was able to control and pin Rick pretty quickly. What I didn't expect however, was for him to ask me to come over to his house and teach him some moves.
In wrestling, there is something often called a break-in period. The break-in period is essentially just wrestling non-stop to get in fighting shape, and usually consists of some fainting, a lot of sweating, and even more vomiting. Rick had one of the most brutal break-in periods I had ever witnessed during his first year of wrestling. He simply refused to let his body stop exerting energy. He hated nothing more than allowing someone to show dominance over him and would do whatever he could to prevent it. Rick would often sneak off into the other room and vomit in the trash can after almost every single one of his six-minute rounds, yet he would never say a word about it.
I felt a little skeptical helping Rick learn moves knowing he could potentially take my varsity spot, especially considering how determined he was. However, I knew the team would want me to go help him, so I went to his house about a week later. Rick really appreciated my help and listened carefully. Besides, he gave me a little hit of his bong for my troubles, so I didn’t feel too bad about it.
Rick and I ended up becoming pretty good friends throughout the whole process and started hanging out almost every day after practice. Rick was a pretty normal guy, except he loved weed. He really loved weed. I'm pretty sure the only time I saw him sober was at wrestling. He would smoke after smoking, then smoke again. That was the main reason Rick never came to my house. I didn't indulge nearly as much as him, but every once in a while he would get me to take a hit or two.
Rick developed his wrestling skills tenfold by the end of the first season. Our skills and strength reached a point of equilibrium. During practice, our bodies became immovable to each other. What many don't know about wrestling is that it can actually be harder to go against someone of equal skill and strength, rather than someone of much greater or lesser skill and strength. When two people’s skills are mismatched, someone almost always gets put down quickly, making it relatively easy on both people physically. When two are matched with equal skill, however, they must wrestle it out for the entire six minutes giving it their absolute all. This made wrestling Rick a daunting task. I would think about wrestling Rick right as I woke up, to the moment I went to bed. It was the absolute worst and best part of my day. Although real life matches against different teams were very stressful, and I did fear losing them, they didn't match up to wrestling with Rick. His hate for losing to me gave me equal fear of losing to him, which motivated me more than anything else could have. Winning in matches barely held any meaning to me anymore, especially if Rick wasn't watching. It was a very strange dynamic to our friendship because Rick and I literally hated each other in a way, yet we were always able to put it away at the end of the day.
Rick and I were so into wrestling at this point, we barely even saw the end of the season coming. All of a sudden, Rick and I lost this major key to our relationship. However, we decided to continue practicing together and hanging out at his house. Rick and I were close and the rest of his family loved me, so I felt really comfortable at his house. It got to the point where Rick and I did everything together. We would bike around town chasing girls, smoke pot, watch movies. I would ride my bike right to his house after school without even calling or texting him. If that’s not friendship, I don't know what is.
Everything was great, until one day when I biked to Rick's house only to find that he wasn't there. I looked into his backyard to see if he might be in his trailer. To my surprise, the only remnant of Rick being there was the blood painted on the exterior of his family trailer. I opened up the trailer only to find a smashed bong as well as a smashed up mirror covered in blood. I immediately called Rick, but his mother answered. She told me Rick was in the hospital, too frantic to tell me why. I just sat down outside of his trailer, looking at the blood in shock. I hopped on my bike and rode home as fast as I could, immediately getting in my father’s car to go to the hospital Rick was in.
Rick had apparently smashed his hand through a mirror out of anger, as a result of his mom accidentally breaking his bong. I will say, it was a nice bong as far as they go, but definitely not worth three severed arteries and a scar stretching from his hand to bicep.
Rick came back from the hospital a different person. He still had his same sense of humor and tried to act himself, but something had changed. I could see the weight on his shoulders. It was the same weight I had seen when I first pinned him, but without his amazing drive to conquer his demons. Rick had given up; he wasn't going to school nor working but rather milking his injury for all it was worth. Rick stayed in bed for months. I watched him lose all the muscle mass he had worked so hard to gain. I suppose I can't blame him. I don't know what in the world I would be doing if I didn't know whether or not I would be able to use my hand ever again. I understood he was in a lot of pain physically and mentally, so I remained silent about his routine and continued to come visit him daily.
A few more weeks passed and I started to notice Rick was smoking a lot less weed. Yet, he was acting even more giggly and high than when he would smoke enough for five people. He started forgetting simple things like whether or not he had seen me the day before, or how long I had been with him that day. Rick's strong sense of personality started to fade in a lot of ways. His main concerns began to turn into silly things, like having no idea what time of day it was, or something about Grand Theft Auto. It became near impossible to talk to Rick; every question about his well being was met with resentment. I did understand this type of resentment, but it was unsettling how quick he was to dish it out, especially to a good friend. I felt as if there was this block separating Rick and I from the way we used to be. I knew he had gone through something awful, but something just didn't sit right. Then one day, I found my answer.
It was an especially crappy Thursday evening. My father let me take his car out, so naturally, I gave Rick a call and headed over to his house. I walked into Rick's house, greeted his mom as I always did, then headed up to Rick's room. To my shock and awe, I saw Rick sitting on his bed, criss-cross apple sauce, crushing up one of his pain pills with the handle of his BB gun. Without even thinking, I walked in and grabbed the gun from his hand to ask him what the fuck he was doing! I immediately noticed a crusted remnant of powder along his nose.
In a way, I wasn't surprised. I had noticed some tell-tale signs, but to see it in person really hit home hard. I took Rick's crushed up pain meds away just to try to talk to him, when he gave me that same face of a lion that I had seen the first day of wrestling. Except this time, he didn’t have the stance of a bunny rabbit. I tried to explain to him that I just wanted to talk and that I was not going to hurt him, when he demanded I give him his pills back. I didn't want to hurt my friend who had an already messed up hand to begin with, so I gave him his pills back. I begged him to wait to put that pill up his nose until after I talk to him, and finally the old Rick came back for just a moment and looked at me with understanding. He heard me out for just a moment, and all I could think to say was "Look at you man, you don’t wanna be like this". Ehh. Wrong answer.
Rick immediately snorted that Percocet through a dollar bill, laid back, and told me to fuck off. I started to become overwhelmed, not knowing what in the world to say to this kid to change his mind.
Instead, I said " I'm gunna go to the bathroom” and shut the door.