I entered the 1990 Baton Rouge City Wrestling Tournament with a record of 54:13, including 34 pins. I had been pinned six times: four times by Hillary, twice by the Jesuit 145 pounder, and twice and random matches in the fall of 1989. The coaches convened, and I was seeded third. Frank Jackson was seeded second. We had wrestled six times and were 3:3, and every time, each of us won by only one point. Because of the bracketing and in order to minimize surprise upsets of the first seed, Hillary Clinton, neither of us were in Hillary’s bracket. He was sure to defeat the fourth seed, and, assuming we both defeated our first two opponents, the winner between Frank and me would wrestle Hillary Clinton in the finals. Neither of us were sure that was a good thing.
I pinned my first two opponents the first day, ate a slice of pizza from the concession stand, and drank lots of water. I woke up the next morning and ran a few miles in a rubber suit to sweat off two pounds and met the team at Belaire to carpool to weigh in at the Centroplex. The referee said I weighed 146.9 pounds dry and with my underwear off, which was sufficient with the new regulations that gave two pounds after Christmas break to account for teenagers growing, thankfully.
Overnight, the mats had been rearranged and reduced from eight to four, and the bleachers had been extended to account for more people attending the advanced rounds. I supported my team, and then began warming up for my match against Frank Jackson in the semi finals. Surprisingly, Frank didn’t warm up nearly as long as most people I wrestled. He supported his team until just before his match and then stretched for a few minutes. I wondered if that helped him.
Our mat emptied and we walked on and the referee came out with our red and green anklets. Our coaches and team mates sat in the green or red corners. We shook hands, the referee blew his whistle, and we began.
Watching Frank and I wrestle had always been uninteresting. We knew each other well and were reluctant to take risks. Neither of us had pinned the other, and we were both in excellent physical condition and seemed to have similar stamina all the way to end of the final round. We both knew this, and we knew that the first person to score would have an advantage for the remaining match, and we both responded to the referees whistle with everything we had within us. We had joked about not being motivated to wrestle Hillary, but we both wanted to, and in order to do that we had to give our all right then.
Neither scored during the first round. We paced by our corners and wiped off sweat and the referee flipped a green and red disc and I won and glanced at Coach and his look told me to give Frank the first choice of position. He chose neutral, and we faced off again and almost two minutes later he took me down with a head and ankle pick and scored two points before the referee blew his whistle. We got up and paced again and I panted heavily and tried to calm my mind – I was furious at myself for locking heads with Frank and wasn’t thinking straight – and Jeremy wiped sweat off my arms and I looked to Coach for guidance. He knew I struggled taking Frank down and had told me before to focus on take downs, but at that moment I was fatigued and trying to recover and sought guidance for the choice I would have to give the referee in a brief moment, too brief of a moment to catch my breath and debate choices. Coach said, “take down,” seemingly ambiguous guidance unless you knew that my choices were “up,” “down,” or “neutral,” and most wrestlers I knew sought guidance from outside observers when fatigued. I turned and pointed down and the referee stepped aside for me. Frank got behind as if he had taken me down, the ref checked our positions, then blew his whistle and I stood up and turned around and scored a point.
Really, it’s that simple, if you had seen Coach demonstrate it as often as I had.
Frank and I were neutral for only a brief moment and I shot a low single while his feet were still planted. He tried to sprawl, but because his feet were planted flat on the mat he was stuck for a brief moment and I was able to extend my long arms beyond his legs and catch his ankle by the time he shifted his weight and drove his chest down and legs backward. I hooked his ankle and clung to it with sticky hands and stood up. He stood, too, and tried to jump onto his leg and free it, but I locked onto his ankle and tucked it against my hip and clasped my hands to hold it in place, and he hopped on his right leg and tried to force his arm between me and shove his left leg to the mat. I moved in a circle and gradually took control of the situation and slowly kept lifting his leg until he saw the inevitable and rotated at his hips and plunged his arms towards the mat, sacrificing a two point takedown rather than risking going to his back and me pinning him or scoring 1 to 3 back points if I held him long enough. I followed him down at the same rate and seamlessly remained in control and scored two points, and he immediately tried to stand up but extended his leg before centering his weight and I cross faced him with my left forearm and wrapped my arm hand under his leg and clasped my hands. Frank was in my signature move, The Cradle.
I had disproportionately long arms and big hands, so I could clasp a cradle more easily than many other wrestlers in my weight class. But, the season before, many opponents broke free from my craddle. At first, I struggled harder to squeeze their knees into their faces and then roll them onto their backs, and I lifted weights in odd patterns resembling different stages of squeezing a them together to develop more squeezing strength. At first, Coach corrected my form and showed me how to clasp my hands with thumbs tucked, not spread.
“You get about 10-15% more strength just by doing that,” he said, and then walked over to the next small group practicing. I tried it that day, and he was right, and eventually clasping that way became a habit so ingrained I never thought about it again.
Some time later, I was practicing against Jeremy and struggling to pin him with a cradle when Coach squatted down and pointed at my hands and said, “Move them that way.” His stubby finger moved from pointing at my hands to pointing in a straight line away from my body and aligned with my hands. I did, and Jeremy folded in half and I pinned him for the first time and I hadn’t felt like I had used any strength at all. It was been effortless. Coach waddled away and never mentioned it again. I stopped doing squeezing exercises, and quickly had more stamina at the end of matches.
Over time, he offered more guidance when necessary, and by 1990 no one had broken The Cradle in probably 30 times I used it in matches, and I had consistently pinned opponents if I could clasp my hands at least once. Jeremey had even begun using it and so had a few younger guys, and it was becoming something of a signature move for Belaire. Frank knew that, and he had spent as much time learning to counter my cradle as I had spent learning to counter Hillary Clinton’s signature moves. Frank was much stronger than I was and knew it, and he forced his body into a stable base and despite all my effort I was held just high enough off the mat that I couldn’t straighten my arms without leaning over and becoming unbalanced and giving him an advantage. We were in a stalemate, and Coach was in full bezerker mode, a term we lovingly joked about him when he was riled up for important moments in important matches and noticeably different than usual. It was rare, and somewhat amusing to witness, especially if you knew him.
I could see him becoming aggitated, and I felt slightly confused. Everything was fine. I was ahead 3:2 and in control, and Frank and I were both struggling so much and so obviously that neither of us would get penalized for stalling. We were in a classic stalemate, but I had an advantage in that I was ahead and I would win if I held on for – I shifted my eyes to the timer by the referee table – 38 seconds.
“Let him go!” he shouted. I didn’t. He threw his hands up in frustration, barely holding on to his clipboard.
“Magik! Let him go!” Coach’s forehead was red and his veins were buldging and he had stood as closely to the mat as allowed by regulations.
I was simultaneously confused and amused, and for reasons I still don’t understand I began hopping away from Coach, counter-clockwise and slowly bumping Frank and me to face Frank’s corner. I heard Coach’s clipboard hit the gym floor and knew what was about to happen, and almost immediately I saw him from the corner of my eye, sliding to slow down from a running jump into my peripheral vision at the extreme edge of our team’s side of the mat. His landed and stared at me with wide open eyes, and his eyeglasses were missing, probably lost as either flotsam or jetsam as he dove towards the edge of the mat. Even without his glasses, he had slid to a stop at the excact edge of the thin white line separating our side from theirs, and if following his side of the rules from a habit buried deep within him, because at that moment he was 100% present and focused intently on nothing more than communicating his intention to me.
“Magik!” he bellowed. “Let! Him! Go!”
He had been bellowing so loudly that people several rows up in the bleachers noticed., and several wrestlers from the nearby mat turned to look and kept looking, and some people were pointing at us.
I had never heard Coach yell that loudly, and, coincidentally, that’s when I realized he was mistaken again. He made a few mistakes occassionally, like most busy people. And, like most teenagers taking driver’s ed, a few may have made jokes about his quirkiness and absentmindess being Alzheimer’s, like Reagan had, which saddened us when Coach died several years later and Mrs. Ketelsen asked for donations to Alzheimer’s research in lieu of flowers. But, on that day, to the best of my knowledge, he was fully aware and awake and alert, and he had joined my match late because he was overseeing the end of another match when I began, and he must have seen the referee’s numbers reversed, because the big bright sign high above had a lot of information about the teams and opponents. He must thought I was behind, and that Frank would win if I didn’t sacrifice giving him an escape point and then taking him down immediately after. It would have been an understandable mistake, and at that moment I realized that Coach had been right, I could have always been more aggressive on my feet and I was more than capable of taking Frank or Hillary down, but he thought that if I let Frank go I’d have 30 seconds with nothing to lose and enough stamina to finally give my all in neutral, and he believed in me. But he was mistaken about the score.
I wiggled around some more and faced Frank’s coach’s corner and could no longer see Coach but could still hear him shouting to me. Frank’s coach seemed oblivious and was focused on Frank and shouting for him to stand up, but we all know how hard that can be. Half a minute later, the buzzer buzzed and the ref blew his whistle and I felt Frank’s body relax and I let him go. We stood up and smiled at each other and moved slightly more towards the center of the mat and the referee clasped our wrists and raised mine, and Coach looked at us and then at the scoreboard and his veins receeded and he smiled and clapped his hands and said, “Good job, Magik,” and I grabbed a towel and my sweatshirt and walked to the adjacent mat where one of our team was about to begin the 152 pound semi final match, Coach and I never spoke of the match against Frank Jackson again.
Semi finals ended and spectators left the Centroplex and the hosting teams rearranged the floor to be one mat in the center. In four hours, the Centroplex would reopen and spectators would have to purchase tickets to enter. That was fair; it had been free up until then, and the proceeds from finals funded next year’s tournament. Finals were almost always exciting, especially in the Baton Rouge City Tournament. It was bigger than regionals because of it’s proximity to smaller, rural, public schools as you reached into the Atchafalaya Basin, and the giant, private Catholic schools as you approached New Orleans; both extremes were in different school divisions based on population and resources, and regional and state titles were given for each division. The Baton Rouge City Tournament was, in a way, the most important tournament. But, I’m biased, because I was born in Baton Rouge.
I watched the seats fill and recalled many memories there, beginning with seeing Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac in 1977’s Rumors tour.
She really was fine.
But my mind’s eye saw many other events from a lifetime of events at the Baton Rouge Centroplex ever since it was built in 1976. I saw and heard and smelled The Harlem Globetrotters with Wendy, and I heard her voice and laughter and felt a feeling of joy. I saw school dances and felt awkwardness since overcome, and recognized that. I heard a gunshot and saw the motivational speaker with a revolver in his hand, pointed at the ceiling, and the smoke curling; I saw my peers’s reactions and realized they had not instantly known the difference between a real round fired and a blank. He had wanted to get our attention, and it had worked. Those were different times, just before guns weren’t allowed in school assemblies and only just after the school near my dad’s house stopped having a gun safe for kids to leave their hunting rifles with the principal during deer and duck seasons; otherwise, everyone knew no kid would show up to school and no dad would show up to work because they’d rather hunt and accept the consequences at school and work. It wasn’t the gun that shocked everyone, it was the sudden loud noise when everyone was chattering. “Everything’s a choice!” he said he had said. “I can put this gun to your head and tell you to do something, and that’s a powerful influencer, but it’s still your choice.” He had some other points, like being at peace with yourself for a worse case scenario empowers you to make wiser choices in less dire straights, but all any of us remembered was him standing there holding a smoking gun and almost everyone looking at the ceiling and expecting a bullet hole. There wasn’t, and I had smiled and thought that could be a great magic trick, and on the day of the Baton Rouge City Tournament I looked to the ceiling and smiled and recalled seeing The Magic of David Copperfield there after having met Big Daddy. My eyes were fixed on the ceiling where a bullet hole had been expected and my countenance was at peace and I had Big Daddy’s smile, and all was good in the world.
I turned and walked to the locker room and sipped water and laid on a bench and stretched out and reposed. I felt as good as I ever had. I heard Coach saying, “Someone has to win, and it might as well be you,” and I drifted into a restful nap. I was neither asleep nor awake. I was happy.
I stretched, sat up, and walked outside. The Centroplex was packed, and teams were beginning to show up. I saw Coach by the concession stand where his daughter was volunteering; proceeds went to next year’s tournament, and Coach was somehow involved in those committes and had been busy during the break.
“Hey, guy!” he said enthusiastically as he clasped my forearm and shook my hand.
“Good to see you.” I realized I must have heard Coach say that a thousand times by then, and he radiated sincerity every time and with every one. I didn’t respond in words, but I smiled and that had always been enough for him.
He kept my arm and hand grasped, and said, “I’ll be taking care of some business and may be a few minutes late. You and Jeremy warm up without me.” I nodded and we parted I didn’t see Coach until we had warmed up along with all other teams finalist. Jeremy and I warmed up with a few of our teammates, and every other finalist chose their teams. Some brought coaches, some brought brothers, some brought fathers. One was by himself. We all had our rituals, and when we were finished we retreated to our teams and schools and friends and families and fans in the bleachers. Coach came over and sat beside me and patted my knee and smiled and said, “Hey Magik! Watch this!” He held up his hand with his business card poking out and I laughed out loud and he still tried to produce it and it was still awful.
The matches began, and I stood up to warm up at the 126 pound match. Jeremy pinned his opponent at 140 pounds using a cradle faster than I had thought, and I dropped my jumprope and put on my headgear and trotted onto the mat. It was the first time I was in the center, and I paused for a moment, surprised at how awkward I felt with thousands of people watching me, especially wearing nothing but skin tight wrestling singlet and about to face Hillary Clinton, and then I looked up and saw where the bullet hole should have ben and relaxed and smiled and placed my foot on the line and stood in neutral position and faced Hillary without his face mask for the first time.
He wasn’t an attractive kid, but I was biased because I only saw him he was intense and focused on defeating someone. He may have been a lovely human being elsewhere, but in matches he was a monster to be feared and his intensity overshadowed any other description of his features other than his muscular, properly proportioned arms and legs. He was older and had matured sooner and I was still gangly and in mid puberty and splattered with acne, which hadn’t helped my brief anxiety when I stepped on the mat and saw 10,000 eyes observing me. We shook hands, and both of us watched the referee in our peripheal vision, waiting for a telltale sign of the referee tensing their abdomen to exhale and preparing us for his whistle; that fraction of a second mattered, and even the most experienced ref’s often televised their intention a moment before the whistle sounded.
At that moment, I realized something Coach had said, a rare repeated bit of advice and and even more rare comparisson against another wrestler.
“Just wrestle.” he had said softly and calmly. “Just do nothing but wrestle, and you’ll do fine.”
Over the years, he had pointed to other wrestlers, guys with fewer skills and less stamina than I had but who gave 100% while wrestling. Several had been intense in all aspects of their lives, from violent actions to drug use to alcohol abuse, and Coach had never judged them beyond following school and state policies, yet he would always point to them while they were wrestling and oblivious to our presence and say, “That’s wrestling.” It didn’t matter if they won or lost, he said they were focused on that moment and nothing else. They were relaxed, therefore didn’t need my stamina. They were focused on what they knew, therefore they didn’t need my constant pursuit of moves. They wrestled. One day he said they’d look back on their high school career with no regrets, and I began to understand what Coach meant.
The ref telegraphed his intent and the whistle blew and I shot a low single on Hillary, tossing my disproportionately long arms past his legs and curving my hands like fishing hooks should he sprall. He sprawled and I clasped hands and he crossfaced me so hard that my eyes seemed to lose vision and I brought my hips and hands together and stood up with Hillary’s leg. I fell with Hillary and he automatically began a sit-out and I seized the moment and clasped him in a cradle, and he began kicking before I could stretch my hands forward. I smiled, recalling a feeling but too focused to recall the words, and that feeling was laughter at jokes about Hillary’s name tossed around gyms kind heartedlly, saying being named Hillary was like being A Boy Called Sue in Johnny Cash’s song about a man who abandoned his son but named him Sue so that he’d be ridiculed and grow up learning to take care of himself. At the end of the song, an adult Sue bumps into his dad and they fight and Sue says, “He kicked like a mule and bit like a crocodile.” The father pulls out a knife and takes off a piece of Sue’s ear, and of course I recalled Big Daddy every time I heard that song and pondered it’s meaning; and I smiled in the Centroplex because, for the first time, I had clasped The Cradel on Hillary, and I understood on a deeper level what it meant to kick like a mule.
Hillary kicked and kicked and took breaths while kicking and kicked some more. I felt my grip slide and re-grasped with my thumbs outstretched, weakening my grip by 10-15%. I grasped my left fingers with my right hand as tightly as I could and Hillary kicked and I felt and heard my left ring finger snap, and I held on for one more kick and my body let go when my mind would have held on. He stood up and attacked faster than I recovered and scored a takedown. We went back and forth like that and I scored more points against Hillary in that first round than I had in any entire match previously. But he was still ahead by two. The buzzer buzzed and I didn’t hear anything Jeremy said as he wiped down my arms, and I didn’t hear what my teammates in my corner were saying, and Coach was standing aside and observing silently. But, I did notice a group gathered around the bleachers just beyond Coach. They were comprised of a few friends and a splattering of wrestlers from other school’s with whom I had trained in the 1989 junior olympic camp, the ones who knew Uncle Bob and Granny had gotten sick. They were mostly finalist that day, and no one was supporting anything other than each other. They wore a shirt from the camp, one that Clathodian Tate had inspired. Clodi was a returning state champion from Baton Rouge High whose dad was a minister, and who had introduced us to a shirt from a local religious themed store that said
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Eph 6:12”
I smiled without being aware of thoughts that may have been in my head, and turned towards the mat and walked to the center, ready. I chose down, and when the ref whistled I stood up and scored a point and Hillary clasped me in his signature bear hug and squeezed more tightly every time I exhaled, and then he threw me in a high flying arch and I drifted into a mesmerized state and a remarkably long time later I saw the ceiling of the Centroplex where the bullet hole should have been.
At that moment, though I didn’t know the words at the time, I understood my first encounter with Big Daddy, when I decided to not be like the Partins and my life began changing. I had used the word terrified and mesmerized before, but neither was right. If I was terrified, it was because it was a new experience. If I were mesmerized, it was because I didn’t see time the same then and confused mesmerized with a mind undistracted by thoughts. I realized without words that that was the feeling around Big Daddy: no thoughts. And it wasn’t that time was frozen or that it was going slowly, I was perceiving time differently without the burden of thoughts. It was more like my memory of PawPaw, Kieth, and my scar, where I was an observer without understanding what was going on and therefore unencumbered by conditioned thoughts, and I perceived myself as without control or a choice. At that moment, flying through the air in what really was a spectacular throw by Hillary, I was trapped by the strength of Hillary and the quality of his technique and the laws of physics and centrifical force, so I had no control or choice; but, what was different at that moment was that I was aware of time. Loss of control or choice is transient, and I was still able to focus my mind and look into the future, and I saw what I could do. I was neither terrified nor mesmerized; I had learned that loss of control is transient, and I had gained patience to wait before acting and persistence to keep trying and not give up.
Perhaps because of persistent practice with Leah, I paid attention to my breath and ensured I had air and prepared my body to roll Hillary. I relaxed and prepared to feel rather than analyze how I hit the mat, and I flowed into the impact and rolled him over, but not fast enough to prevent him from scoring two points. He reacted just as quickly and shoved his arm under mine and over my neck and rolled me over and pinned me 45 seconds into the second round. I stood beside the ref while he raised Hillary’s hand and gazed across the Centroplex and at my name in lights above where the Harlem Globetrotters had had their names and I heard the applause of thousands of people and felt the vibrations from them stomping their feet and shook Hillary’s hand and walked over to Coach.
“Good job, Magik,” he said as he patted my arm. Everyone gathered around me and offered me towels and condolences and accolades and ribbing, and to this day I have no regrets and I’m happy with having done my best.
I lost my first two matches at state, partially because I became sick, and partially because I was deflated. I had given my all and I had no regrets, but I was tired. Granny was dying, and she was so thin and weak and covered in red lines to align radiation treatment machines that I had avoided her and felt guilty. Mr. Abrams was dying, and I felt sad and useless. Big Daddy was dying, too, and he was the first to go, and I was unsure how I would feel about that. I would soon learn, because he died on March 11th, 1990.
A March 13th, 1990 article in The Los Angeles Times summarized his life concisely and accurately:
Edward Grady Partin, the labor leader whose testimony sent Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa to prison in 1967 and who himself was convicted of extortion, has died at 66.
Partin, who died Sunday at a nursing home here, suffered from heart disease and diabetes.
A native of Woodville, Miss., Partin was business manager of Teamsters Local 5 in Baton Rouge for 30 years.
Partin, a close associate of Hoffa, helped then-Atty. Gen. Robert F. Kennedy convict the Teamsters boss in 1964 of jury tampering. Partin testified that Hoffa had offered him $20,000 to fix the jury at Hoffa’s 1962 trial on charges of taking kickbacks from a trucking company. That trial ended in a hung jury, but Hoffa eventually was convicted of jury tampering and mail fraud and served nearly five years in federal prison.
James Neal, a prosecutor in the jury-tampering trial in Chattanooga, Tenn., said that when Partin walked in the courtroom, Hoffa gasped, “My God, it’s Partin!”
The government later spent several years and three trials prosecuting Partin on labor corruption charges before he went to prison in 1980 for conspiracy to obstruct justice by hiding witnesses and arranging for perjured testimony.
While in prison, he pleaded no contest to conspiracy, racketeering and embezzling $450,000 in union money. He was released to a halfway house in 1986.
Union members at one time voted to continue paying his salary while he was in prison. He was removed from office in 1981.
Survivors include his mother, two brothers, a sister, five daughters, two sons and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
I pulled into his funeral on March 16th wearing my bright orange Belaire Bengals letterman jacket, recently pinned with buttons of two wrestlers, Mercury’s winged foot symbolizing track, some odd shape representing swimming, a king for chess, and comedy and tragedy faces dangling like yin and yang symbols for theater. I had 36 small bright gold safety pins pinned under the giant blue letter B; each one represented one of my wins by pin, and the custom for most wrestlers was to group your small safety pins in groups of five, one clipped to your jacket or hat and passing through the end loop of four others; the custom allowed someone to quickly calculate your number of pins. I had seven sets and one solo safety pin pinned to my letter. The back had “Magik” written in Belaire’s blue font – most people used their last name or nickname associated with their letter – and a large patch associated Gun’s N Roses’s guitarist, Slash. Leah had given it to me when I earned my first letter, and it was a smiling skull wearing Slash’s trademark hat that he had stolen from a thrift store before his first live performance, and it looked exactly like a magician’s formal black top hat. I had a few other patches and pins that were mostly jokes, humor between friends, but they blended into what I felt was important seamlessly. My left ring finger was buddy taped to my left middle finger with two straps of medic tape, and a black eye I had somehow obtained wrestling Hillary had settled into an subtle brownish color and only slight puffiness.
I arrived early, but no one recognized me and the police didn’t allow me in. I stood on my tip-toes and tried to look over the shoulders of reporters as they took photos of the mayor and LSU football players who had just arrived, but I didn’t see anyone who could let me inside.
Aunt Janice must have seen me peering over someone’s shoulder.
“Jason!” I heard her voice call. “Over here!”
I tried to stand even taller, and then I saw Aunt Janice waiving at me from inside the reception hall. I navigagted through the crowd, but was stopped by another policeman. “He’s family,” Aunt Janice told him as she walked towards me. He nodded his head politely, then returned to watching the mayor; though he, like the reporters, seemed more interested in the LSU football players.
Janice bent down and hugged me and said, “I’m so glad you came,” still squeezing me. She sniffed a few times to hold back her runny nose. She released her hug, stood up, wiped her eyes with a Kleenex, then used it to dry her nose.
“I’m sorry,” she said as she tucked the Kleenex into her purse and pulled out a clean one. “I haven’t stopped crying since Daddy died.”
Aunt Janice stopped sniffing and looked at me from my head down to my big feet and back up again. I knew what was coming.
“Look at you! You’ve grown since I saw you last,” she said from habit.
She always said I had grown, even if I hadn’t grown at all. I had weighed 149.5 pounds that morning, and had weighed 142 pounds when she saw me last, a year and a half ago. But I didn’t argue. I assumed all aunts felt that all nephews were bigger and all nieces were prettier than last time, no matter how long it had been.
She frowned, and looked up in the air as if trying to remember something, and asked the air, “How long has it been since I’ve seen you?”
I just mumbled something about it had been since before last year’s wrestling season, after my dad got out of jail the last time. She forced a smile and said, “Oh, that’s right. Well, you’ve grown so much! We’re so proud of you.”
My dad had always said I was the runt of our family, even though I was average compared to most kids in school my age. But to be fair to him, most people seemed small compared to my Partin family.
His brothers were all just as big, just like my dad and uncles. Even Aunt Janice towered over me. But I rarely saw them smile, and they lacked Big Daddy’s charm.
Aunt Janice rested her hand on my shoulder as she looked around the crowded reception hall without needing to stand on her toes.
“Your dad’s here, somewhere,” she said with trepidation. She said a few more things I don’t remember, then she excused herself and went back to greeting family she hadn’t seen in a year or so, since she had moved in with Big Daddy to help care for him.
I glanced around for someone I knew, and saw Janice’s daughter, my cousin Tiffany, but she was talking to a group of family I didn’t know so I dind’t walk over.
Everyone liked talking with her. She was only a year older, but had always seemed much more mature. As a kid, I had looked up to her, literally and figuratively. She had always been taller than me, and she had become popular in school when I was not. She was beautiful, just like Janice and Mamma Jean, and her classmates had voted her prom queen last year.
Tiffany was smiling, but her eyes were puffy, like Aunt Janice’s. She knew how to fake a smile, she once told me. She said that was a secret to being popular, and being popular prevented people from asking about home; they assumed everything must be great.
She and I had the same eyes, Mamma Jean’s dark brown eyes. There was no mistaking that we were related, which may have been why we remembered each other from when we were little kids. In a way, she was my oldest friend.
Her brother, Damon, was beside her, and even though he was two years younger than I was, he was bigger. He had bright blue eyes like Uncle Kieth and Big Daddy, and he had inherited Big Daddy’s smile. His was genuine, though, even at the funeral. Or at least I thought so; I had known him since he was a baby, and his smile seemed the same even back then.
I had Mamma Jeans brown eyes, but I had also inherited Big Daddy’s smile. I looked around and realized that, besides Tiffany, I was the only smiling brown-eyed Partin; of the couple of dozen or so cousins, we were remarkably brown-eyed, except for a few with Big Daddy’s bright blue eyes.
Fortunately, I was a happy kid, so my smiles were genuine, though leas frequent around the Partins; Little Jake, Janice’s youngest boy, even said I looked “mean” whenever I was with mu dad.
But I rarely saw my dad, sometimes going months between hearing from him, and years between seeing him, so I was usually smiling. Unless I was around my mom, Wendy.
The Partin smile had gotten me out of trouble at school many times, probably like Big Daddy’s kept him out of jail.
I walked around the inside of Resthaven Gardens of Memory Funeral Home, and for the first time I began to understand that Big Daddy had been a big deal to more than just my family. I overheard people talking about the other guests and my grandfather, probably unaware that the little dark-eyed teenager was Ed Partin’s grandson; you’d have to look closely to see the family resemblance.
I look so much like my dad that when I met friends’s parents, many would recognize him through me, and instantly ask if I were related to Ed Partin. I used to ask which one, junior or senior, but I learned that if they loved me they had known Big Daddy, and if they told their daughter not to see me again, they hd known my dad.
I saw my dad at the same time he saw me, and he rushed towards me, opening his arms like Aunt Janice had done.
“Justin! I mean Jason, goddamnit!” He dropped to one knee, grabbed me by my shoulders, and said, “Come here, son,” as he pulled me into a hug with the grace of a truck driver changing a tire.
“I love you, son.”
“I love you, too, dad,” I said from habit, frustrated that he could still jerk me around. But I was still smiling, even though I hated being called Justin. When I was a kid, I joked with friends that I thought my name was Justin Jason Goddamnit Partin; but now it didn’t feel funny. I was an adult now. I didn’t want to be jerked around by a guy who couldn’t say my name right.
He pushed me backwards but held onto my shoulders. He looked me up and down, frowning, as usual, and said, “You haven’t grown. Boy, when I was your age, I wore the same sized jacket I wear now.”
When you were my age, I thought, you had already walked away from your son and had been arrested for selling drugs.
But I just smiled. That was the one of the few bits of advice Big Daddy offered: just smile at ‘em. Time Life Magazine even quoted him on that.
“You doin’ good in school, son?” my dad asked.
“Gettin’ into any trouble?”
“Good! Good! I love you, son”
“I love you, too, dad.”
Big Daddy taught me to smile often, and to use wisdom from the New Testament: answer only with ‘yeah’ or ‘nay.” And though he never told me he loved me, he said it so freely to most people in his life that I think everyone believed it by the time he died.
My dad was nervous, full of energy, and speaking too loudly for a funeral. I wanted to ask him to keep his voice down, like I would younger kids on the wrestling team talking during practice, but I didn’t want to cause a scene. I was an adult now.
I felt I was more adult than most of my family. But old habits are hard to break, and I was reverting back to feeling like a kid, even though I had been a legal adult for six months, since before I turned 17.
No one could find my dad for several months, and a judge had me when I was 16. By Big Daddy’s funeral, I had been divorced from all families, and I had been legally free to make my own choices since the beginning of my senior year in high school. I had written my dad a few letters – he didn’t have a phone – but I never learned if he received them.
“You got your braces off,” he said as he kept trying to spread my lips apart. I mumbled that I had them taken off a few months ago, before I joined the 82nd, but he either didn’t hear me or wasn’t listening.
He stopped reaching for my lips, and began to talk incessantly about how he passed the GED, started college, and fought a bunch of college administration assholes in court so that he could keep wearing a shirt that said, “Fuck U.S. Actions in Panama!”
He had designed the shirt himself, using a mostly clean t-shirt and a black marker, and he had worn it for a week after the United States invaded Panama a few months before, during Christmas. His voice raised as he ranted, and he pointed a finger or tapped my chest with it to emphasize each of the many points he was making.
Fortunately, someone who worked at the funeral home walked over and asked him to lower his voice. As my dad began ranting about free speech and pointing his finger at the infinitely more patient usher, I used the opportunity to walk away from my dad and look for Grandma Foster.
Grandma was Big Daddy’s momma, and I alway wondered how such a tiny woman gave birth to such big men. She was around 5 feet tall, and even I had to lean over to hug her. She hunched over and wrinkled, and as a kid I thought she looked like Yoda, the wrinkled and green muppet, but pale white and with a sweet smile and cloudy blue eyes that had been obscured by cataracts. She had been a little old lady when I first met her, ten years before.
I saw her crying against Doug’s big Partin chest. She looked up at him and bawled “You ain’t sup’osed t’ outlive yer chil’ren…” then fell back into his arms and cried some more.
Don was there, too. He and Doug were her two surviving sons. Doug had been elected president of the local teamsters while Big Daddy was in prison, but Don had eschewed the teamsters, and put his energy into raising Joe.
Joe had become a football coach and high school principal of the Zachary High School Broncos. I knew who he was, and even competed against his school (I had pinned their 145 pounder in the third round that year) but I had never met Coach Joe or his son, Jason Partin, a football star at Zachary High School. It was only a coincidence that we had the same name.
Having the same name as a popular football plater – the principal’s son – caused confusion every time the Broncos hosted my team for a wrestling match. Yet I still hadn’t met Joe or Jason. As I joked: I was a only small part in the family.
I saw Jason Partin for the first time that day, He was bigger than me, of course. He was uninterested in the Teamsters, which is probably why I hadn’t met him at the local union headquarters with Kieth and Doug. Maybe that’s why I never met a lot of my family; they weren’t as curious about their Partin family.
I walked over to Grandma Foster. I don’t think Don recognized me, but Doug said it was good to see me. He told Joe I was Ed’s son, and Joe nodded as if that explained a lot. “Nice to meet you,” Joe said. That was all he had ever said to me. But I saw in his eyes that he loved Grandma, too.
Grandma looked up at me with tears pooled in the wrinkles across her cheeks. Her cataract-covered blue eyes squinted from the breadth of her sudden and genuine smile, and she let go of Doug and held out her arms so that I could bend over and hug her. We squeezed each other softly and said nothing for a few moments.
Over the years, I had grown to love Grandma. She had told me about my Partin family, like she had told them about me, and that’s the only reason Joe and Jason knew who I was. If I felt connected to the family, it was only because of Grandma Foster and Aunt Janice; but, ironically, they never spoke after Grandma welcomed Big Daddy’s new wife and family into her home. They were at the funeral, but I hadn’t seen them yet. Even if had, I doubted I would have recognized them, because they wouldn’t have Mamma Jean eyes, they would have a mix of Big Daddy and his wife after Mamma Jean, Kay or Kathy, or something like that. I had only met a few of them at Grandma Foster’s house.
I loved my little Grandma, and I felt her sadness, and I shed tears with her. She misread my tears as my own sadness, and she moved her hands to mine and squeezed one with both of hers and smiled and said, “I’m glad you came. You look so handsome, just like your daddy. You was always a good boy.”
Her smile faded and she looked away and said, “Ed was a good boy, too.”
I didn’t know if she was talking about Big Daddy or my dad; he had stayed with her when he was my age, and she was one of the first people to see me as a baby.
“You a good boy, too,” she repeated. “You was always good to y’er Grandma.” She paused, and swayed my hands back and forth so slightly no one watching would have noticed, then began crying again.
I hugged her for a few minutes while Doug waited, then Doug stuck out his hand graciously. I shook it. My paw rested respectfully in his mitten – I had remarkably big hands and feet – and I squeezed tightly enough to show I was strong for my size, but not so tightly that it would be obvious I was trying.
“We’re glad you’re here. You’re family.” Doug’s smile seemed genuine, and I stood up more straight and thanked him and said I was sorry for his loss, and he thanked me with a smile and trembling lip as another tear oozed from one of his blue eyes.
“Your dad’s here,” he said, not looking around, but watching me and my reaction. I told him I had seen him, and we had spoken. I couldn’t tell if he had heard my dad ranting about Panama and Reagan and the war on drugs.
Some of Big Daddy’s grandkids from his second marriage showed up at the funeral home and walked over, so I excused myself from Doug and Grandma and mumbled something to the cousins I barely knew. I walked around the funeral home again, and overheard people talking about the pallbearers.
Doug was one of Big Daddy’s six pallbearers, and he was standing near the casket with the other five. They were all huge men. I didn’t know them, but I had learned that they were a big deal by overhearing what people said. Two were former LSU football players, and in Baton Rouge, home of the Louisiana State University Tigers, where college football players were respected more than the mayor and almost as much as Big Daddy.
One of the pallbearers, Billy Cannon, had even won the Heisman Trophy, I heard people say. I had no idea what that was, but it must have been a big deal, because so many people mentioned it.
The minister announced that services would begin, and asked the family to take their seats. My dad tried to get me a seat – they had forgotten about me when planning the funeral – but I said I was preferred standing. I found a place against a wall near two FBI agents.
They weren’t even trying to hide, I thought. They looked like the FBI agents in movies: short and slicked-back hair, sunglasses even indoors, and – I’m not making this up – an earbud with a curly white wire coming from their ear to their shoulder and disappearing under their coats. They even spoke into their coat lapels during the services. This was 1990, before cell phones and wireless technologies, and apparently before FBI agents realized that they were charactertures of themselves from movies, like the 1980’s movie about Big Daddy and Hoffa and the FBI.
I had seen them earlier, and had wondered why no one else thought they were as obvious as I did. Maybe people at the funeral didn’t watch the same movies that I did, and Men in Black or The Matrix hadn’t even been made yet. When researching this book, I learned that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover had ordered all agents to wear that outfit for a few years, and that’s probably why I was so used to seeing men in black near us.
The two agents had been asking my family what Big Daddy had told them in his final few weeks. They would have recognized the family by their blue eyes and smile, and because the family had assigned seats. They never asked me anything, and I don’t remember most of what they asked, or what they whispered into their coat lapels. I only recall a few words and names that the crowd spoke loudly enough for me, and presumably the FBI, to overhear.
“Billy Cannon was his bodyguard,” someone said.
“Ha! As if Ed needed one,” said another.
“…was Hoffa’s bodyguard once…”
“… ended up dead, at the bottom of the Amite River, with the safe…”
“… he died, too…”
“what do you call a Teamster wearing a tie? The defendant! Ha!”
“Or the deceased!”
“… Ruby …”
“… his granddaughter’s gorgeous…” (she was)
“… the Heismann Trophy! And he’s a dentist now.”
I lingered by the two FBI agents, hoping they’d ask me questions. I felt a kinship for no rational reason. Perhaps I was feeling a part of the army already, especially because I had been watching the news almost daily about the 82nd in Panama, and listening to what every channel said. And I was feeling confident after having completed my final wrestling season; true, I hadn’t won, but I had done my best and had been one of the best even though I was the youngest and the one with the least experience. I saw that, and though I wasn’t arrogant, I realized I was on a path that would progress and I’d continuously improve, and I felt that if I had done so well with so little experience, just like Holden in Vision Quest, then I’m sure I’d excel in the army.
Holden had even gone to the marines and excelled; the actor from Vision Quest, Matthew Modine, was also in the famous 1988 Vietnam war film Full Metal Jacket – or Platoon or Apocolypse Now or The Deer Hunter or a dozen others I could list – and I was sure I’d be fine. I felt a confidence that belied my bright orange jacket and its 36 safety pins meticulously displayed, or it’s patches dutifully sewn. I was, for all intents and purposes in my mind, already their peer.
They had been asking my cousins what he had told them in the weeks leading to his death. The FBI didn’t ask me anything, but I caught eye contact with one and said hello, and said I was in the 82nd and had just wrestled Hillary Clinton, and then I told them what Aunt Janice already had and so had most of my cousins, that Big Daddy’s final words were, “No one will ever know my part in history.”
I laughed and said, “Get it! He’s Ed Part-in,” I paused and then smirked and said in a tone as if telling up a joke’s punchline, “and I’m Jason Partin, and no one will know my small part in his story!”
He didn’t laugh, and I felt embarrassed and walked away and resumed eavesdropping.
Most of the talk I overheard wasn’t gossip or jokes, it was appreciation for the jobs Big Daddy had brought to Baton Rouge and how he had fought for fair wages. Men spoke of how he saved their family and stood up for them, and how they looked up to him. It seemed that women wanted him, and men wanted to be like him. Everyone there loved him. He could do no wrong in their eyes.
My 5th grade teacher was there, and so was one of my principals and a few teachers I recognized from different schools, but they didn’t recognize me, probably because it had been a long time.
I overheard them speaking about teacher union strikes, and how Big Daddy got the Teamsters to support the teachers and get them more pay and benefits. They all talked about when they were on strike and not getting paid, and would have quit the strike to go back to work if Big Daddy hadn’t given them money from his own pocket; that part had been in Time Life, too.
They probably didn’t know it wasn’t his cash, that it was the Teamsters or the mafia’s money, and my teachers didn’t know or recall that Big Daddy asked for it back from the teachers union after reporters left.
I believed I knew more about history than my history teacher, even though I’m pretty sure I failed her class.
Several of my teenage cousins spoke to the crowd at Big Daddy’s funeral. They were all better speakers than I was, and even though they lived in Houston, they didn’t have my mumbly southern accent. People listened to them and said how smart and sweet they were. They told sweet stories about him that I had never heard, and all of them ended by saying Big Daddy was in heaven.
I thought that was funny, and not just because it was a play on the Lord’s prayer, ‘Our father, who art in heaven,” but mostly because I wondered if we had different grandfathers or we different understandings of what it took to go to heaven.
I knew Big Daddy had broken at least seven of the ten commandments, including the big ones: thou shall not kill, steal, commit adultery, or bear false witness. And though “thou shall not rape,” and “thou shall not beat witnesses,” weren’t commandments, I figured that God would update the rules if Big Daddy actually made it to heaven.
After the service, people stood up and began walking to the reception hall. I was one of the first there, because I had been standing near the door, and I stood near the flowers sent to Big Daddy’s funeral and studied the most ostentatious floral arrangement anyone had ever seen. It was big as a school classroom’s chalk board, and made from bright yellow flowers arranged to look like the side view of an 18-wheeler truck.
Across the truck bed, written in red flowers, was, “From Local #5,” and under the truck was a plaque with the Teamster’s logo, two horse heads left over from the 1800’s, when teamsters drove horse wagons instead of trucks. The plaque said, “The International Brotherhood of Teamsters.” Like Cain and Able, I thought. I associated the Teamsters with fighting.
My dad was crying when he walked into the reception hall. He saw me by the 18-wheeler and walked over and put his arm gently around my shoulder. He sobbed silently by my side for a few minutes, then he pulled me closer and told me he loved me. He said my name correctly that time. I knew he was a good person, and not just because Grandma said so. But he was hard a hard man to love.
Grandma Foster came out, crying loudly. Doug walked with her, and he kept one hand on her shoulder. Keith and the other pallbearers followed, but only Doug and Keith were crying. They all shook hands with people near the flower arrangements, and talked about memories with Big Daddy. Billy Cannon smiled a lot and bright white teeth. He was probably an excellent dentist.
Doug saw my dad and me, and walked over. His warm smile belied the sadness in his puffy bright blue eyes, and he stuck out his big hand and said softly, “I’m sorry for your loss, Ed. Your daddy was a good man. We’re all gonna miss him.”
My dad stood upright and narrowed his dark brown eyes and looked intense and angry. His eyebrows were angle low in anger, and almost touched his nose. His jaw tightened and his frown narrowed into a scowl. Suddenly, his arm flew from my shoulder and slapped Doug’s hand away and he shouted, “Fuck you, Doug!”
My dad stepped forward and shoved Uncle Doug, knocking him backwards. I swear I felt the shockwaves from my dad’s hands hitting Doug’s chest with an audible Thump!, and I heard Doug’s breath leave through the pursed lips of his shocked countenance, and I watched him flail his arms as he stumbled backwards. He wasn’t smiling.
He fell against the 18-wheeler with his arms spread like Jesus on a cross, and as he lowered his arms and stood up straight my dad was already there, clenching Doug’s coat lapel with his left hand and swinging his right fist towards his uncle’s face.
But Billy tackled my dad before the punch landed. It t took Billy and four Teamsters to drag my dad away, and as they left, I recall my dad shouting, “Fuck U.S. Actions in Panama!” I don’t remember if the FBI did anything. I assumed he was shouting at them, because they were the closest thing to Ronald Reagan he’d ever see, especially with his temper.
There’s nothing like a fight to disrupt the flow of a funeral. I left without saying goodbye to anyone, and I left Big Daddy’s funeral confident that I had made the right decisions three years ago to start the process of never being like my dad or the Partins. I had gone above and beyond what I had expected, but I was still young and unsure of myself and I sat on my motorcycle unsure what to do next. I didn’t see a goal in my future and I didn’t have a goal except for the distant junior olympics two months away, and I felt stuck.
I decided to start moving, and I put on my letterman jacket and helmet, straddled my motorcycle and rev’ed the engine a few times more than necessary and probably louder, and no one came out and the crowds still waited between the police and Resthaven Funeral Home, and no FBI agents came out to tell me I could be a part in something bigger, and I pulled onto Airline Highway and then onto I-10 and I flew over Baton Rouge without knowing where I was going.
I wasn’t paying attention and ended up passing over the Mississippi River where I-10 splits to head west. The on ramp had been built too narrowly and was the site of toppled top-heavy 18 wheelers, including a oft paradyed incident where a cow truck tipped and it rained cows onto downtown, and locals joked about tipping cows in pastures and now on I-10. I almost skidded sideways as I pulled a hard left, and my rear tire wiggled back and forth as I tapped the brakes and then accelerated forward and straightened out and rose up and over the Mighty Mississippi River. To my right I saw the new state capital towering above downtown, a skinny art deco edifice commissioned by Governor Huey Long and taller than any building in Louisiana and the tallest state capital in America, and in my mind’s eye I saw the old media photos of Big Daddy and my dad and Aunt Janice and Kieth and Theresa and Cynthia, smiling and laughing and convincing the world they were a happy family and that Big Daddy was trustworthy. Below it was the old state capital, a squat building built like a castle with turrets that the author Mark Twain called an eyesore on the Mississippi and now a Louisiana political history museum with displays on Huey Long and all the governors who tried to send Big Daddy to jail over the decades. Beside that was the Centroplex. I saw these monuments in my peripheal vision, and as I went across the Mississippi I gradually lost site of them.
The Mississippi is a huge river. As Mark Twain wrote in his memoir, Life on the Mississippi, it’s the 4th largest river in the world and at it’s widest spans a mile across. It’s so wide that a meniscus forms on it’s surface, a barely measurable bulge that belies the curvature of the earth and effects of gravity from one shore to another. It’s wide but shallow, and below me Army Corp of Engineers dredges pulled silt from the center and moved it to the sides, and flat bottomed barges crept along transferring goods between America’s heartleand and the Port of New Orleans. Larger ships stopped in the Port of Baton Rouge, big enough to traverse oceans and too big to pass under the Baton Rouge Bridge – Huey Long is said to have dictated the height of the bridge to stop ships in Baton Rouge – and they bypassed the federal oversight in port of New Orleans for the more casual port of Baton Rouge, where Uncle Bob’s stevedors didn’t work but Big Daddy’s teamsters did, and they loaded their trucks and carried goods onto I-10 and onward.
I passed the Mississippi and made a u-turn in Plaquemine, the site of a famous gunfight between Big Daddy’s teamsters and a cement manufacturing company, where management had hired armed guards to face off against 30 teamsters and Governor McKeithen threw up his hands in exasperation and asked how we allow the federal government to stop local law enforcement.
Still aware of my family’s history yet oblivious to my thoughts about it, I acccelerated back up and over the Mississippi and saw LSU’s Tiger Stadium to my right, the country’s fourth largest college football stadium. On game days, Death Valley is Louisiana’s third most populus spot, with 95,000 fans in the stadium seats and 35,000 tailgating around it. Local celebrities like Billy ???? were worshiped there, perhaps like hockey players in Canada and soccer – what most of the world calls football – in most of the world. Billy was a big deal in Baton Rouge, a hometown celebrity who was nationally famous, and who had returned home and attended LSU and then dental school and was a big, hearty, smiling idol; he was synonymous with everything good about LSU.
Big Daddy’s teamsters had overseen much of the construction of LSU buildings and the growth of a university he loved; he knew what the newspapers said, that he’d be governor with a college degree, and that may be why he had been such a benefactor of LSU, perhaps hoping one of his sons would pick up the ball he dropped and run with it to the next level, to create a legacy like the Longs and the Kennedys and the Hoffas and the McKiethens. He may have pushed some of them too hard, and he died before any of his children graduated college. But, he loved LSU, and LSU loved Big Daddy.
I was unsure if I’d go to college. I pondered why I accepted the army college fund, still without thoughts, and turned north on I-110, towards the airport, and tucked my body low to reduce air drag and flew over downtown and soon pondered nothing because I was focused on driving as fast as I could go safely. I was tucked against the fuselage and craning my neck up to see the road and lost track of time, but about 10 minutes later I automatically slowed as I approached the airport exit that took me to Granny’s house. I stopped at the red light and panted, surprised that my heartbeat was so fast and that I had been breathing shallowly. I realized I was automatically driving towards Granny’s and Grandma Foster’s, and the light changed to green and I chose to go the opposite direction simply to feel I was in control.
I didn’t remember ever having gone that way, yet the sparsely populated buildings and trees felt familiar. I followed the winding road a few miles and came upon an intersection with a giant, magnificent stately oak tree across from a convenience store and I stopped at the red light and realized where I was. The light changed and I crept forward, mesmerized, recalling moments there in waves of memories that coalesced into one thought: PawPaw.
A mile later I saw the old house and the gate leading to the fishing pond, and I turned into the gravel driveway and carefully navigated my two wheels between wheel ruts and wobbly rocks and stopped in front of the carport and turned off the motorcycle and removed my helmet and stared, simultaneously unsure how I had found the house and surprised that I hadn’t been there in ten years. It had been so easy, and was only a few miles from Granny and Grandma Foster.
The kitchen door opened and MawMaw stepped out and I felt the sensation of having smelled hairspray and chocolate chip cookies. She stared at me for only a brief moment and then smiled broadly and exclaimed, “Jason! Oh my god! It’s you!”
In my mind’s ear, I heard her call me for some shugga’, but I sat on my motorcycle, overwhelmed but the surreal nature of seeing MawMaw after Big Daddy’s funeral. She hurried towards me and that woke me up and I climbed off the motorcycle and kicked the kickstand and met MawMaw in an embrace. She didn’t give me any shugga’, but she squeezed met tightly and I held her and ten years hadn’t passed and I was a six year old boy arriving home.
“Look at you!” she exclaimed, and she stood back and looked me up and down and smiled. She still smelled of hairspray. Something was missing; I didn’t hear crickets.
She asked me inside as if no time had passed, and as we walked through the door I noticed that PawPaw’s cricket cage was gone, but I was still so surprised at the day that I waited to see what else was different before asking questions. MawMaw kept talking about how much I had grown and how happy she was to see me and how much she missed me, and I listened with part of my mind and looked around with another. Not much had changed, and I was surprised at how many details I recognized and how I knew where things would be. I knew where to find the bathroom and television, and which window looked to the back yard, past the big gate to the small barn and fish pond.
MawMaw kept talking and guided me to the hallway, and my surprise continued to build because I saw framed photos of me clipped from the newspaper and hung in their hallway. Recent ones, like a few wrestling articles from the previous two years that mentioned my name, and a full color weekend edition from shortly after Uncle Bob died, shared with Dr. Z and highlighting how I volunteered to perform weekly at Our Lady of the Lake children’s ward; I had performed there while staying with Uncle Bob in the critical care ward, and I had developed my own version of David Copperfield’s Project Magic to help kids rehabilitate injured hands and wrists and to distract themselves for a few hours. Other clippings spanned ten years and went all the way back to my Brown Deer art, and several were mistakenly my cousin, Jason Partin, and his football and academic achievements. I smiled slightly, realizing that combined he and I looked pretty impressive on MawMaw’s wall.
At that point, enough surprise was gone that I could start chatting with MawMaw, and I learned that she and PawPaw had divorced recently, but they had followed me all of my life. I felt confused, not quite realizing how my ten year old belief that they didn’t want me had created deep seeded beliefs that were being challenged then, and I was uneasy by the feeling of neurons in my brain detaching from old assumptions and reaching for new connections to form with the new information. I became quiet again, and MawMaw chatted away cheerfully and pulled out a scrapbook of court reports and petitions dating back to when PawPaw first picked me up at daycare and continuing for years after I returned to Wendy, seeking to adopt me. They had loved me and had wanted me and had fought for me, but Wendy had lied to me and I lost PawPaw and now he wasn’t there and I was leaving Louisiana. I grew upset as neurons locked onto the anger and resentment of loosing rather than the joy and gratitude of finding, and I said I had to leave.
MawMaw asked if I’d like to speak with PawPaw, and she pulled the phone off its wall hanger and called him at his home. He had moved back to Mississippi, to the forest near Woodville, so it was a long distance call and took a few moments to connect. She spoke briefly and handed me the phone.
“Hey d’er, Lil’ Buddy!” I heard.
I said something about missing him and being surprised he wasn’t there, and he said, “Everyone deserves to be happy. MawMaw weren’t, so I told her to put on her walkin’ shoes!” He said it cheerfully and with love, like PawPaw would, and I know now he meant that everyone should be happy and that conventions, traditions, beliefs, and desires don’t lead to happiness but action does, and he and MawMaw did what they had to do to each be happy, but at that time my neurons had already begun the process of attaching anger and resentment to that day, and somehow I heard something that validated Wendy’s statements years ago, that PawPaw would walk away from me just like everyone walked away from her. Somehow, I was becoming more resentful of Wendy and of PawPaw rather than celebrating finding him again, and I had to leave. I don’t recall what I said, but he said to get his phone number from MawMaw and I hung up and was as polite as PawPaw had installed in me but didn’t get anyone’s phone number and left MawMaw’s and accelerated onto I-10 and flew away.
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