The boy’s buzzcut swirled out like a tiny universe whose only limits were two stubby ears. For weeks Joey had been trying to stir up the bravery to say something to him, until his math teacher asked what was so distracting.
New school, new town, new home, new league. Pick one, lady.
“Wrestling, Ma’am. Tryouts start today.”
The buzzcut turned around, smiled slyly, sized Joey up, whispered, “Whaddayou weigh?”
A month later, Joey got his first pin on his new team, the Little Falls Colts. He jumped in the air and the buzzcut, who was called Dink, caught all 126 pounds of him just like at the Olympics, except it was just an exhibition match with only about forty people watching, including all the other wrestlers, coaches, the ref, the mat maids, the janitor.
Anyone among the few dozen people in the stands was somebody’s family, which included Joey’s father and brother.
By the next Monday, which was the day after Halloween, his win was just history. Other guys had won. No big deal. Besides, it wasn’t about wins, but the dailiness, the belonging. He’d chosen his group, or it had chosen him.
By the next Monday, which was also All Saint’s Day, Joey’s leftover Halloween candy hangover continued to dull his senses.
While Joey Nicci the wrestler was a winner, Joey the boy hadn’t done so much as a push-up since his victory. He’d basked in it all weekend; eating, lounging, getting phone calls from Grandmama and Aunt Lilla back in Newark, helping Sophia the angel grow wings and Mike the werewolf his fangs. Between hauling the kids around the neighborhood, his mom even made his favorite dinner on Sunday, lasagna.
He felt every extra pound when all the guys at practice, on some invisible cue he never saw, swooped around him in a circle.
Two of them grabbed him by the ankles. He nearly bit his tongue while being dragged to the center of the mat before he found himself suspended upside down like a newborn. Passed around from one guy to the next, hand over hand, one leg at a time, his crew of doctors seemed unsure what to do with such a big baby, until somebody dropped him. Dink fell on him, four more guys on top of them, then everybody else piled up on them, amid a flood of growls, roars, giggles, snorts.
Under it all, in the reddish darkness of the boy mound, Joey felt Dink being smashed atop him, but pressing up, pushing them back protectively, his chin stubble chafing Joey’s neck.
His hands flattened by some other body, his arms pressed down by someone’s fuzzy legs, he felt Dink hovering over him, humping him in a playful way. Joey let him. Dink was doing him a favor, taking more of the weight, after all. He opened his hips in the tiny crevice of space under the dogpile and let Dink cop a feel.
He grabbed for his shorts as someone else yanked. He wanted to thrash out, but remembered why they had all piled up on Dink a few weeks before.
He was the best in his weight class.
He was in.