February 14, 2019

I want to talk to you for a few minutes about Pedro Morales.

When I was a kid, my Saturday mornings were much like every other kid. An exception for me was that at 11am, the cartoons would switch from animated to live action in the form of professional wrestling. My father would watch with me when he could. It was one of the few things we seemed to have in common and be able to do together. My father was of a generation where parameters between what the mother did with children versus the father were well-defined, and since my sports prowess was non-existent and I wasn’t patient enough to spend time in the garage with him, we had few options left.

When I was around ten, Pedro Morales was one of my favorite wrestlers. He was the Intercontinental Champion, and his finishing move was the Atomic Knee Drop, a move as simple as it sounds. One Saturday, he was defending his title, and the challenger was beating him, working over Pedro’s right knee. Like every good story, the hero mounted a comeback, but when the moment came, he went for his move with his bruised and battered knee. The knee failed, the challenger took advantage, and Pedro was pinned, losing the title. I turned to my dad and, with an authentic tone in my voice, asked him why he would use his bad knee.

My dad was not prone to displays of emotion, anger notwithstanding, and he could, at that moment, have answered the question in any number of ways that would have been factual enough – “Maybe he wasn’t thinking” or “He just be so used to doing it.” – that I would have been fine, if disappointed. But at that moment, my father only knew one answer, the truth, and he didn’t know how to tell it to me. He knew if he did, there was a chance part of my childhood would die, I would see behind the curtain, and things would never be the same. Somehow, all of that angst, that “This is a parenting moment,” washed over his face, and I understood.

“Oh,” I said, not wanting to believe it but knowing I had to. My father asked the only question he could.

“Does that bother you?”

I thought about it briefly before responding. “Nope. It’s still a lot of fun.” And I kept watching wrestling. Still do.

I’ve been thinking about my dad lately, not any more or less than I normally do, but in different ways. One is the realization that this year marks the fact I have been without him longer than I had him in my life. But it’s more than that.

My father started his day by splashing cold water on his face and then doing a series of sit-ups and push-ups. I start my days now with the same cold-water splash, mostly to make sure there is no sand left in my eyes before I poke at them with two tiny plastic disks, and then do fifteen minutes of stretching and jumping jacks in an effort to stave off time and weight. He kept a tin can in the kitchen where all garbage went – egg shells, coffee grinds, vegetable peels. I have recently done the same, thanks to the accompanying increase in such things with my new and hopefully improved diet. Little things that I learned without knowing and adopted without thinking.

Pedro Morales died this week. This would be the moment to bring back the thought of “part of my childhood died.” It works for any number of creative and editorial reasons, but the truth is that didn’t happen. What parts of my childhood that have died, or are dying, occur in the own gradual way, the slow scraping away of time like waves on a rock. You don’t notice the changes until you haven’t visited that beach for a while. But when you return years later, you find yourself thinking “That used to be different.” Whether that’s better or worse is not something you decide, but only come to realize over time.

Still, hearing about Pedro’s passing immediately brought me back to ten-year-old me, on the sofa with my dad that fateful Saturday morning. I sometimes can’t believe I was that kid, that I am that same person, much like I can’t believe I was once a 19-year-old in NYC, or the 22-year-old I was in San Francisco. Even stories of my life from ten years ago sometime ring false, as if they happened to someone else, but that’s because in a way they did.     

The best a person can hope for in life is that as they grow, and they go through the ceaseless action of the waves, etching away at them, reshaping their definition, is that the parts washed away are the parts that should be. To say I am a better person now than I ever have been is a judgement call, and the possibility is real that some of the good parts may have been lost amid all the bad. All I can do is change the way I face the waves, hoping to expose the worst in me to their power, and let the universe do the rest.

And if that doesn’t work, I’ll just give the universe an Atomic Knee Drop.

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