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Thinking of Ray
While I'm on the Road

High School

I had been brought in as Ray's spring partner and after I banged him up he smiled, shook my hand firmly, thanked me and asked me if I'd be back for more with a light in his eye telling of a young man who had found a honing stone for his soul.


Ray invited me to his university, where he had started an MMA program and asked me to coach boxing and stick-fighting for the weekend. We had a great time, with Ray and two big studs sparring hard with me and the three nerdish kids, including a fat black girl, who greeted me with bouncing, smiling applause like I was a kung fu movie villain, "Yeah, the Master!" as Ray and I faced off for a NHB bout, which he won a minute in via a standing head crank.

The Agon

I had promoted an agon for all of the local fighters in the summer of 2010. Ray just showed up with this gorgeous babe he had met at university and did very well in one of our more brutal set piece affairs. Frustrated with me not being available for combat, Ray asked for a bout with me after the tourney. I broke his thumb in 5 seconds or so, disarming him and he bristled, "Stick and shield!"

I agreed and he ripped his shirt off Hulk-like, to which Latifa, the 20-year-old, 95 pound score keeper said to me, "Mister James, aren't you going to take your shirt off?"

"Latifa, do you want me to take my shirt off?"

The 20-odd folks laughed loudly.

She grinned, "Yes," and as I did so Steve Goldstein, grocer friend, said at ringside, something to the effect that if I had a chance bedding the young doll my beer gut had just lost it for me.

Ray and I hammered out a nasty draw, his broken thumb stuffed into a small steel shield and all was well with his babe as Latifa came to me and asked to enter her number into my flip phone—thanks, Ray!

5th of July

I met Ray at a party as he asked me if I had any federal connections in his quest for a job and we laughed at the possibility of him interviewing with someone who assigns people to monitor nuts like his stick-fighting coach.

Home from a Day's Work

Ray had his law degree, was headed to Texas to try and pass the bar, thinking of more tests to come as he turned on the stove-top burner in his family's old Baltimore home and the house exploded. His eyes scorched, his feet and hands and body engulfed in flame, Ray grabbed the family dog on the way outside and made it to the lawn where his pet died and he awaited a year of burn unit hell. Our head coach, a doctor who has operated on humans for decades, said that Ray's condition made it hard for him to stand bedside.

Yesterday, 2018

The man who had brought me into spar with Ray and his classmates in 2002 sat across the table from me as we discussed our spiral into decrepitude, unable to any longer spar hard with our best fighters, longing for our prime, and then Coach caught himself and said, "And then there's Ray. He lost his legs, he's blind and he has very limited use of his hands, and guess what, he's practicing law, passed the Texas bar blind, on prosthetics—you and I are lucky sons of bitches. That man wages war every day of his life after surviving a battle that would have driven most humans to quit on the spot—third degree burns over 95% of his body and he fought through that. What a man."


So today, when I rolled off that couch to the sound of grinding hips, popping shoulder and the constant ringing and squeaking in my head, tempted once again to pity myself, I thought of Ray.

Thanks, Ray.

Winter of a Fighting Life: A Kinetic Memoir

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