When I was 13 years old, I lost the most important pillow fight of my life.
I had recently moved to a new town and had one entire friend, Lefty. The fourth or fifth time we ever hung out, we grew bored with video games and set our sights on another form of simulated violence. We agreed on parameters 10 rounds, one pillow per person, no shots to the groin and squared off.
It was clear within seconds that I was overmatched. Lefty, a physical presence always more the granite to my dough, pinned me in such a way as to leave his arms free to wield both pillows and my head free to absorb their blows. I tried to forfeit. You win! KO! Im throwing in the towel! TKO! I quit!
Finally he let up.
Thats the end of the first round, Lefty said. He smiled. Round two. Ding.
The assault resumed.
He beat the tar out of me, or, if not tar, beat as many things out of a boy as two pillows are capable, including tears, snot and shame. Livid, I did what any kid with one friend would do: I told him I hated him and waited in the corner, hoping he would apologize. He never did.
Later, when my mom picked me up, I left with an unspoken message from Lefty: Im not going to let you quit.
In the 12 or so years of being best friends since then, he hasnt, nor have I him.
Weve grown up in tandem, ones personality complementing the other. He got me to stop worrying so much and drink my first beer already; I nudged him in the direction of Yes, it would be funny to wear Bagger Vance outfits for the lumberyard golf outing.
Weve played sports, seen concerts, gone on trips. Weve slogged through summer jobs, gotten in trouble, taken our lumps. Through thick, through thin, weve had each other: Part in support, part in motivation.
When we finished school, we landed in different cities, both of us having trouble finding work. I took up bartending for a little while, then joined a newspaper; Lefty took a few jobs, then joined the service.
This weekend, my best friend is getting deployed to a high-conflict area in the Middle East. There will be more than just pillows at play. War has been a reality for most of our friendship, but its never been a reality. Ive understood what many people with family overseas have had to go through, but Ive never understood. Now, Im starting to. And Im kind of lost.
Theres fear and worry, as the chance exists that Lefty wont return, that the back hes had for all these years could go unguarded. I think about all the things we still need to do speak at each others weddings, give baseball lessons to each others kids, gripe about our receding hairlines and wince that we might not.
But then theres pride. My friend is one of Americas finest. The guy who was able to break my pinky throwing a football is going to be keeping the country safe. I have tremendous respect for all the service members out there, and Im proud that the guy I grew up with is one of them.
With all these emotions, I always end up coming back to that pillow fight. The man deploying this weekend wouldnt let me quit and wont let his comrades, either. I worry, but when it comes down to it, if theres somebody out there fighting for America, I want it to be him.
Be safe, Lefty. Theres plenty more rounds left on the card.