Fiction 2016 / Issues / Spring 2016 / Uncategorized / Volume 46

Black Belt—Adam Berlin

 

The ad said this:

We are looking for a karate teacher for three afternoons/week after 3:00 to teach a sweet 7 yr old autistic boy for approx 1 hour. He has had a tiny bit of experience, but is eager and able to learn. Child will have a shadow therapist. Experience with special needs/autism helpful and preferred but not absolutely necessary. An open mind and a patient heart required. Please respond with resume and references as well as your fee. Thank you for your responses.

My mind wasn’t open, my heart wasn’t patient, but a rich family willing to shell out money for their messed-up kid might connect me to other rich families with other messed-up kids. If I played it right, I could start a little martial arts business, make some easy money, be my own boss.

The ad asked for a resume, so I wrote one up. I didn’t list that I had my own special needs. I didn’t list the restaurants I’d worked in, short stints that often ended badly. Instead, I created a professional life. BA in Psychology. Magna cum laude, of course. MA in Special Education. I figured no one would ask to see actual diplomas. Present Experience: Part-time karate instructor at Equinox. A woman I knew worked at the sports club and said she’d vouch for me if I promised to take her out to dinner. Past Experience: Phys. Ed. teacher at The Giving School in Seattle. An old friend had moved west and was willing to lie for me. I told him to answer to Dr. Jonathan Esiason. His Seattle area code would make him sound real.

I sent the resume off with a quick note and a week later a woman called, asked me some questions about my teaching methods (I said my methods were Montessori–based, but also cutting-edge), my level of patience (I said I’d grown up with three younger siblings and had done my graduate internship in a kindergarten), my experience with autism (I hesitated, but the half-packed boxes in my apartment spurred me on. I knew they rocked a lot. I knew they didn’t focus. I didn’t know anything else. But that’s not what I said. I said I understood an autistic child’s special needs, that I’d tailor my karate instruction to her son, that individual tutoring was the cornerstone of The Giving School’s mission and that The Giving School was considered a model school in Seattle.) The woman said I sounded perfect. She said Dr. Esiason had given me a glowing recommendation. She said Dr. Esiason hoped I’d return to Seattle soon to resume my stellar teaching career. I told the woman that Dr. Esiason was very kind, but that I had my own dreams, my own visions. I wanted to start my own school right here in Manhattan, a karate school for special children, a place where physical activity would break learning barriers and remove social stigmas and create an education-friendly environment where confidence could be built, brick by learning-disabled brick. The woman said that sounded like a wonderful plan. She asked when I could start working with her son.

 

Before my first session I bought a Gi. I’d already taken a Martial Arts DVD out of the library, studied a few stances, memorized some basic katas. I figured I didn’t need to learn much. The kid wouldn’t know the difference between a well-executed roundhouse and a karate-movie move, and whoever the shadow was, whatever a shadow was, I guessed he or she was no black belt. I put on my Gi, crisp and white, looked in the mirror, bowed formally, introduced myself to me as Marcus-san. I whistled the theme-song notes of Kung Fu. I narrowed my eyes and said in my best dubbed-over English, You have shamed my family, and now you must pay with ultimate price. I pushed the sound from my gut. HiiiYaaa.

 

It was a doorman building, of course. The ad said money—private lessons, autistic kid, shadow therapist. Shadows had to cost money. The doorman asked my name, picked up the phone, made the call, announced my name, put down the phone, pointed me to the elevator. Another doorman, same blue uniform, same subservient hat, stood by the elevator. I walked in first. He followed. It was an old-fashioned elevator with a sliding gate and a rolling handle the operator really had to operate. I liked the sound the gate made, well-oiled metal, when he pulled it shut. He rolled the handle and we started up.

“How’s the kid?” I said.

“The Brandt boy?”

“Right. How’s the Brandt boy?”

“Have you met the Brandt boy?”

“First time,” I said.

The doorman stopped the elevator with a jolt, his hand fast on the handle. The elevator floor and the twelfth-floor floor were lined up, perfectly.

“This is you,” the doorman said.

“Good job. Maybe a quarter-inch off.”

The elevator operator was paid not to say Fuck you. And Fuck you wouldn’t sound right with the subservient hat he was wearing.

I walked out of the elevator and into the hall. The gate closed behind me, oil and metal, and I heard the pulley working, elevator going down. There was one door in the hall. In my apartment, the one I’d shared with my wife, there were four apartments per hall and enough room to stretch, at least a little, in the hallway. In the building I lived before I got married, there were sixteen apartments per hall, A through P. I’d been in D, between a fifty-something social worker with wild, wiry-gray hair and a retired locksmith who left his apartment once a day to visit the downstairs liquor store. I was headed back there, back to broke, back to cramped halls, sad people, liquor store-visits, unless my karate business boomed.

“Boom,” I said out loud, and rang the doorbell.

I waited. It could be the mother. It could be the shadow. I doubted it would be the kid. I had my gym bag slung over my shoulder, Gi inside, a fake black belt I’d cut from an old pair of waiter pants. The scissor had frayed the material, but if anyone asked, I’d say it was my original belt from when I too was a kid.

The door opened. She wasn’t beautiful, but she was close. Even features. Full lips. Straight teeth. Chestnut-colored hair to her shoulders. A slim, fit body. She wore jeans and a T-shirt that looked simple but expensive, the denim dark blue, the cotton of her shirt softer-looking than the Hanes T’s I wore.

“I’m Corey’s mother.”

She turned to look behind her. I took her in.

“I’ll be right there,” she said. Her voice was patient, soothing.

She turned back to me and I looked at her eyes. They were kind eyes and they were tired. And they were sad. I have a strange reaction when women cry in front of me. My cock goes hard. It’s not a protective thing. It’s not a dominant thing. Maybe it’s because they’re as close as they come to coming without being in bed. The veil of adulthood, of being careful, of mature control is removed, and, crying, they’re open, sometimes more open than if their legs were spread before me. Her eyes took me in and I shifted my gym bag to cover my crotch.

 

I changed in the bathroom and walked out wearing my Gi, frayed black belt tied around my waist.

“This way.” Her voice, farther down the hall, was tired too.

The wood floors shone, polished almost slippery, cool against my bare feet. I walked down the hall to a room that had been set up as a dance studio. Maybe she had danced. Three of the walls were mirrored. One wasn’t. Along it, waist level, was a ballet bar. She was standing there. Her kid was standing next to her, head down, looking at the floor.

“This is Corey,” she said.

“Hi Corey. I’m Marcus.” I almost said Sensei Marcus like I’d practiced in the mirror, and I would have said Sensei, would have bowed, would have pushed the charade if Corey’s mother weren’t standing next to him.

“And this is Dr. Parness.”

Dr. Parness sat in a chair in the far corner of the room. She wore khakis and a buttoned blouse and glasses with wire frames. There was nothing vivid about her face. Plain features. Unexpressive mouth. Her hair was between blond and brown, cut short. I assumed she was the shadow.

I nodded my head for her, karate style.

I looked back at Corey’s mother. She smiled, sort of. It seemed a gesture of politeness, nothing more.

“Is there anything you need?”

“I’m ready to go,” I said.

She turned to her son. “Your first day of karate lessons, Corey. It’s exciting.”

The kid didn’t say anything.

“This is just what you wanted. And Marcus is going to be your karate teacher.”

Corey’s mother stepped back a step and I could see the kid’s jaw tighten.

“It’s fine,” she said. “And I’ll just be in the kitchen. I’m going to make you a special dinner to celebrate your first day of karate.”

She took another step back. “Enjoy your lesson, sweetheart.”

Corey’s mother left the room. The shadow stayed. Corey was looking at the floor.

“Let’s start by stretching,” I said. “Even the greatest karate masters need to stretch before they begin.”

 

I had to go over every stretch piece by piece. I had to say everything slowly and do everything slowly so he could do what I did slowly. After we stretched, we worked on a basic stance. I had to think about breaking everything down into pieces. I spread one leg and told him to spread one leg. I spread my other leg and told him to spread his other leg, just like I was doing. I made one hand into a fist and told him to make his hand into a fist. I made my other hand into a fist and told him to make his other hand into a fist. I put one fist at my side. I put the other fist at my side. The way we were moving, he’d have his black belt at seventy.

 

At the end of the lesson, I stood right in front of the kid, squared off with him as if he were the mirror. His head was still down, but I was close enough where he had to see my feet. I didn’t whistle the Kung Fu theme song. I didn’t throw any punches or attempt a flying kick. I held my hands out, palms flat, at Corey’s eye level. He didn’t look up, at my face or my palms. He was always looking down, not at his feet but at a space just beyond his feet, like he was looking for coins on the street, but not intently. It wasn’t a blank stare, but it wasn’t a stare of interest, of action.

“I’m here,” I said.

He didn’t say anything, of course.

“I’m here. My hands are here. It’s called hand/eye coordination. What I want you to do is ball your hands into fists and hit my hands.”

He didn’t move. I could sense the shadow stirring. Maybe she thought it was dangerous, me getting too close to the kid, me instigating actual contact. I hadn’t looked at the shadow once during the session. For all her shadow therapy, the kid was still a mess.

“You want to be a karate fighter, right? You want to earn your belts and move up in the karate world. You’re going to have to hit somebody some time, so we might as well start today. No time like the present, right, kid?” I caught myself. “Right, Corey?”

Corey nodded his head, but not like a normal kid, enthusiastically, an exaggerated up and down, the way I thought a normal kid would nod. I didn’t have too much contact with kids. I didn’t have any contact with kids. I didn’t even like kids. But there was a slight movement, a slight up from the usual down position.

“Go on, ball up your hands. Make your hands into fists, just like I showed you.”

I watched his small hands become smaller, tighter.

“Good. Excellent. Now look up, look at my palms and then when you’re ready, throw that punch right at one of my palms.”

Corey didn’t move.

“He doesn’t like to touch things,” she said. Her voice was neither high nor low. It wasn’t loud and it wasn’t a whisper. It was flat, each word the same even note.

I looked at the shadow therapist, nodded my head.

“You speak?”

“Yes I speak,” she said. “I don’t want to interrupt your lesson, but getting Corey acclimated to making actual physical contact could take some time.”

“No time like the present,” I said. “Haven’t you been listening?”

I took Corey’s wrist in my right hand. I felt the resistance, but I held him firm and forced his fist forward into my left palm. It was a weak smack, more of a tap, but it made a little noise. I held his wrist, moved his arm back, then pulled his fist forward again, harder. This time there was the pleasing snap of skin on skin. I pulled his fist forward, harder. The snap was loud, sharp.

“Good. That’s good. It’s a nice sound too. The harder you hit, the cleaner the sound, the sharper the snap. I know you like the way that sounded. Now you try.”

I let go of the kid’s wrist. His hand was still a fist.

“Go on. Right into my palm.”

He stood there. His head was still down. I saw him breathing. He was breathing a little faster, but that’s all he did. He didn’t move.

I looked at the shadow. She had that professional smugness, that tight-lipped, told-you-so look. My wife never looked smug even when she was right. My wife’s lips never went tight. She was a screamer. She’d scream when she was upset and I’d scream back. I felt like screaming at the kid. To hit me. To hit me hard. To prove that his shadow didn’t know what the fuck she was doing. I breathed.

“Okay, kid. Okay, Corey. Next time. You think about making a fist and hitting my palm. You think about making that nice sound. You can even practice punching in the mirror. You can pretend. And you’ll only be hitting air and air can’t get hurt. And don’t worry about hurting my palm. I have strong hands. And you saw it doesn’t hurt your fist. You have strong hands too. So think about it and next time we’ll do it.”

Corey just stood there, eyes to the floor.

“All right. That’s the end of today’s lesson. I’ll see you in two days.”

I stepped back from the kid and bowed once. He wasn’t looking at me, but he must have seen me. He bowed back, not exaggerated, not a full down, full up, but it was a bow, sort of.

 

I walked around the apartment a lot, talking to myself. It wasn’t our apartment anymore. It was the apartment. She’d brought all the furniture, so that was gone. She’d found a place on West End Avenue, a one-bedroom sublet in a doorman building until she could find something permanent. It was April. Our lease, the lease she’d responsibly signed, ran out the last day of May. I had to be gone in six weeks.

 

It was mostly empty space, a lot of floor surface, planks of wood that still looked new. They’d redone the floors before we’d moved in. We were going to build a new life on new floors. One night I pushed her face into the floor, holding her down, trying not to break her wrist after she pulled a knife. I didn’t want her cutting me. I didn’t want her cutting herself. I’d only fucked up one time, when I was drunk, when I always fucked up, but she knew it would happen again just like I knew. When she found out, she opened the cabinet where I kept my whiskey and tipped a quarter bottle of Bushmills to her mouth. Then she pulled a Wusthof 5-inch serrated from the set we’d received as a wedding gift. I pushed her face into the floor. The next day, sad and exhausted, the headache behind her eyes, my wife of one year told me she was leaving. I didn’t protest. Her eyes watered and my cock went hard.

 

Corey’s mother answered the door. It was Wednesday. She was dressed like Monday, only she wore a different T-shirt. Her husband was nowhere around. He had to be working hard to keep his family happy and healthy with a floor-through apartment, a shadow therapist, a private karate instructor who didn’t know karate.

She said a quick hello and turned to her son. He was standing behind her, looking at the floor. He was wearing his Gi.

“You remember Marcus,” she said.

He didn’t say anything

“It’s 3 o’clock, Corey. It’s time for your karate lesson.” And then she said to me, “Corey was practicing his karate before he went to school today.”

I wanted to say something smart. About how Corey would soon be beating the shit out of his autistic classmates. About how karate would make Corey a better man. It was hard to tell if Corey’s mother had a sense of humor.

“Wonderful,” I said. It didn’t sound like me. I wondered if I’d ever said the word wonderful out loud.

“Can I offer you something to drink?”

“No thanks. I’ll just change and we can start.”

I walked down the hall. The kitchen was huge and open, a square of granite in the center, pots and pans hanging off a rack above, a state-of-the-art oven with six gas burners and a refrigerator that looked display-worthy at the Museum of Design. I passed two closed doors, probably guest bedrooms. The third door was open, the guest bathroom. I went in, closed the door, unzipped my gym bag, changed from my clothes to my once-used Gi. Tightened my fake black belt. Took a leak. Checked my face in the mirror. My eyes were puffy from too much alcohol. It was a beautiful bathroom. There was a bowl of fresh lemons on the toilet top.

The boy was waiting for me in the studio. The shadow therapist was sitting on her chair in the corner looking at him. In the mirror I could see her back, the back of her neck and head. She looked uncomfortable. She wasn’t talking to the kid or joking around with him. He was looking at the floor.

“So I hear you were practicing your karate moves, Corey-san?” I said.

Corey didn’t say anything.

“Well, that’s what I heard. Practice makes perfect, so you’re doing the right thing. The more you practice, the easier it gets. And once you perfect one move, we can work on the next move and the next. Let’s do our stretches first.”

We stretched our legs. We stretched our arms, circling them in the air. We stretched our backs. I didn’t look at the shadow therapist looking at us. I wondered if she were there to protect the kid from tantrums or outbursts, or if she were there to make sure I wasn’t some child molester. I always felt a little strange around kids. There was so much awareness, so much over-protection, that an unattached man talking to a kid seemed like a crime. It had to be good for the karate-teaching business. With all those creeps out there, you needed to teach your kids to kick ass.

 

I went to bars. I drank until the warm feeling came over me, and then I drank more. When I woke, usually in the early afternoon, I tried to connect the missing pieces of the night.

 

Corey answered the door. He was looking down at a place between my Nikes. Then he stepped backwards from the door, four even steps, turned around and walked down the hall.

I changed.

The dance studio where we worked out didn’t smell like working out. It didn’t even smell like play. It was spotless, cleaned daily, I assumed, by the live-in maid, not a speck of dust on the floor, not a single smudge on the mirrored walls. Corey never looked at himself in the mirrors. He kept his head down.

He had his routines. I had my routines. I’d change into my Gi in the bathroom. I’d take a leak. I’d check how much damage my drinking had done to my eyes. I’d walk toward Corey, extra heavy on my feet so he’d hear me, so he’d know we were ready for business. I’d say, Good afternoon, Corey-san. He wouldn’t say anything. I’d say, Let’s start with stretching, Corey-san. I’d stretch out my leg and he would stretch out his leg. I’d stretch out my other leg and he’d stretch out his other leg. I’d kneel on the floor and stretch out my back and he’d do the same. He was limber for being such a tight kid. I wasn’t that limber and I wondered if the shadow noticed. She never said anything. I had several excuses ready, but I never had to use them. Slipped discs from full-contact sparring. Back injury from a surprise attack in the bamboo jungles outside Kyoto. When I was working with the kid, my focus really was on him and she really was a shadow, something unnoticed until I started thinking about noticing shadows.

 

I looked at apartments, but they were all too much. I’d check out a listing, take the sheet prepared by the realtor, look at the floor plan, look at the rent, do the math. I could budget myself, limit my spending to ten dollars a day for food and expenses. I could live without cable TV, without Internet access. I could drink at home instead of at bars. Or I could call up my old landlord, see if he had a cell-size studio available. I’d ask him about the wiry-haired woman. I’d ask him about the locksmith who visited the liquor store downstairs. I’d remind the landlord I had a history there. He had to have a room somewhere. Something had to open up.

 

“Yes,” he said.

It was the first time I’d heard the kid speak. He had a quiet voice, almost a whisper, almost a whistle in the way he said the s in yes.

“Great. Did you feel good?”

“Yes.”

“Did you feel strong?”

“Yes.”

I liked the way he said yes. I could have asked him a whole list of questions. The shadow was watching us. The kid had just kicked me. He’d lifted his leg perfectly, put his weight into the kick, and landed it perfectly, right above my black belt. It didn’t wind me, but I’d definitely felt the impact.

“Okay,” I said. “Again.”

He lifted his leg, snapped it forward. Same place, right above the belt.

“Good?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Strong?”

“Yes.”

He liked repetition. Repetition was necessary to perfect the moves. He kicked me again and again. He could have kicked me straight for a full hour, past a full hour, until his mother walked in and told him it was time to go to bed. I let him kick me over and over, asking him if he felt good, asking him if he felt strong, asking him if he felt like he was ready to take his first belt test. Yes. Yes. Yes.

 

I packed my last clothes into boxes. I still hadn’t found a place. It was getting warmer. I could sleep outside. I could join a gym, shower there in the morning, keep some clothes in a locker. I could drink until closing time, then walk to the park. With enough alcohol in my blood, I could pretend the ground was my mattress, my balled-up sweatshirt my pillow, and in Central Park the air was almost fresh.

 

We worked out three days a week. We’d been working out three days a week for five weeks. I had one week left before the lease ran out. I’d stopped looking for apartments. It was too depressing. His body looked different. His arms had new muscles. His fists looked tighter, stronger. His smooth stomach looked harder, flatter. I could see the start of a six-pack, his Gi revealing skin after he’d kicked and kicked, punched and punched, and his belt loosened. He still looked down, but his head was at a different angle, as if the coin he was looking for wasn’t at his feet, but suspended a few inches in the air. If I could raise the invisible coin to eye-level, he’d be looking straight ahead. He was a good-looking kid. He looked like his mother except for his eyes. Hers were sad and tired. His were distant, but not distant sad, just distant. He spoke more too. He said, Thank you, Marcus-san at the end of each lesson. He said See you tomorrow, Marcus-san when he walked me to the door. His shadow therapist stood behind him, but she didn’t say anything. After our last lesson, Corey followed me out into the hall. I pressed the button for the elevator. We could hear the pulleys. Then the sliding metal gate.

I looked at Corey to say a final good-bye and there he was, looking me straight in the eyes.

“See,” I said.

He didn’t say anything.

“See. It’s easy. Eyes to eyes. That’s better than a black belt,” I said.

He held my eyes and held my eyes and I smiled. Then he moved his eyes, looked down.

“Good man,” I said.

I walked into the elevator. The metal gate slid shut.

“Fast,” I said.

And the elevator operator listened, yanked the handle hard. The drop felt good, like excitement.

 

She’d given me the ring.  I didn’t ask for it, but on her way out, her last possessions packed into the back seat of a friend’s car, she stopped. Her desk lamp in one hand, black electric cord trailing like a dead tail. In her other hand, the robin’s-egg-blue Tiffany box.  She smiled the quiet smile I’d fallen for, fell for every time after we fought, after we made up, saying we had to stop. I’d remember my vow to be a better man and I’d try.  For weeks.  For days.  At the end I couldn’t make it stretch for a few hours.  Something said, something done, she’d react, I’d react.  It was all too hard.  She smiled her smile, handed me the Tiffany box with the engagement ring inside.  She still wore her wedding ring.  I still wore mine.  They were titanium, the longest-lasting metal.  I took the box.  I didn’t ask for it.  I would never have asked for it.  But she knew I needed the money, that I’d spent my savings on a diamond that wasn’t close to a carat but fit her thin finger perfectly.  Did you look at your ring today? I’d say when we first got engaged.  I looked at my ring today, she’d say.

 

His mother answered the door. She looked tired. She looked sad. She looked like she had something to say. Corey wasn’t behind her.

“Today is bad,” she sad.

It was bad. It was a year ago, exactly, that I’d been married. It was a year ago that I’d made my toast to be a better man. Two days later we moved into our apartment. I picked her up and walked her through the threshold like we hadn’t already been married for two days, carried her to the bedroom, put her down on the bed. The bed was gone. I was sleeping on the floor, a leaky air-mattress between body and wood.

“I would have called you earlier, but it just happened,” Corey’s mother said.

“What just happened?”

“He hit Dr. Parness.”

“The shadow. The shadow therapist.”

“Yes.”

I clenched my jaw. I didn’t want to laugh in front of her. And I didn’t want to hear my laugh. I had a mean laugh sometimes.

“He hasn’t lashed out like that since he was a child,” she said. “He was doing so well.”

“Maybe he’s still doing well.”

“What do you mean?”

I didn’t know what I meant, not exactly, not to explain it. But then I remembered. I had a BA in Psychology. A Masters in Special Education. A successful stint at The Giving School in Seattle. I’d been living in an empty apartment for so many weeks, what I wasn’t felt more comfortable than what I was.

“He’s asserting himself,” I said. “He’s angry that he needs to be followed all the time. He’s angry at the world and he’s letting out his anger. If I had that woman sitting behind me and standing behind me all the time, I’d be angry too. It’s not natural.”

“No,” she said.

“No,” she said again. “It’s not natural.”

“You can’t fault your son for lashing out sometimes.”

“It’s the way he does it,” she said. “It’s like he’s possessed. It’s like he can’t help it, like he’ll never be able to help it, never.”

“Never,” I repeated, but I didn’t throw the punch.

“Dr. Parness is a professional. She comes highly recommended. She’s been with him for eleven months. She was against these karate lessons. She predicted this would happen, but Corey kept asking about karate, over and over. That’s how he does it. That’s how he does everything, over and over and over and over.”

She started to cry. It was the quietest crying. She put her hands to her face and she didn’t make a sound, but her wrists became wet. Then she rubbed her eyes and looked at me. I had a hard-on. I held my gym bag in front of it.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s been a rough few weeks.”

It wasn’t just the kid. I could hear that.

“Is Dr. Parness here?”

“She left. I asked her to leave for the day. Corey is still very angry. I think you should leave too. I think it’s better if he’s alone.”

“I’ve been very angry,” I said.

“We’ve all been angry.”

“But I’ve been very angry. I used to be angry all the time. And then I started karate. It channeled things somehow. It didn’t cure them. It didn’t take all the anger away. But if it took everything away, I wouldn’t trust it.”

“Trust,” she said. The crying, even if it was quiet, was out of her.

“He was talking to me. He was looking at me. I saw him changing. He’ll never change completely, but he changed a little.”

We were standing there, she inside the doorway, me outside the doorway. I wanted to go inside. I wanted to change into my Gi, tighten my belt around my waist, feel the wood floor against my feet. I wanted to stretch. I wanted to kick. I wanted to punch. And I wanted to see Corey doing what I did. He never looked in the mirror, so I could look in the mirror and see him, see us, and he wouldn’t even know I was watching.

“I think you should let me come in,” I said.

“No.”

“Don’t say no.”

“He’s in his room. He’s grounded.”

“Unground him.”

Her eyes were tired.

“I think I know what I’m doing,” I said.

She moved away from the door and I walked in.

I walked to the bathroom. I changed into my Gi. I tightened my belt. I walked barefoot to the room.

I took my position, legs spread, fists at my hips, ready, waiting. I heard her talking to him. I couldn’t hear the words, but I could hear the tone. Sad. Tired. But patient. Over and over and over and over, she’d said.

I waited. I kept my eyes on a place in front of my feet. I didn’t feel like looking in the mirror.

I heard his bare feet on the floor.

I looked up. I saw him, the reflection of him, walk into the room and take his position next to me. He spread his legs. He put his fists at his hips.

“Angry,” he said. It wasn’t as comforting as when he said Yes, there was no sweet whistle at the end of the word. But the word, Angry, wasn’t as hard-sounding when he said it. The way he said it, anger was just something that happened.

“What are you angry about?”

He punched the air.

You didn’t have to be married and separated. You didn’t have to make promises you couldn’t keep. You didn’t have to be desperate for money, for a place to live. You didn’t need a specific reason. It could just take you over and not just because you couldn’t be a better man. It was just a feeling and I’d had that feeling forever. Corey had so much coming at him he had to do things, repetitively, over and over.

“Angry,” he said and punched the air, again.

I followed him. I punched the air.

We stood there punching.

Punching and punching.

And we were yelling with our punches. Not angry yells. Not desperate yells. Joyful yells. Letting-go yells. Giving in to ourselves.

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One thought on “Black Belt—Adam Berlin

  1. Great story! It could have easily devolved into predatory/opportunistic terrain on the narrator’s behalf, but took a surprising heartfelt turn instead. Really a great read. I also enjoyed the gut punch to therapy. Sometimes all we need to do is just punch it out. Thanks for this story!!

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