My buddy, Rocco, has been riding my case for so long he continues to randomly appear in the form of a nightmare. His booming voice would wake me up. Needless to say the only recourse I had was to squeeze a pillow over my head to try to get rid of that loud echo. But of course, I would wake up, and with absolute laughter try to get him to listen to me "JUST ONCE!" We've known each other since first grade when on the very first day he shoved his butt on my assigned chair, looked straight to me and said, "What? I got here first. Beat it puppy!" The teacher, being nice, tried to get him to move to his seat in the back of the room but Rocco was stuck like glue. So, to avoid any altercation, the teacher prompted me to a seat at the front next to hers. This was the one reserved for the 'star of the day'. Everyone clapped as I walked forward. Except him. He got up, the chair scraping the floor and loudly said, "I am going to the Principal's office!" He ran out the door before the teacher could say one word. It took awhile but the two us finally came together after more than a few push and shove moments before and during school, at recess and even lunch time. The lunch ladies would have Rocco sit by himself to avoid him throwing one more bowl of food. His aim was to always mess me up and to win the prize; his version.
And this is how our push and shove match began and the one that kept up all the way through the first grade ruckus to high school graduation. It had developed beyond our younger days when we began to see each other for who we really had grown into and then it morphed into a lifelong friendship. The way the both of us opted to use all that creative energy, as my mother called it, was on the field, in as many sports as we were allowed. Soccer, football, baseball, you name it. What I finally came to understand was that he was from a foster family. I knew nothing about the system but he seemed to struggle all the time. That side of him was what flashed over the years like a hot skillet on an open flame. I could also sense it in the way he would scribble in a notebook. It seemed like the pen was his dagger relentlessly gouging his frustration onto the pages. He shared nothing until the day we were on the field going through drills and the police showed up with several others from the state welfare system. Rocco stopped, looked at me with a side glance, angrily swore a blue streak, ran off the field and disappeared through the parking lot. Everyone stopped midway through drills. "What's going on?" This was such a surprise and one team player yelled seeing Rocco turn and run. "Hey! Rocco what'd you do?" The team was crazy with questions about what was going on. The coach gathered everyone for a quick comment and most importantly, to stay focused. More would be said later. "Give him space. No questions." It seemed Rocco was only being observed as protocol in the foster care system. The coach assured the officers by going over time spent on the team, showing up, and being attentive to directions, that he was all right. They thanked the coach, shook hands and left. Practice time was over and the coach told everyone to head back. The coach had me wait and took me aside. "Do what you can. Let me know what's up. I will speak to him later when he feels ready." He put his hand on my shoulder. "We can do this." As I watched him head back to the school, Rocco reappeared and walked over to me. With concern, I quietly asked, "Hey, what's up? I'm here or there. You choose. Okay?" and just let him be. He nodded and lowered his head. I grabbed his shoulder and steered him towards the way back. "Thanks." he paused and looked at me with a grin and a smurk. He knew I had his back.
That was the last time I saw Rocco struggle. He seemed to have grown into a different person by the time graduation was here. We made plans to get a burger at the BARN and just take five. Everyone had been all over me about what I was going to do next. I hadn't applied to the right school to get my college career into motion. So I had to call it for now. Time off to do what I needed, and gather my whit's to what life had in store for me. My folks were okay with that and they just told the others in the family to keep their opinions to themselves. Good for them! I was so appreciative of their no judgment contract. Rocco and I had a great time just reminiscing, laughing our butts off and being just in the moment. We knew there was more to each of our stories. I told him my path into the unknown. I was going to work this summer and put a few bucks in my pocket. Then whatever happened next was to be a toss of the cards. Rocco was so happy that my folks let me have charge over my life. He admitted that he was now eighteen. Didn't share the birthday moment with anyone. I felt bad as now he was on his own and was let go from the system. This was a milestone and we talked on and on about all that he felt and what he went through from the first moment with his assigned family who remained somewhat distant. He shared a lot and I was happy to be the ears he needed.
We left to end the day on positive vibes. As we parted, Rocco asked to keep me in his life and vice versa. "Wherever we go, stay in touch. Okay? I have no one else." I looked to him and nodded with a decided "YES", then shook my head, made a face and said, "NO". He grabbed my arm, shoved me in shock and yelled, "You RAT!!!!" I pushed away and started to walk fast to avoid any confrontation but Rocco caught up to me. He didn't hesitate and started to push, shove and then fake walloped me until we both fell over creating quite the surprise scene. A crowd formed not knowing what was going on as we kept up our act. "Hey! What's going on?" Some made an attempt to grab Rocco until both of us started laughing hysterically as we laid flat out in the street, clothes pulled apart, dirt smeared everywhere on our backs. My hands came up in a peace gesture as I called out, "Thanks everyone!" I yelled to let them know we were picking up where we left off in first grade. There was some laughter, others shook their heads, and waved a sign of well wishes to carry on as they parted the scene.
We walked back to the parking lot. The car I had was gifted to me by my Uncle Harry. It was a crusted Ford Fairlane but it worked. Rocco asked me for a ride back to his foster home to pack up for good. As we traveled the back way to that side of town, I knew there was something else he wanted to tell me. His fingers kept scrunching some papers that were in his jacket pocket. "Tell me. You got something, I need to hear it." Rocco looked over and said, "Stop. Please stop. Now." I pulled over, parked and shut the car off. "OK! What'd I do now." I paused and added a funny gesture, "Ohhh, now I get it, we need more street time. Right?" I smiled a cheesy grin, then he shook his head with a smile and said something amazing. It was and still is to this day a total surprise.
"I will be leaving to attend an academy." I was in shock and thought his foster family made nice by helping him move forward towards a better life. "It's not what you think." Rocco looked straight ahead, his foot tapping a mile a minute.
"Hey! Just tell me. Let's get out for a minute." Both of us didn't hesitate and walked to the hood of the car. Rocco had his hands shoved deep in his front pockets, looked at his feet, kicked a rock and sighed. I put my hands up and prompted him to reveal whatever he needed to tell me.
"I've been accepted into the ISS school."
I was way beyond surprised. With a positive yell, hands up, grabbed my friend and bear hugged him with all my might. He gurgled and coughed since I nearly choked him and with abandon he decked me. I nearly fell sideways into a ditch, scrambled upright to regain my posture. "OK! Whew." I stepped back, shook my arms and let him fill me in on the news. "So what college is this and where is it? I'm so psyched for you! Give it to me!" I waited to let the news hit me and it did, like a Mack Truck. I had no clue where this was going. It wasn't just an average college or university. This was a career into the action performance of the big screen; a stunt double. The school was The International Stunt School in the state of Washington under the United Stuntmen's Association. The goal is to attain and learn the skills and knowledge in film, television, video games and live action shows.
"I had this idea to use the hate, anger, and the full on way I was fighting my inner demons. Rather than turning my life into oblivion and avoiding people because of my issues, I woke up. Thanks to you and your one on one seeing the real me." Rocco paused, "Hey, someone has to do this stuff like high risk action scenes, fist fights, a car accident here and there. I really think with my life and the way it was going, I was training for this all along. Well, I am hoping to be a success."
I was really excited that he found something totally off the cuff, but so on his level. I wouldn't have thought this Hollywood Avenue path at all! Really? I had no clue about the best way to fall down stairs, hang from a building, sword play, rock climb, tumble on cue, martial arts fighting scenes and the list was endless. Book learning on a whole different platform.
"Hey, I did you and me HUGE favor." Rocco put on his best game face and said, "I was nice and went to the Principal's office. He gave me a Star of the Day award. I win!"
We both laughed so hard going back to first grade! It never gets old.