In college, I had this friend who would fight anyone over anything. He was not a really big guy, but he was tall and solidly built, and this became apparent when he removed his shirt, as he often did after beating the shit out of someone. Usually there was alcohol involved, but not always. Once, when a group of us were studying at the library for an econ midterm, a guy walking by bumped into our table, spilling a cup of coffee. It appeared to be an accident, but the man pretended not to notice and kept on walking. My friend waited for him outside and broke his jaw. I’m still not sure if that man ever knew why he got punched.
We were not inventive people and so we called my friend Crazy Fucker. He took to the name like he took to us, with a fierce loyalty. He had it tattooed in green letters on the inside of his bicep. I can’t tell you how many fights he was in, but in the four years we spent as friends, I saw him hurt a lot of people. He fought at bars, or on the street, or in the basements of house parties. You’d be standing there drinking your beer, talking to a group of people, and then all of the sudden everyone would turn around, maybe some girl would scream, and there would be Crazy Fucker over in the corner smashing some guy’s head in. There were a few run-ins with the law, but nothing noteworthy. He sometimes got hurt: cuts, broken fingers, a torn lip. But I never saw him lose.
Some people might say that he was asserting his masculinity, or that he was genetically flawed, born with too much testosterone, but what I’d say to them is that I knew him, and what I believe is that he just liked to fight. Even though he was our friend, we were all a little afraid of him. Not that he might one day turn on us, but just the opposite—the way he promised to look out for us, his real friends. We thought he might kill someone in the process, and that in some strange way, it would be our fault.
I know what you want me to tell you. That one day Crazy Fucker picked a fight with the wrong guy.
I know what you want me to tell you. That one day Crazy Fucker picked a fight with the wrong guy. That he got his ass kicked for a change and learned his lesson. That karma caught up with him and he took the beating he had coming. But that’s not what happened. What happened is that Crazy Fucker graduated magna cum laude with a degree in poli-sci and went on to a top tier law school where he made law review. After graduation, I heard he spent a few years clerking for a well-known judge, and then a few more doing property law for some big firm. He served on County Council and not long after was elected Mayor of the city we went to college in. I hadn’t seen or spoken to him in years. I had become a CPA, a profession I admired for its order. My days were filled with the objective recordings of other peoples’ gains and losses, and I often worked late. But on the night Crazy Fucker took his oath of office, I was at home watching on TV. After he was sworn in, he made a speech. It was in a crowded auditorium and there was a layer of red, white, and blue balloons floating near the ceiling. He was wearing an expensive looking suit and saying all the right things. I kept thinking of that tattoo on the inside of his arm. He was a good speaker and the people cheered during pauses. I could see how he might have been elected, how he could sway people to believe in what he said. But still, even sitting in my warm living room, watching the delayed broadcast, I couldn’t help but shudder when he pledged his devotion to our city, when he swore to protect us, its citizens.
Eugene Cross received an MFA in fiction from The University of Pittsburgh. His stories have appeared in Narrative, Callaloo, Third Coast, The Pinch, and Hobart, among others. He teaches creative writing at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College.