Riley was my friend. He was big and intimidating.
His ripped jeans and chain wallet attached to a side belt loop complemented all his shirts that “abolished sleevery” (that’s what he called cutting off the sleeves). His hair was the picture of gelled perfection – well, the top was. The sides were shaved and the back flowed free of encumbrance. The mullet wasn’t a hairstyle. For Riley, it was a lifestyle.
Mike was a jerk. He was small but fast. He spent hours in a dojo learning karate every afternoon. I choose to believe he trained in the Central Florida, Cobra Kai dojo. He made sure we all knew of his legendary fighting skills and he threatened everyone. Well, everyone except Riley. Mike had an innate understanding of fist-physics that kept him from putting his own face in danger.
It was 1985 and my brother and I walked home from school every day because we lived close and it was safer back then. I was in 5th grade and he was in 3rd. We weren't gifted with large stature or a mullet lifestyle, so it was a bit unnerving to round the corner that fateful day Mike and his karate friend Lance intentionally ran into us.
I said, “Hey guys, we don’t want any trouble, we just want to get home. We are sorry we were in your way.” Mike replied as if he’d just seen some tough-guy movie, “Well, whether you want it or not you got it.” And he pushed my brother.
Our dad told us to never start a fight. He also told us if someone starts one we have the green light to finish it in the protection of ourselves or family. Well, ol' Mikey just gave me the green light. I threw down my backpack and started with fists flyin’. Nobody picks on my brother. After a brief exchange, complete with every fight move I learned watching pro wrestling, both of the bully thugs ran away.
I grabbed my brother and my backpack and headed home. I swelled with pride as I checked myself for possible missing or broken limbs since pain is masked by adrenaline dump.
Then, I heard (from a few feet behind us), “Hey guys! Wait up. You ok?” And I realized the flee of the enemy had little to do with my grappling and submission skills.
It was Riley.
The walk in life needs Rileys. For those with no ability to stand up for themselves, there is no greater gift.
I still choose to believe our mulleted advocate saved Mike and Lance from the destruction of my strikes that day.