Saturday, February 6, 2016

At The Last Minute

I subscribe to a literary magazine called The Sun. It publishes short pieces of autobiography on varying topics. The subject for the next issue is "At The Last Minute."

I'm submitting a description of an event that occurred to me long ago. I remember the event vividly and enjoy pondering its meaning. If you're interested, it follows...

The eldest son of immigrants, I carry the weight of my family's dreams. It's a leaden backpack. My parents view my accomplishments as their accomplishments; my life is a barometer of their success in a new land.

Forty years ago, I was an average athlete in high school, good enough to make the baseball and wrestling teams but not better than kids of other schools. We had a mid-season wrestling match with a neighboring team that was unimportant. Nothing was at stake, but the Earth shook that day.

For reasons unknown to me, my parents invited their fellow-immigrant friends to watch me compete. A bevy of wildly-enthusiastic supporters sat in the stands to cheer me on. Their presence was unnerving: their boisterous shouts pelted me like snowballs.

My opponent in the match was superior in ability but not insurmountably so; I knew I could beat him if I mustered sustained high effort. The match began. I slowly fell behind in points. The trend continued and time grew short. Eventually I realized I couldn't make up the point-deficiency with remaining time available; my only hope of winning was to pin my opponent to the mat, an outcome as rare as knocking out a boxer.

I searched for an opportunity. I saw none. I pursued with increasing concern; disappointing my family, in front of their close friends, was simply unacceptable. I could not let that happen, no matter what.

Suddenly, my opponent twisted his body, allowing me to grab his arm and place it into a half-nelson. I slid my free arm around the back of his neck. Our position was set for my signature move -- a wrestling hold so potent I could defeat anyone with it: leverage trumps size and strength. My opponent, not realizing he had lost the match, expressed hope in struggling against my hold. I let him wrestle, physically and psychologically, with the situation. After tussling, our bodies settled into quiescent calm as I heard desperate calls from the crowd who were watching time run out. Sensing the right moment, I flipped the doomed combatant over, locked him in place, and heard the ref smack the mat three times announcing victory. The crowd roared: their nervous uncertainty was resolved by a last-minute victory.

I looked up. I saw a group of working-class adults whose lives possessed few satisfactions. They were jubilantly celebrating, a rare experience for them. Their glee stunned me: my small athletic effort was fulfilling a larger aspiration, a dream of immigrants. Making it in America, after fleeing war-torn Europe during World War II, was their goal and it was happening in front of me. I play a role in this drama, something I hadn't understood until that moment.


  1. I loved your timing in this piece so much... and the immigrant experience that has shaped your history. It's so interesting to me, because I can see this too told by my parents, too. And I also think of what it means to that little boy on the mat who has to dig deep for victory against his opponent, in the face of adversity AND when the odds are stacked.

    <3 this, <3 you!

  2. Great writing Ally, my favourite sentences are the two last ones. Sometimes we are a big part of something that we are unaware of.

  3. Wonderful story, well told. You gave me goosebumps! No wonder you remember this so clearly.

  4. Yay Ally!
    For the signature move (how cool to have a signature move) and for the writing.
    I hope they publish it.
    I think you were more aware than some of the weight of expectations all kids carry to some extent.
    I hope I don't crush mine!
    Xo Jazzy Jack
    PS Boxing gloves arrived...creative juices flowing :-)

  5. Brilliant writing - I was holding my breath near the end. It's no wonder you remember this day so clearly. And I so understand the "leaden backpack". Mine lifted after my dad died 13 years ago. And though I do miss him, I am happy to let the backpack fall. xo


  6. What a great short story! Fantastic writing, full of suspense.

    Loved this.


  7. That is SO touching. I can imagine how it must have felt for them- some sense of 'national' pride or something like that that was probably rare forging a new path.x

  8. Ally,
    Such a moving account, and so masterfully told! It is the perfect way to sum up your "burden" which has formed you, in the strange way that the world works, into a most interesting and thoughtful person. A lovely woman, you should be proud all of it, and own own each step in the process. I think you do.
    What a transforming moment that was, I could feel it, the emotion leapt off the page!
    XX, Elle

  9. You are a deeply eloquent, and very beautiful, writer, Ally. Thank you for sharing this moving, special memory with us.

    ♥ Jessica