And I bow as I step onto the dance floor, and the strings strain, and the bodies around us move. Bodies of abusers and saviors. Rose dances with Olsen, Destiny with Tiger. The music plays, we all twirl, and I take each of the next stories out onto the floor. The waltz is the most proper. The waltz has the arms wide, the circle, the spinning. The waltz doesn’t pull in close and breathe in the ear like I do with my wife. The waltz doesn’t get “tangled up and tango on.” The waltz holds back. It looks into the eye, holds at a distance, and the waltz appraises. The waltz appreciates.
There’s a scream across the battlefield as a hundred thousand warriors of bullies and abusers roar hatred in my direction. The Round Table lines up behind me. They bang sword on shield. You are about to read about the women standing along my side. They form the front ranks now. And when the horns blow and I collide with my abusers, it will be The Shieldmaidens waltzing with my enemies and dancing beside me as the blood and the hate flies.
I introduce you now to the women of my life and my past. I introduce you now to The Shieldmaidens.
“Oww, fucker, that hurt. Fuck.”
This is not the time nor the place for this kind of language. Sensei likes to run a clean dojo. He looked at her with his, Come on, get it together look and she shook her head.
“You got me in fucking trouble, ass,” she whispered.
Let’s get a run at this so we can hit Four Winds with the respect she deserves. I was about two weeks into my training at the dojo when I met Four Winds. She is short, lean, with a fun face and wild hair. Her hair is doing everything you want it to do when you start going gray. And she smiles at me, gives me a fist bump, and says it’s nice to see me.
Bekah had taken the kids to the beach in North Carolina at a timeshare Vigil and Hymnal have in a town called Duck. They had been gone for about two days when she tells me the boys’ reaction to seeing the ocean.
I am asked by Sensei how they are doing and I tell him.
“Well, when Rayph saw the ocean for the first time he said, ‘Why does anyone live anywhere else?’” I said. “Tobin’s reaction was to run up to the water’s edge and roar at it. He was looking at the most powerful thing he had ever seen and he wanted to roar at it.” I laughed, as did the whole class. “I guess he wanted it to know it’s not the only badass in the world.”
“We are going to have to put a swear jar in this dojo with you around, aren’t we?” Sensei said.
I apologized and Four Winds spoke up.
“I love Rayph. He is the best,” she said.
I turned to her, having only met her a moment ago, and I looked at her as if for the first time. “How do you know my son?”
I was trying to imagine how she was attached to the elementary school Rayph was in when she said, “My daughter really loves him, says he is really helpful to her. He has gotten her through a lot of tough lessons.”
Now I’m really confused. “Your daughter goes to school with Rayph?” I look like an idiot because my face is doing that thing faces do when you know you should be getting this but you are missing it completely. Sensei can help me out here, but he just folds his arms over his chest and watches it play out. The entire room is looking at me, waiting for me to get it, and it is just not coming.
“In this dojo,” Four Winds says. “They are friends in this dojo. He is a lot higher ranked than her but—”
“Oh,” I said. “I get it.” Now I’m an idiot and she smiles at me with that Oh… look… he is an idiot, I haven’t seen an idiot in a while look.
We start warming up, but I want to work with her to get to know her a little. She has an opinion about my son, so I want to see what kind of person she is. When I get a pad to punch and walk over to her, she takes it and looks at me.
“Don’t go easy on me just because I am a woman.” She has a bit of a snarl to her and I like it.
“Why would I? You look like you can handle yourself.” She is a white belt. I am a white belt, and I am Adam. Neither of us can really handle ourselves. If Shadow was here, Guardian, maybe Assassin. If Ronin were here, then yeah, they could handle themselves. And hell, maybe she can handle herself. Maybe she is a pit fighter who decided to make it official, I don’t know, but when we are commanded to start punching I give her damn near everything I have. She takes it with a smile and I realize she has been in this class for a while and not many people have respected her enough to give her a good hit.
Well, all decorum and gentlemanly qualities rush out the door. Guardian would be appalled if he could see me now. I am hitting her well and often. She gives me the pads and starts pounding on me. She can hit, and I take it and egg her on.
“Come on, hit the damn pad. Give me a good hit.”
She hits me with a bit of a growl.
“That’s good. Now kick my ass.”
“Language,” Sensei says.
“Got it!” we both yell out.
Within a few minutes we are running drills on each other and I am not shy about it. She is in a physical arena and she wants respect. I am going to give it to her.
We are doing crunches. There is a board at the front of the class and he has written ten different kinds of crunches. This cat knows ten different kinds of crunches. And he tells us we can do ten, fifteen, or twenty of six of them, then get a water break.
It’s a few weeks into our friendship and we are right next to each other. We are constantly trying to beat one another at all things, and we do the same crunches, the hardest ones. When we are done with our six, she keeps going. She is going to do twenty of all ten of them, and I can’t let that go without a challenge.
I hit her with one of Shadow’s favorites. He gave it to me when he was handing over everything. “Nobody likes you, Four Winds.”
She breaks apart. She laughs so hard I am sure she peed herself. “What did you just say?” she said to me.
“Truth,” I said. “And I finished first.” Went to get water.
Now before we go on, I realize I can’t just say what I have said and let that go, so I will give you Shadow’s hits as taught to me. “Nobody likes you.” “Did you ever get chopped in the neck?” And, “Fuck your mouth.” Those are the best ones he gave me, but he did not teach them all to me. I am sure he has some beauts hidden in there somewhere.
So, we are yellow belts now and we are being taught close quarters defense. We are learning the proper way to block a hit with our elbow. What we are blocking is another elbow, and we keep clashing on the very tips of the bone. Hurts like a bitch, but we can’t get it right and so we keep clashing. We are supposed to deflect the elbow and move it aside based on the direction it is coming from, but neither of us can tell the way the elbow is coming at us because we have been doing this for about three seconds. So here we are clashing elbows.
“Oww, fucker, that hurt. Fuck,” she snaps.
Then she hits me with that sharp elbow of hers. “Shit, fuck, what do you put in that thing? I hate you.”
Our assistant instructor tries to give us direction but we are pissed now, and we are just standing in the middle of a very well taught, very disciplined class in a very well-run dojo just purposely clashing elbows.
In the background we hear, “Language.”
He never gets tired of saying it, and no matter how badly we want to stop cussing, we just can’t. Her elbow is too damn hard and she is swinging that thing like she was sent to collect for a gangster and what we get is…
“Language.” Suddenly he is there, standing right beside us with that smiling muscled face and that disapproving look. “Do I need to separate you two?”
We are both in kindergarten now.
“It was him—” she snaps.
“Blame her. It is her fault. She made me—”
And he actually does separate us because he knows this is only going to continue.
She shocks the shit out of Iron Elbow when she grabs him by the collar for a drill. He is supposed to trap her grab, step toward her, and give her a chop to the neck, then a few other things. But when she grabs him, she growls at him, “Get over here, fucker.”
He shits himself and pulls away. Now, Iron Elbow is not a coward. But he did not expect that from her on his first day. He is getting a lot of things he never expected on his first day.
Me and Iron Elbow (take a guess how he got his name) are working on a drill, and in the drill I have to block his attack and kick him in the nuts. Now, we are all wearing groin guards and it will stun to get kicked there, but it won’t hurt any of us. I attack him and he does a kick to the groin that doesn’t make contact. But I am used to working with Four Winds.
“Go ahead and kick me in the nuts,” I tell him. With the way Four Winds and I train, it is almost an insult how he is not even making contact.
“I don’t want to kick you in the nuts because I don’t want you kicking me in the nuts.”
We are going to be doing this drill for a while, so I lean in with Shadow’s maniac leer and look him in the eye. “I’m going to kick you in the nuts over and over again.” I said it almost like a secret, almost like a lover.
He will never forget it. That was the moment he realized Adam was a little unhinged, and that was the moment he was both kinda scared of me and wanting to get to know me at the same time.
Iron Elbow became one of my best friends. He was first in line to sign up for the Goats the first year and swore he would be at every one after. He said I should start charging. And even dropped forty dollars in the tip jar the second year when I put one out.
Well, Four Winds and I met like six months before she and her husband got an offer they couldn’t refuse in Portland. They had so few friends in Springfield that they could not talk themselves into staying.
We talk often on Skype. She is a sister to me.
She came into St. Louis for a wedding one weekend and came to see us. Her husband slept. Her kids slept. She stayed up with me all night drinking whisky and listening to the madness I speak when I start to talk about my work.
Four Winds is a masterpiece of a person. There is only one of these, ladies and gentlemen. There is only one of these.
This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 3: The Keep.