Blow Job

by Tyler McCurry

Illustration by Zia

Growing up, karate was my favorite thing in the world. At first I wanted to play soccer and I quickly joined a team when I was six years old that I was on for all of about a season before I was kicked off it for constantly shoving the other players, with only a tiny little participation trophy to show for it.

I have autism, you see, and I was always lashing out at people when I was little. As it turned out, karate was a good outlet for my aggression. When I was about ten my parents enrolled me in a little school called White Horse Chinese Fist Kempo and I can still remember seeing a flatbed truck with a disassembled fighter plane on the back of it on my way to my very first lesson. Sadly that and all the back issues of the Century catalog I used to read at home are some of my only memories of it. I gave it up when I was twelve and I have always regretted it.

I am certainly regretting it now. When I was taking karate I was in fine physical shape but now I am a pudgy 31-year old man with recurring PTSD, bad acid reflux and an occasionally gimpy neck. It doesn’t help that I have a very demanding nightstocking job that requires me to move heavy pallets and boxes around five nights a week for eight hours straight but has somehow not given me the pecs and six pack most men desire. I am certainly not where I thought I’d be by now, but at the same time, I could have easily wound up in military school or prison, so I can’t really complain too much.

Regardless, quitting karate is something that has always haunted me, even if I had a very good reason for doing so. In 2002, the year I quit, computers were not what they are today. Word processors were clunky white slabs of plastic that made hissing sounds when they were booting up and could barely run Solitaire on them. It is on one of these hunks of junk that my sensei, a registered nurse who only did this veritable blow job as a side hustle, asked me to write a research paper on the history of karate. This was a very tough ask for a twelve-year old boy who had never really written a proper essay before and could barely even make it out of his classroom without a lecture from the teacher. With no time to write this paper and no real means of doing it either, I unfortunately just let it go and walked away from the whole thing when I was in sixth grade. I had reached the rank of adult green belt by then and God only knows what I’d be now if I hadn’t given up on it and what it would have done for my confidence to be an umpteenth-degree black belt in a world ravaged by a pandemic where everyone’s getting dumber and scarier by the second.

I was damn good at it too, so good at it that I almost swept a regional sparring tournament. I got to travel to a very posh building for the competition and made friends with a girl about my age who was most likely a relative of one of the combatants who I never learned the name of. I never saw her again after the tournament was over, but I remember how we hung around the door to the building manager’s office in between bouts and banged on it and shouted at him from the hall to try to get him to come out. I was always doing stupid shit like that when I was young and it was one of the reasons I was in and out of the principal’s office constantly. Somehow I made it all the way to the finals of the tournament, where I was bested by a girl in my own class who cleverly kept one arm clutched to her chest to block my blows. This girl and her brother were two of my closest friends from karate and I couldn’t possibly recount all the times I slept over at their house or went over there for birthdays and parties. After junior high school we went our separate ways and I kind of lost touch with both of them up until a few years ago when one of them wound up being hired by the restaurant I’d been working at right before the pandemic started, spurning me on to send her a friend request on Facebook. Even before that, her mom and my mom had always been friends and still are, so it’s not like we had ever really drifted apart.

Spending nights at people’s houses and staying up late playing shooter games like GoldenEye 007 on the N64, games I was not allowed to play at home, was very foreign to me. It was hard for me to make friends in school and the scant friends that I did have could only stand so much of me. It is only because of karate that I was lucky enough to have whole groups of kids come to my birthday parties, which were always thrown at Jeepers, a massive indoor amusement park tucked away in a dark corner of a vast mall in Olathe called the “Great Mall of the Great Plains.” In its heyday it really was a great mall but over time it became a dilapidated hotbed of criminal activity and ended up being demolished a couple years ago, with only the Burlington Coat Factory that used to be in it standing in its place.

For taking second place in the tournament, I received a nice medal that I still have on my bookshelf, but I received an even nicer parting gift just before I quit karate. On a warm summer afternoon in 2001, I was told to go to Heritage Park, a nice little fishing spot just down the road from where I live in Olathe, Kansas, where my sensei presented me with a katana for being the most improved student that year. I had always wanted to hang it up and had even gotten a sword rack for it, but I never did and both the sword and the rack are sitting in my garage right now, which is a real shame. I did not watch the match itself, but when I heard that the gold medal karate match in last year’s Olympics ended when one of the two men was knocked out by a spinning roundhouse kick so brutal you could just hear Peter Griffin in the background saying “Roadhouse” as it happened, I had to wonder if one of the two competitors in the match, preferably the one that hadn’t gotten his face bashed in, could have been me if my life had panned out differently. Perhaps karate would have given me the courage to ask a girl out to prom when I was in high school, instead of spending those nights brooding at home with my Pokémon games. There were more than a few girls in high school who liked me and there is no doubt that one of them would have jumped at the chance to go to the prom with me if I’d worked up the courage to pick up a phone and ask one of them out. I have not seen any of these people since I graduated in 2008 and will probably never see them again, no matter how hard I look for them on Facebook. In retrospect it might not have been a very wise decision to become a lover instead of a fighter, my other justification for making the choice that I did, and transition away from the straight shooter I was as a kid in favor of becoming a reclusive bat who spends way too much of his time in the dark and tends to shy away from society. As much as I’d love to take another crack at it, that would require starting all the way up from the bottom again the way I did when I was ten and that is simply not possible for a pasty and flabby dude who is now in his early thirties. I feel like I would only go back to it at my age if I thought the world had become so unsafe that I would need to know karate to survive in it, a scenario that seems more and more plausible as of late. If I had the technology I have now and the writing acumen I currently possess, I probably wouldn’t have ever given it up in the first place, but I am not the kind of person who dwells on the past.

At the moment, life is good. I have a full-time job with the Hy-Vee #1 store in Olathe that pays a decent salary, a warm bed to sleep in and a great support system. In place of karate, I took up writing as a teenager and actually stuck with it and now I have a few publications to my credit as a result. Even though I struggled to get through elementary school and high school, I successfully circumnavigated college and earned a bachelor’s degree in literature, language and writing for my troubles. Thankfully karate is still the only thing I’ve ever quit.

I don’t really know what I could have been. I’m just happy to be what I am.

Tyler McCurry is a 31-year-old author from Olathe, Kansas with a passion for food, family and fun. His work has appeared in Davega Bicycle, Aphelion Webzine, the JCCC literary magazine Mind’s Eye, the University of Kansas literary magazine Coal City Review, Grand Little Things and Fleas on the Dog.

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