—He bucked.

—Let’s go.

I didn’t say anything because you don’t tell a bull rider who just bucked off a ton of twirling fury that you looked good while you were on it, but it was just that last split second before you bucked off you looked like a rag doll, or keep positive there, cowboy, you’ll have better luck next time, or not even Don Gay rode ’em all. Sometimes being there was just enough, but then sometimes being there was just the bare minimum.

I entered my senior year of high school fit and hungry for my final year of wrestling. I had committed myself to compete close to my weight of 165 lbs. at the start of the season. For once, I had some muscle and aimed to make the most of it and was going to manage my weight reasonably, competing at the 152 lb. class. Josh came to the preseason practices. After passing on his rodeo scholarship in Oklahoma, he had a few free months before his Mormon mission. He wrestled growing up but had played basketball in junior high and high school. He came to practice to roll around for exercise, and he knew I had been working hard in the offseason, so he encouraged me to fight my best. The first tournament approached, and coach called for the first wrestle-offs of the season to determine the varsity team. A sophomore challenged me for the 152 lb. spot and, to my surprise, took me down early in the match and, to my frustration, prevented me from scoring the rest of it, beating me.

I was beside myself sitting in the locker room where I ignored the coach’s consolation. I finished practice unresponsive to teammates. We left the gym in the pitch of darkness. Josh drove the yellow Chevette home in silence. I stepped out of the passenger side and Josh met me in front of the car and grabbed me and hugged me. I stood with my arms to my side and he squeezed me tight and didn’t let me go. I had been hugged before but not by someone in my family. If someone had tried, I would have punched him. I had been hugged by a woman in the ward at my mother’s interment. She grabbed me through a sea of people from where I had been standing, staring at my mother’s casket and the large purple rug underneath it, unsure my duty as pallbearer had ended as people started moving around after the ceremonial dedication. I thought I would be asked to help lower her into the ground. Pulling me through large bodies she told me she loved my mother, and that my mother had been one of her very best friends. Her large bosom pressed out all my breath and pushed the pin from the boutonniere into my chest. Only Grammie had hugged me before like that.

We left Cheyenne with plenty of daylight. A couple hours down the road an eighteen-wheeler semi truck pulled over and turned on its flashers. A small man jumped out of the passenger side and an average sized man jumped out of the driver side and ran around the front of the tractor at the small man who swung wildly. The men twirled around and around until the bigger man landed on top as we passed them. A few miles farther down the road there were belongings strewn across the median and the other side of the interstate. Cars had rolled off the road and a large Suburban sat in the middle with a man still draped over the steering wheel.

Jesse Elison grew up in Blackfoot, Idaho. He served a proselytizing mission for the LDS Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He studied at Brigham Young University, Harvard Divinity School, and University of Oregon. He lives in Missoula, Montana, and works as a corporate attorney. My Best Mormon Life is his first book. It can be purchased as an e-book and in print at Amazon.com.

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