The two little boys stood, staring at each other, their faces firm – stern, hard, laced with anger.  Their fists raised before them – small bald hands with knuckles staring out of them.  One had his thumb tucked in his fist – that was the wrong thing to do.

I should know.  I was one of the boy’s fighting.

Often us boys would play a game – this was back in the days of the ‘hood.  I don’t know what to call it except simply choking.

It’s been on my mind for a bit of time, so I’m going to write about it.

 

The two boys stood – this was another time, same place.   The teenager stood nearby, the other kids a loose ring – about seven of them, ranging in age from 3 to 12 years old.  They were my ‘audience’ – or theirs, my teenager and his friends.  My best friend and I, facing off one more time.  It seems like we were always facing off and fighting, trying to prove who was tougher than the other.  I always won, time after time.  But not in this one.  Not always.  Or at least I don’t think so.  It’s hard to remember those kinds of things sometimes . . .

I grabbed him around the neck with both hands – I can still see his sandy curly locks as he threw his head back, tightly smiling, instinctively protecting his features – broad brimmed face with wild cat green eyes – it was as if there was something feral behind them and pinpoint pupils from the bright Georgia sun.  At the same time he was opening up his neck, I grabbed him double-handed, placing both thumbs on opposite sides of the slender arching bulge of his windpipe, taking care to at least place the first joint of my thumb beyond it.  At the same time he grabbed mine in a similar grip – and I let him.  This was what the teenager told us to do.  I was about eight years old.

He started squeezing tighter and tighter as I tightened my grip.  You weren’t allowed to do it all at once – you had to do it slowly.  It was important that the thumbs remained wrapped completely around the throat – on both sides of the windpipe.  We didn’t want to take the chance of crushing someone’s windpipe – we already knew the consequences.  At least one kid had faced disaster – his windpipe crushed in.  The thumb joints, properly aligned, were where one could crush, squashing the throat below the windpipe and in the esophagus region.  This insured no one was crushing someone else’s cartilage.

How I knew that I did not know.

We would stand there stiff legged – this happened several times; not once but many through my childhood – our fingers wrapped around each other’s throats, both of us tightly grinning – an evil grin and a vicious one, but without any real malice towards our friend – squeezing tighter and tighter until someone would pass out.

The first few times I got knocked out, or at least very blank and dizzy.  There comes a time when the darkness rushes in from the edges of your vision, narrowing it down.  Outside sound becomes muted; your heart beat a dull thud in your ears . . . one that seems to grow even slower and fainter and then even it disappears, and you lose all taste and vision . . .

and you wake up on the floor.  Or the ground.  Or wherever you ended up landing.  And hope you didn’t get hurt.  (Once I fell out on a paved road . . . and woke with road rash and bruises all over my knees, elbows and hands.  At least the body had tried to catch itself . . . I don’t remember a thing.)

I won’t go into the mental aspect of knowing you are dying.  That’s a different sort of thing.

Sometimes my friend and I played with nobody watching – ‘practicing’ out in the yard.  You weren’t supposed to do that – someone could get hurt, the teenager had warned us many a time, adding that someone could die from this thing.  But on the other hand he was the one who had set the Games up . . . one of several kinds.

I learned you could hyperventilate prior to this ‘event’ to prepare – filling your body with essential oxygen until your head was swimming from the stuff – and then going right into the ‘fighting’.  I could outlast many an opponent that way – strangling him while he strangled me until someone gave up or went down.

It was a hell of a game to play.

It went on until we were about ten or eleven – by that time we were getting a bit dangerous with it.  We would hang on even though we were dying, or passed out sometimes – our hands unconsciously locked down like claw vises.  Then the teenager would have to pry them apart . . .

It was a hell of a game.  In many ways.

 

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