“Pick your battles, son.” My grandfather was 86 when he said that to me. “Pick very few and only pick one’s you’re likely gonna win.” His skin was waxy, sallow and spotted. Arms as thin and knobby as his bamboo cane and always wearing his WWII Veterans baseball cap. Too large for him by then, it slid over his eyes. It was covered with marks of rank or valor or I was never sure what.
“I was an old man before I figured that out,” he said. “Too late to do me much good.” Not long after, he passed. If he had fought too much or if he had lost too much I never really knew.
* * *
Benny doesn’t throw knockouts but what he throws he throws a lot. One after another after another with the ferocity of whiskey. He throws them until somebody drops, sometimes him. He throws them over women, over respect, over nothing. He throws and he throws. When he wins he sneers. When he loses he smiles through busted lips. Tall and lean, he looks more like a marathon runner than a barroom brawler. “Fight every fight like it’s your last,” he tells me.
Benny is my friend, I love him regardless. Still, I always wonder if he only follows the first half of his advice, if all he wants to do is fight every fight.
* * *
For a long time after my mother left, Dad was a mess. He sat in his armchair and drank scotch. First, on the rocks and then, as the nights wore on, straight from the bottle. He cursed, whimpered, stared holes in the wall. He blamed my mother, himself, God in heaven. He tugged at his beard and mused on and on about what might have been. “Boy,” he said to me. “Fight the good fight. Always fight the good fight.” And most nights, for months and months, Dad fell asleep in that armchair, woke up in that armchair.
Dad got over it, people tend to do that. And likely he doesn’t remember those nights too well. Likely he doesn’t remember much of what he said. But me, I remember and I have my doubts that he ever fought a goddamn day in his life, good fight or bad.
* * *
I picked some battles. Sometimes I didn’t have any other choice, most times I didn’t look for any other choice. Beaten and bloodied, literally and figuratively and every other way too. The good one’s are never easy and if you fight every fight like it’s your last, it never will be.
I fought for other people’s reasons, on other people’s terms. At times I fought to win, at times I only fought to fight. What I’ve come to know is this: when something’s worth fighting for, fight for it. And when something’s worth fighting for, don’t lose.