Arm Wrestling With a Gorilla

by Natasha Vargas-Cooper

You found the gorilla, with its flinty human eyes and fatherly fists, to be intriguing. You would slip into its cage at night, after work, and you would arm wrestle. Your dad taught you some tricks that bested the gorilla.

The matches would go on longer than you wanted. We learned that it’s only over when the gorilla wants it to be.

I tried to coax the gorilla away with money.

Then I offered you money to fight off the gorilla harder.

Then I tried to reason with the gorilla but he simply turned his saddled sloped back to me. I pulled out tufts of his coarse silver hair with my fists but he only snorted and brushed a translucent louse from his foot.

Then I thought maybe if I encouraged you, you’d beat the gorilla. I demanded you go to lessons, training, a crossfit gym on Venice Blvd.

You went a few times then never again. You didn’t like the people. They tamed lions. Boxed rhinos. Kickboxed panthers. What did they know about arm wrestling with gorillas?

When you were hurt after the wrestling matches, I would scold you because I thought it would convince you to stop.

Other times I’d put my lips to hottest part of your green bruise and I’d tell you I would never leave until you killed that goddamned gorilla.

But there were nights, when the tricks your father taught you failed, that I rooted for the gorilla to obliterate you.

At some point, you were living full time with the gorilla.

I started vacuuming the cage.

Providing delicious snacks for the three of us to so we could all live in peace.

I bought a couch from West Elm to cheer the place up.

You and the gorilla became drinking buddies, singing Steve Miller songs and chucking rocks into the koala’s nests during the day. Then you would weep together, muffling your sobs into each other’s big shoulders. Sometimes the three of us would stay up late watching old movies and grooming each other.

But this made your arm wrestling matches more explosive, edged with the sentimentality and anguish that only brothers feel.

Sometimes when the gorilla was asleep, you would wake me up to arm wrestle.

We both drew blood. When my wrist was too sore and sprained I would sneak out of the cage to admire the giraffes with their grandmotherly eyelashes, and dumb, elliptical chewing. Their knobby legs balanced gently on the colonies of cord grass. I asked the giraffes if they knew how to beat a gorilla in arm wrestling. They did not answer but regarded me warmly with their black burning eyes.

I spent more time with giraffes and less time at the wrestling matches. Our couch was ruined and the cage had grown filthy from my lack of sweeping. You said you were angry, you could not beat the gorilla without me.

I stopped going to arm wrestling matches. I told the giraffes who I thought was winning. I was rooting for you. Who were they rooting for, I asked? They only lowered their colossal necks swirl their purple tongues in the shallow pools of water. I told them how I wanted to vacuum the cage and if they had any housekeeping tips but they just craned their strange faces up towards the sun.

One day I did not come back to the cage. I have bought a new couch and I sleep on it alone with my feet outside the blanket like I always do. I hope you won. Please find me when you do.

Photo by Willard

Never Better, a collection of essays from writers we love, is The Awl’s goodbye to 2014.