This was supposed to be about fall. And it was supposed to be funny.

I began this essay one evening while sitting on the porch. It was dark and cool, and the feel of the season hit me with its full force. When this happens, as it often does, I am taken back in time to when fall for me meant running with bricks in my hands.

This was a training technique to prepare for the upcoming wrestling season by building up my wind and my arms at the same time. Running with bricks in your hands is hard work. The biceps stay tight the entire time and if the run is a long one, by the end there is the sensation that the arms are more like lead weights. To lift them at all is nearly impossible.

But I was young once and loved to push myself as far as I could. I always ran at night through the streets of our New Jersey town and the air seemed to conjure up ghosts at every turn. As the season deepened and the leaves fell, the crunch of nearly every footstep seemed to echo outward as if to say, watch out, this kid means business.

I was 17 and some nights, after carrying the bricks and then finishing with wind sprints, I still wasn’t tired enough. My heart felt so huge that I turned around and started the run again, from Belmont to Mountain avenues, then running parallel along Route 22, where cars were headed east, perhaps to New York city, my future home, but not even in my imagination yet. My world was contained then to New Jersey towns, those nearby and the ones further away where opponents lurked. I knew those kids by name from the newspaper, wrestling camps and summer tournaments: Melchiore, Jacoutot, Monize, Kelly.

I can still see those boys, men now I suppose, but always 17 in my mind, lean and strong and waiting for me.

And this is where the story turns. It was supposed to be about a moment a few years ago when I became so fixated on my past life that I decided to try it again. I pulled up a few bricks from the walkway and ran off into the night. And it felt so good that I wanted more and decided to go back to the mat, to visit my old high school and join the team for a practice. I had planned to describe the practice room, and what it felt like to return to the battlefield of my youth as a grown man. And I wanted to write about a boy I wrestled that day, a skinny kid who was quiet at first but then as we sweated together opened up about his life. That’s the thing about wrestling, perhaps the best thing. The sport is so primal, you beat up or get beaten up, that bonds are formed quickly, even among competitors. But this is where real life intruded on this jog through the past.

The day after I started this essay an old wrestling friend from New Jersey sent me a link to an article about a boy who had just died of a heroin overdose. The boy was a former wrestler, a great one who had once been a New Jersey state champ and then went to Harvard. His name was Danny Kelly, he was 25 years old, and he was the oldest son of one of my former adversaries. Actually, his father, Chris Kelly, was my main competitor, appearing out of nowhere my senior year. He was a stud from western Jersey who moved to the town next to mine that year, and gave me my first regular season loss in three years.

I can still remember that night as clearly as if it happened this morning. Afterwards I shaved my head and doubled my evening training, running more miles with more bricks, and in a tournament at the end of the season I beat Chris in overtime.

From time to time, I have thought about Chris, this boy who occupied my every waking moment for one full year of my life, and then I never saw again. The images of those days come back for a visit at the oddest of times, without warning or fanfare. Perhaps on a run or driving the car when a certain song comes over the radio, or wrestling with my kids in the living room or backyard. My heart will quicken and no matter what I am doing I will become 17 again, running through the streets of my hometown late at night, feeling so strong and free it is as if I can almost fly.

After I read about Danny’s death I left the office and went for a walk. I didn’t want to imagine too much because in truth I know nothing about him except for a few newspaper clippings of when he wrestled and then this last article. It was Chris I was with on that walk, a fellow father whose grief I could not fathom. I have not seen or spoken to Chris in over 30 years, and I have no idea what he even looks like now. So I thought of him as he was, with thick red hair and dressed in his wrestling warm ups, trying to break a sweat before one of our matches. Back then our problems barely extended past the confines of a wrestling mat.

When I arrived home that night, my plan was to hug my own children and tell them how much I loved them. But instead I got into an argument with Hardy over something small that escalated out of control until we were both yelling at each other, and then he ran to his room in tears. This scene seems inconceivable to me, even more so now that I am writing it down, and yet it happened because I was scared.

Hardy is 10 and Pickle is six, and right now the issues my wife Cathlin and I have to deal with are still very small. But I know this will not always be the case. As parents we carry the weight of our children our whole lives, hoping we have done enough to protect them, but also knowing that so much is out of our control. Danny was an athlete and an Ivy Leaguer, and certainly didn’t fit the profile of someone who would die of a drug overdose.

I went to sleep early that night, feeling so confused and awful about fighting with Hardy that I wanted to disappear. The next day I wondered how to tell him that every time I look at him I am overcome with love and worry, and that I travel back in time to when he was a baby and then forward to when he will become a man. Parenting in the present is a crowded place, with so many memories of the past and fears of the future blocking the way.

I knocked on his door, walked into his room, and sat down on his bed. I began by apologizing and then trying to explain that fathers are human, too, and that I was upset and sad over something that had nothing to do with him. He shrugged and nodded and told me I had been kind of frightening the night before. Then he made a joke and began walking toward the door as if to say, okay dad, good talk, we’re done now. I wasn’t ready to let him go, but I didn’t know what else to say.

“Hey,” I said. “Want to wrestle?”

We began doing some moves, arm drags and duck-unders, fireman’s carries and single leg take-downs, laughing and having fun. And while Hardy thought we were just wrestling, with every move I was hugging him and holding on to him. And although I knew it was impossible, wishing I would never have to let him go.