I won’t go into half-nelson and full-nelson holds or a reverse suplex wrestling jargon mostly because I don’t know any wrestling jargon beyond half-nelson, full-nelson and reverse suplex. I will say I had the opportunity to taste the varying degrees of salted flavor a wrestling mat has. Years of sweat, blood and tears soaked up by those glorified sponges. The memory of being flipped over her leg, face first in the mat doesn’t bring back memories of pain, but plastic, salt and bile.
I’m going to give it straight: I got my ass kicked by Liz. The first round I told her I’d go easy on her.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” I said, doing my best to scare her into submission, which was about as effective as my actual wrestling prowess. “So I’ll just use the moves I learned in the last three days.” She didn’t know that was the entirety of my move set; that I spent three days listening to the dial up modem of our computer while googling wrestling moves and techniques, but she didn’t need to know that.
We got into our wrestling positions, head to head, breath to breath, when another student threw a theatrical hand downward, signifying the start of the match. She threw a hand behind my neck, outstretched a leg and tossed me over it. I hit the mat, the air punched from my lungs, face to face with the hours of sweat, grim and skin in the mat. It’s the closest I had ever been to someone of the opposite sex, and I can’t help but feel like it did some irreparable damage when it comes to physical trust.
I tried fruitlessly to fight. I was no more a match for this woman than a butterfly is to a praying mantis. She was too well equipped. Too fast. Too small. And a woman. I had a hard time finding places to put my hands, terrified I’d touch something and be labeled a pervert. Instead I simply went for the back of her neck, the only place I could grab onto, without feeling a pang of adolescent awkwardness or uncertainty. Yet all that did was bring her closer, when really I wanted to get away. I danced around the small ring like a boxer burning the round’s clock away.
Best-two-out-of-three became best-three-out-of-five which rapidly turned to best-twelve-out-of-twenty-three. I didn’t take one round off of her, though I could feel her take hours off my life: with every slap against the mat I felt the crowd look at me like a sickly bison. Easy target, small enough to stuff into a locker, head the perfect size for underwear.
Finally, after my face had hit the mat three or four hundred times, Coach Stone called us all in. We gathered in a circle, all kneeling around him. Once we were paying attention, he went about talking strategy. Calling students up so that he could show us what this move looked like or how this technique was done. Every time he’d talk about a new move, my heart would skip a beat, I’d hide behind the nearest senior and hope he didn’t call on me.
Because, frankly, Mr. Stone was a big dude with years of wrestling experience, and he didn’t pull any punches. It was the equivalent of me wrestling two year olds: hopelessly under developed in every way. He’d call a student, they’d rise from their kneeled position and move up to the front, faces stoic and unmoving, despite the pain they were about to endure. Human sacrifices, all of them. Marching towards their doom willingly. Once they got up to them, he’d reach out and grab them behind the neck, or the leg or around the waist, never stopping his speech.
“The goal of this move is to reach—“ he wraps an arm around the student’s waist – “around them and get in a position where they can’t retaliate.” Coach Stone would talk as if they weren’t there or if their life mattered little, the same way a Chef talks about boiling crabs alive, never breaking eye contact from his viewers before tossing the living thing into the scalding waters.
“Once you get there, dig that chin into their shoulders.” The wrestler winces, as the man with a neck the size of a tree trunk digs in with full force. “Then, you lift and turn. But make sure not to throw them over your shoulder, you can break their necks that way.”
I wasn’t positive, but I was pretty sure I heard a small whimper from the student just before the full grown man threw the kid around like a sack of potatoes. He performed the move perfectly, or least what looked perfectly, finalizing the technique with a flip and pin. Always to completion.
“And that’s how it’s done.” Coach Stone says, getting up from the student, who stays on the mat for a little too long. “Who wants to practice?”
A hand shot up, outstretched above a tight ponytail of brilliantly blonde hair. Liz walked up to the front and stood triumphantly in front of all of us.
“Perfect, alright now all we need is someone of similar size…” Coach Stone thinks aloud, peering into the crowd. I employed my very best tactic to be unseen, ducking behind heads by pretending to tie a shoelace, holding my breath and willing my heart to stop its deafening beating.
“Where is he… ah yes. Nick, why don’t you come up here?”
Looking up from my shoes, I expect to see Coach Stone wearing a black bag or executioner’s mask. The crowd turns towards me, did they know I was trying to avoid this? Had they seen me cowering in the corner at the might of this small girl? I walked forward, the crowd looking upon me, step after step on my journey up cavalry hill.
“Before we get started, let’s take a moment and give Liz a hand. She’s here a year early, and still finishing up at the Middle School.” The crowd claps and it dawns on me why she looked so familiar. She was a year below me, I’d seen her, in band class of all places, the years before but that environment and this were too much of a juxtaposition for me to place two and two together.
She smiles and says her thanks. The Coach says for us to get into our wrestling stances, which I know is fruitless, its only delaying the inevitable.
When he throws his arm down, she reaches around my waist, digs a chin into my shoulder and flips me over the side of her shoulder with perfect finesse. Arms flailing, legs kicking, I go wide eyed into the mat behind us.
We hit the mat at the same time and without a second of reprieve she’s on top of me, flipping me over, and pinning both shoulders down. I would fight back, if I was some sort of super human, but I’m not. I’m a 4’11”, 100lb kid with a large set of front teeth where my affectionately given names of Beaver and Woodchuck were given to me by bullies in Middle School. Instead, I lay there and take it, willing the seconds to be over.
“Perfection!” Coach Stone yells. “That there, boys, is how it’s done!” He claps Liz on the shoulder, greeting her with a large, ecstatic smile. “Alright, that’s enough for the day, strip down and meet back here in five minutes.”
I got up slowly from my resting place, still desperately trying to fill my lungs with air. The boys all get up and move towards the locker room on the left, while Liz goes by herself to the girl’s locker room.
Could she be convicted of manslaughter once the officials found my body stuff into a locker? She had after all pinned me as the weakest, making me a target for the hordes of larger boys in the locker room and (unknowingly?) sown my destruction. I wondered if the coaches were part of a scheme set forth by my parents. Perhaps they wanted only two children, so they got the coaches to lie that I’d be good at this sort of sport. Once they got me here, they sent the female, 8th grade version of the T-1000 Terminator out to rewrite their future.
I winced as I moved out of the gym and towards the boy’s locker room. Waiting for the thirty devil grins that would greet me when I opened the door: toilet bowls and trash cans brandished and ready for blood.