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Short Story: A Wrestler's Solitude
Foreward: This story is NOT FUNNY. I repeat, if you are looking for a funny story, you have come to the WRONG PLACE. I hope very shortly to write two funny stories: "My Boyfriend Does Kung-Fu" and "Ninja Support Services." But this story is not meant to be humorous, but instead an exploration of confidence, discipline, hope, discipline, and achievment. Ignore the pretention of that last sentance, and focus on the story. Although, in the title I called it a "short story," which is slightly misleading.
A Wrestler's Solitude
By Uri Shatil
Moses was a good kid. He had always dedicated himself to his studies, and he had always done remarkably well in school. He had friends everywhere, was part of a middle class family, and attended a great public school system. He was now a Freshman in high school; luckily, the school he was attending didn't have a hazing process.
His friend Melquíades, a Sophomore now, had just been appointed captain of the wrestling team for the season, which was now one month in.
“Come on, man, you've gotta join the team. You won't regret it.”
“Didn't the season already start?”
“When has that stopped anyone?”
“No, dude, I don't want to come in like some asshat one month late, go to two weeks of practice and then try to compete. Didn't most of those guys wrestle in middle school?”
“It's fine, I'll show you through the basics before you come. You just need to join the team!”
So Moses did. He joined the team one month into the season, but only after Melquíades, or Mel, as he was more commonly known, had shown him some of the basic techniques. Stance, takedown, spawl, headlock, tight-waste-ankle, far-wrist-half, nearside cradle, and all of the basics.
After Mel had shown him some of those techniques, he already began to feel an unbelievable kind of power. He had never fought anyone in his life, never did any Karate or Kung-Fu or anything, and now he knew how to take someone to the ground. He showed some of his friends, who were impressed with his newfound skill. However, he had no idea what he was in for when he began attending practices.
Moses had never been a little very fit. He had played soccer as a child, and baseball, but he had never really been the athletic type. The wrestling team was known to have the second most intense training regiment of all the sports in the school. Every weekday but Wednesday was two and a half hours of grueling, intense practice. They stretched, then ran, then drilled. Moses vomited the second time he attended practice. When they learned new moves, he always trained with Mel; they were in the same weight class. Mel was the team captain and the varsity wrestler in his weight class.
Moses, even though he wasn't as fit or skilled as most of the other wrestlers, had only one occasion of Coach Cathcart becoming irritated at his lack of physical discipline.
“Moses?! What the Hell do you think you're doing lying down!?”
“I... I'm just... I'm just so tired from the warm-ups...”
“Well that's too bad, 'cus you just earned yourself ten sprints and four army crawls, down and back, go!”
Up until this point, the conversation and chastisement had been standard procedure. Everyone on the team had Coach Cathcart yell at them very often. But Moses's problem was that he refused to cooperate.
“I'm sorry, Coach, but I can't.” Moses was still lying on his back, panting.
“What do you mean, 'you can't!?'”
“I just can't run, Coach. I really just can't.” By this point, everyone had turned their eyes to Moses and the coach.
“Well, that's too goddamn bad, I guess. You can't run, you can't practice. Either run your sprints and crawls, or leave this room.”
Moses, without hesitation, got up and left the room, while the rest of the team practiced the crackdown series.
The next day, Moses was unsure of whether or not he should attend practice.
“I dunno, man, Coach seemed pretty pissed at you.”
“Man, **** Coach Cathcart. Does he realize that when he does that, he's humiliating people in front of their peers?”
“I think that's the whole point.”
“Man, **** you.”
“Hey, I'm just giving you your answers.”
“Really, man, **** you!”
“It's not my fault, it's Coach's fault. Go tell it to him.”
“I'll say it again. **** you.”
“But do you really mean it?” Coach Catchcart responded with a smile. “You know, you'd be surprised how many kids have said that to me over the years.” They were standing in the locker room, half an hour before any of the other team members were to arrive.
“Do you realize that you've humiliated me beyond belief in front of my peers?”
“That's the whole point.”
“Goddammit, don't you realize that that's a bad thing?”
“Hey, I'm just giving you my answers.”
“Don't you get that you're being a... a.... an asshole?”
“Listen, I overwork, berate, and chastise the team. It's really unpleasant, and the team dislikes it. But, under me, they've become a helluva team.”
This was true. They had become a great team, with kids placing in the state championship almost every other year. Moses continued attending practice, though the ridicule over his encounter with Coach Cathcart has taken some time to subside.
About a month after the encounter, there was a dual meet. They had already had several dual meets, but no singles tournaments. This one was special for two reasons; the first one was that they were facing their rivals, and the second one being that Mel had planned for Moses to wrestle in his place. Mel hadn't informed Coach Cathcart, and was only planning to do so at the very last minute.
They started by showing the lightest weight classes, and gradually rose through the ranks. Soon, it came to the weight class of Moses and Mel.
“I can't wrestle, I'm sending Moses in for me.”
“What?! What the Hell are you talking about?”
“Too late, Coach, I've already decided not to wrestle. There's Moses on the scale right now.”
“This is unacceptable. You and Moses are both gonna be punished for this.”
“Alright, you two, the meet is done and we lost. How do you feel?”
“Hey, Coach, in my defense, even if I wasn't pinned, and lost by points, we would still have lost. In fact, even if I had won by pin. No matter what they outcome of that match would have possibly been, we would still have lost.”
“That's not the point! You've disgraced the team! You've disgraced me!”
“How'd we disgrace the team?”
“Where to start is the real question! The fact that we send a month and a half wrestler with zero mat time against a varsity wrestler is bad enough! But the way you sprawl, the way you couldn't stand up, the way you gave him- gave him- a half nelson just makes it worse! The way you lost in thirty seconds! The way-”
Coach Cathcart had stopped talking midsentance. He completely froze. His anger subsided, and he relaxed in his chair.
Moses was wide-eyed and white in the face. He was struck by fear and self-doubt. His confidence as a wrestler was torn apart. All of the sudden, he went from sneaking into a dual meet to a worthless athlete who shouldn't even bear the title “wrestler.”
“Don't let it happen again. I expect to see you both Monday.”
Moses didn't compete in another event for the rest of that year. Coach Cathcart still treated him just like any other team member, as he had before, but Moses always had a greater fear of Cathcart than he had previously. He did keep practicing, though, and became more proficient in live practice. In the off-season, he went with the team and joined a club that practiced twice a week for an hour and a half, and practices weren't half as intense as they were before. He still didn't compete, but continued to become a better wrestler.
In Fall, he was a Sophomore on the Junior Varsity wrestling team. He still wasn't good enough to make varsity in his weight class, especially since Mel, now a Junior, was in the same class. He had grown significantly, though by practicing he had also lost a considerable amount of weight and hadn't moved classes.
One Friday, they were doing live practice, and Moses was paired with another Sophomore who had been wrestling for two years. He had wrestled live many times before, but this time, something happened, something very strange. They were to wrestle until a pin, or until two minutes. But for the first time ever, there was this strange occurrence that Moses only ever heard about in stories.
It was the first time he had ever pinned anyone. He did it with a high crotch, back trip, tight-waist-ankle, and farside cradle. Moses was amazed. He was awed at his own ability. He was so happy that he decided to buy some of his friends Mexican food.
They all sat there, in the restaurant, eating burritos and making conversation. Two people argued about the greatest Heavyweight of all time. Soon enough somebody, between bites of their free burrito, inquired as to why Moses had suddenly become so merry.
“Well, I pinned someone for the first time today.”
“That's great, man! You going to the singles tournament next month? First of the season.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I think I will. You going?”
“Dude, I'm team captain, I go to every tournament.”
The tournament came. The turnout was disappointingly low, and because the tournament was divided into experience and age, most people were caught in very small groups. Moses was one of them. He was in a three man round robin. He was incredibly nervous about his first match; he had never been out on the mat in a competition before.
“Listen, man, once you get out there, you won't have time to think about what to do. Most of the time, everything's gotta be done either by instinct, or by what the coach says. So listen to him, It'll help.”
“Do you think I'll do well?”
“Hey, don't worry about that. Don't worry about points. Just escape when you're down, and attack when you're on top.”
“Holy Hell, I won!”
“After the match, when the referee grabs your wrist, and holds it up in the air... that was a feeling that I've never felt before. It was like an orgasm of achievement.”
“Congratulations. Does this mean free Mexican again?”
“You bet your ass it does.”
He proceeded to lose his next match by pin, but he was still ecstatic. He bought himself two burritos, as an extra congratulation.
He continued to participate in tournaments throughout his sophomore year, holding a negative record, but still enjoying the sport more than he ever had before. He won some matches, lost more matches, and even participated in some of the exhibitions before dual meets while the Varsity team warmed up. He never won first place in anything, but continued to try.
During the off-season, Moses did more than just join the club his team joined. He actually raised enough money by working at a movie rental store to join an additional club. He still practiced four times a week. During the summer, he attended several training camps, and his skill escalated magnificently. He was in the last throws of his growth, but still grew enough to go up a weight class. He was in incredible shape, better than at any point in his life.
Thanksgiving came, and wrestling season started once more. Being in a different weight class than Melquíades now, he managed to get the varsity spot in his class. The team was amazed at the progression of his abilities. Once the tournaments came, he began wrestling incredibly well. In the first tournament of the year, they very one where he won his first match a year before, he took first place in an eight-man double elimination bracket. Being on the varsity team, he wrestled at dual meets and won more than half of his matches. Coach Cathcart was shocked at the sudden change in ability. Moses had gone from being just another team member to their most amazing spectacle in achievement.
There was a regional qualifier for the state tournament, where every team could send their best wrestler in every weight class. The Varsity team, which included Moses, went to the qualifier. Moses, weather by luck of the draw or by skill and power, took first place and qualified for the state competition.
The qualification created a sensation among his team, family, and friends. No other varsity team member had qualified, and though he was not team captain he became the de facto leader. Coach Cathcart held him on a pedestal as a gleaming example of discipline and skill. He held him as an example for all others to follow. Moses went out with his friends and bought them Mexican food once more.
He went to the state championship, from which only the top three wrestlers get a seed in the Nationals. He wrestled his hardest, and put in the greatest effort he possibly could. His family watched from the sidelines and cheered. His team had all come to watch the competition, and Coach Cathcart personally attended to coach him in the matches. In the end, he won second place, and qualified for the national tournament.
There was an impossibly huge amount of excitement in the team. For the first time in years, they were going to have a national wrestler. This time, Coach Cathcart bought the entire team Mexican food, which was no small bill. Moses trained every day, and Cathcart oversaw his training and they both put in extra time in to advance his ability.
He ranked fifth nationally out of one hundred and fifty.
His dream had been fulfilled. He had done something unthinkable. Everyone in the entire town was proud of him. He became a local celebrity at the age of seventeen. He was absolutely perfect for the position; he did well socially, he had a strong family, he got good grades, and he was a national top ten wrestler. Already, people began to talk about him attending the Olympic games, and where he would wrestle in college. Then the letter came.
He received a letter in the mail. When he read the return address, he was shocked. Upon opening the letter, he learned that he had been offered a partial scholarship to one of the most prestigious wrestling academies in the nation. He showed the letter to the team, to his family, and the response was the same. They were overjoyed that he would be attending such a prestigious academy. But Moses's own response was quite different.
“I can't do it.”
“Why the Hell not?”
“Until I qualified for the nationals, I was not a wrestler. Now look at me. The whole town thinks of me as their star athlete. I heard two people sitting in Starbuck's the other day talking about me going to the Olympics.”
“So? Everyone's got hope for you.”
“But it's not just that, Mel. It's... it's not what I want to do with my life. It's not the route I want to take.”
“Come on, man. What is it really? Are you scared?”
“Scared? Yes. I'm scared of a life with ten years of competition followed by thirty five of trying to pull cash from being a washed-up wrestler. And it's not like wrestling is a national sport.”
“You could change that.”
“Yeah, and I'd like to. But not in this lifetime. I'm living a normal life.”
“Normal life? What are you talking about?”
“I didn't phrase that right. Look, it's just not what I want to do.”
“When's the deadline for application?”
“I need to decide whether or not I'm doing this by October.”
“So you still have time to think about it.”
“It's a big step in my life.”
“A step in the right direction.”
“But that's what I don't know.”
It was that summer that Mel had gone in for a physical and they discovered the tumor in his brain. The tumor was in such late stages that there was no chance to cure it. Melquíades was going to die, and he was going to die soon. Moses, after coping with the news and overcoming grief, came to visit Mel very often in his hospital bed. Once, their conversation turned back to the letter.
“Have you decided yet?”
“About the Academy?”
“No, I still haven't decided.”
“Well, whatever you decide, make sure it's the good decision.”
Mel had taken to writing. He had a lawyer draft him a will, and in it, he stated that the contents of a large brown envelope were to be delivered to Moses twelve years after Melquíades's death. He took the writings he had compiled and put them inside the brown envelope. Moses heard about this, and assumed it was a letter intended to reveal something that he could not yet know. That September, Melquíades died.
The death had sent Moses into an unbreakable bubble of solitude. Suddenly, without warning, he went from being the perfect teenager and local celebrity to a dark and solitary figure. Wrestling season came, and he was unanimously elected as captain, but turned down the position. He turned down the scholarship he had received. He still went to dual meets and won almost all of his matches. He won first place in many tournaments, but never bought anyone Mexican food for anyone anymore. He hardly saw any friends, and the only people he really spoke to were his family. When the normal season ended, he did not come with them to the offseason club.
He had finished wrestling. He decided that for the rest of his life, he would never walk on the mat again or bear another singlet. Nobody knew about his decision. They only knew that he turned down the scholarship. They still held him in remarkably high esteem, they still talked about what he would do in college. They thought he had turned down the position as captain to let someone else step up to the plate, which was an act of true nobility. His family knew that in every college application he sent he had no intention of wrestling. But only he knew of the strong conviction he had inside him to never go back. Never coach a team, never even mention to anyone he meets that he was once the fifth greatest 145 pound high school wrestler in the entire country. He knew that only a few people would remember his name in ten years as long as he didn't wrestle again. All he wanted was to stay in his solitary shell, and never to be remembered.
He continued to perform well in school. He went to college and majored in English. He worked a white-collar job. At thirty, he was dating, though not married. He still remained the same solitary person he was before, and had remained true to his convictions never to wrestle again. None of his friends or acquaintances knew that he was once great, that he had the chance to do more than most people ever do. And then, taking Moses completely by surprise, the letter from Melquíades finally arrived.
He opened it to find two manuscripts, each one four pages in length and stapled, but bearing no indication of being any kind of letter. He read them, and learned that they were not letters, but stories. They were two very different stories, but they bore the exact same beginning. One was a story about a man who followed his ambitions and talents and lived an accomplished and happy life, and the other was about a man who ignored his abilities and lived a life of solitude and regret.
Afterword: Some of this story is based on my life, and elementary/middle school wrestling so far, such as joining the first year halfway through and losing, then winning my first match next year, and then becoming captain a third year. Most of it is not. Some is based on real people on the wrestling team at the high school in my town. Some is not. The town is meant to be Brookline, MA, where I currently reside, which explains all the talk about Mexican food. There are some symbols and parallels to other literature, for those of you who read.
Oh, and in case anyone doesn't get it... no, I didn't "rip off" Marquez, it's supposed to be a parallel, dickhead.