I was never a particularly athletic child. For some godforsaken reason, my sociopath of a kindergarten teacher gave our class tests in skipping (as in, "to my Lou") and I failed them countless times before giving up. Were the 90s a more litigious time, I surely would have pressured my parents into suing the school district for the distress these episodes inflicted upon me. I hated gym and would come up with any excuse I could to get out of running a mile, doing pushups, or (I grew up in California, please forgive me) performing yoga. If I could have smoked in the quad while watching the parade of physical fitness unfurl before me, I surely would have. It would've made a nice slow-motion Wes Anderson montage. If I were in one of his movies I surely wouldn't have had to worry about something as mundane as PE credit.
Life, unfortunately, is not a Wes Anderson picture. And my juvenile lungs weren't developed enough to support the carcinogenic weight of big-boy cigarettes. Instead, I embraced my role as the insubordinate who sleepwalked her way through the 30-minute mile. The mediocre grades I consistently received in PE were anchors that weighed down my otherwise spotless academic record. Nevertheless, I refused to use my body to its full potential, which is the reason I was what they call a "husky" youth.
And yet, in spite of it all, I have a bronze medal in wrestling, which now languishes in the dark recesses of my mother's garage. Why, you ask, did I don a singlet and step onto the mat, risking ringworm or – even worse – mockery from my peers? The answer's simple: My father, a former teen Olympian, coached it. As he was the "cool" (emotionally distant, yet non-judgmental) parent in my soon-to-be broken household, I craved his approval. So when he asked if I had any interest in learning how to wrestle, I eagerly acquiesced. If anything, I'd be able to find a safe outlet for the all-encompassing rage his genetics had instilled in me.
I was husky, as I mentioned, yet still small in frame. At four-foot-something and with a weight in the double digits, I resembled an Olsen twin suffering from an intense allergic reaction. Stuffed into a singlet, I did not cut a foreboding figure. The sport wasn't about intimidation, though. It was about raw, unfiltered aggression and physicality. I definitely had the aggression down. The physicality, though? Not so much.
I watched, with keen interest, as more learned grapplers demonstrated the fundamentals to me: takedowns, breakdowns, controlling ties, pin manoeuvres. I can do that, I thought. As an otherwise powerless girl child, the idea of physically overpowering another living thing appealed to me. I quickly learned, however, that exerting such power was easier fantasised about than done.
I'd practice the moves, over and over, on a filthy mat in the high school gymnasium. Sliding on my knee toward a phantom crotch, I was ready to pop back up like a jack in the box and knock my opponent to the ground. Every time an actual opponent materialised, though, I'd invariably be the one knocked to the ground. I wrestled boys. I wrestled girls. I wrestled anything, and everything, remotely within my weight class. I failed every time.
And I was running out of time. The state finals were coming up and I, to use some wrestling terminology, sucked. The technical explanation for this was, I fucking sucked. Had I any body strength or muscle mass to speak of, I might have had a fighting chance. Instead, I had a crippling addiction to individual slices of American cheese and a capacity for lethargy rivalled only by the clinically depressed.
Nevertheless, I still signed up to compete in the finals. You can't lose without trying, after all. It was an excuse to finally go with my father to one of the matches that dominated his weekends, to schlep out to the butthole of California (somewhere in Stockton), and spend an afternoon listening to grown-ass men scream, "Half nelson! HALF nelson!" at children in a horrific smelling gymnasium.
I didn't know what was going to happen, but I knew it wasn't good. I also knew I was hungry as hell, having fasted all day to be as lithe as possible for weigh-ins. The only thing I had to look forward to was the Burger King my father promised me as a reward, which I ate ravenously and emotionlessly afterward. The Whopper I consumed that night was wholly undeserved, which is probably why it tasted so good.
After a sleepless night spent visualising my defeat in the shared bed of a roadside motel, the big day arrived. I donned my borrowed singlet and ill-fitting Asics and awaited the inevitable.
My first opponent brutalised me quick, fast, and in a hurry. With the second, I put up more of a fight – and by "fight", I mean "circling and circling, in an impotent attempt to tire her out". But because she was an actual athlete, she did not tire out. With one deft maneuver, she scooped me up and threw me on my back like she was plucking an out-of-shape fish from a stream with her bare hands. After a quick, humiliating count, I was dunzo. As the ref held up her arm in celebration, I knew my career as an easily pinnable preteen was over.
At this point in the story, you may be asking yourself, Wait, I thought she said she got a bronze medal? Doesn't that mean she was pretty good? GREAT question. Here's the answer: There were only two other girls in my weight class. I came in third, a.k.a. last. The medal I won was just as undeserved as the Burger King I ate the previous night. Its falseness, its meaninglessness, mocked me daily from the position from which I hung it on the mirror in my bedroom. It reminded me of the injustices that surrounded me on a daily basis, and the futility of trying. I hated looking at it, because I knew how ill-gotten it was. But I loved hating myself, so I looked at it constantly.
I still wrestle from time to time, but exclusively for sexual purposes. I'm like Andy Kaufman, but, y'know, alive. I still lose every time. But now it doesn't really bother me all that much.
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