As a boy, I used to wrestle other boys in singlets made of nylon and silk. At first, I was too soft, had skinny arms, a gut, and ankles that popped at every practice. The team had a trainer and she would wrap my ankles in tape, holding them like they were cracked eggs. I’d bleed on her while she cleaned the inside of my lip, torn by the metal wires of my braces.
Manny would beat the shit out of me every day. “You like that, little beaner,” he would grunt into my ear as I slobbered over his swelling forearm muscles wrapped around my head. Whenever Manny and I wrestled the trainer would take her medical kit and stand next to us. I can still see her wincing as Manny tossed me around the mat, choked me, and bloodied me up. He was senior, I was freshman, and we both wrestled at hundred and thirty-five pounds.
After Manny graduated, I didn’t see him for a while. Then one October afternoon, Manny strolled into the gym, and asked Coach Charlie Brown if he could workout with the team.
Little balls of muscles had grown in my calves and biceps. My shoulders had expanded like the wings of a desert hawk. I had spent the summer at the YMCA, burning off my baby fat. I felt mean and hungry.
The coach paired Manny and I up for grappling drills. Manny hit me with his shoulders and pushed his arms under my armpits. He chuckled as he pushed me back into the wall. After the warm-up drills, the coach had us wrestle our partners. Manny and I shook hands, a customary tradition meant to civilize the brutality of two boys wrestling. Make no mistake, after that whistle blew, we are at each other’s throats.
Manny grabbed at my neck and tried to muscle me down. I had learned from a video of wrestling techniques how to duck under and toss a human. Lord knows that Coach Brown, a Mormon by faith, had tried to teach us how to wrestle. However, prior to his first year as a wrestling coach, he had coached women’s volleyball, a far more vicious sport despite the lack of head locks.
I grabbed at Manny’s neck, but I didn’t pull with force. I knew this would provoke a hard tug on his part, a show of dominance. It was in that moment that Manny, and most opponents I would later wrestle, would over compensate to prove that they were stronger than you. In those few seconds Manny had lost his balance. I ducked under him, pulling him over my shoulders and flipping him behind me. His face hit first, smacking against the neoprene mat.
I spun around, jumped on his back, wrapped my arm around his neck and anchored my legs around his thighs. He looked back at me, and was about to say something but I drove my shoulder into the base of his skull and pushed his face into the mat. “Take that you fucker.” His neck folded over my wrist, which I held against his Adam’s apple. He squirmed and gasped for air. Then he tapped my shoulder, he was submitting. I pulled on his neck tighter. I needed a kill.
“You like that, you little beaner,” I whispered into his ear.
The coach came over and tapped me on the side of my ribs. Coach Charlie Brown knew what was going on. He had seen Manny beat me up and toss me around the gym for an entire year, and Coach Brown had convinced me that the abuse, dished out by Mike, would make me a better wrestler. I lost every match that first year.
My trembling busted lip bled on Manny. At the sight of the blood, I raged, shaking Manny’s head and thrashing it into the mat. The coach blew the whistle but I was beyond whistles and rules at this point. If that fat Mormon, Charlie Brown, wanted to stop me, he would have to get down on the mat with me.
When I finally let Manny go his face looked like a bruised tomato. He puffed and wheezed with each breath, and sat at the edge of the mat, with his back towards me. After a few minutes, he raised his hand for me to help him up. I paced behind him like a caged animal. I wanted more. Coach Brown lifted him up. I called Manny a pussy.
Manny stuck around for a few more drills, he never partnered with me again. Half way through practice, he said he had to go, he had 3rd shift at El Paso Paper Box.