Running into my office after school Burke says, “Ok if we’re going to do this let’s get it done I got shit to do.”
“Woe, what’s the hurry? Have a big date?”
“I have a life. I don’t spend every hour at work like you.”
Stripping out of his clothes he puts on a pair of dirty shorts and shirt lying in the corner. He grabs a pair of old shoes from a box in my office and walks out.
I like to sweat and get my joints warm when I wrestle so I pull on my long sleeve sweat shirt over a long sleeve t-shirt and step into a pair of sweatpants with holes in the knees. I grab my shoes from under my desk and slide them on, keeping the laces undone and loose like a pair of slippers. I look at the wall in my office and remind myself to stay positive.
I smile and say to his picture on my wall, “Today I break you.”
Jr WorldTeam Trial is less than two weeks away and he needs to be ready.
Burke could care less about sweating so he dresses lite but he likes to compete and win so he’s here because of that so am I.
As we walk into the dark, warm wrestling room he says, “Practicing with you sucks you’re too fat. I should be outside enjoying the sun.”
I mumble something about paying a price or not being lazy that he doesn’t hear nor cares too. We never turn the lights on during these workouts. I don’t know if we are afraid the light will expose what we are truly thinking or we simply like the diffused natural light that enters through the upper windows and the subsequent ambiance.
He’s been coming to this room with the purple mats, padded walls and smell of sweat since he was six. It’s a hard room, a room filled with tears and the brutality of combat but it’s also where we could forget our differences for an hour or two. A place where nothing else mattered but wrestling.
“We will go for an hour straight, start off drilling and work into live.” I say. “Let’s just jog to warm-up for 15 minutes and then go live.” He offers.
“How about we drill for 10 and then build into live.”
“Whatever, let’s just get it done with.”
“I’ll be the coach you be the wrestler ok?”
He starts to jog, rolling his shoulders I follow suit just behind him. None of his high school teammates are willing to come today so by default I’m his partner. It’s tough to find partners when the sun has finally clawed through the Western Washington cloud deck in what seems like months. At 42 years old I’m again his partner. When he was a toddler we would fake wrestle on the living room carpet. Much has changed since then. I no longer tickle him after rolling in each other’s arms and he doesn’t giggle in delight.
We stop jogging and face each other. He groans as I reach out and put my hands on his shoulders leaning into him. His arms react by coming up inside mine controlling my biceps pushing and then pulling. I move with him as if we are doing some rudimentary waltz.
We take turns taking each other to the mat than bounce back to our feet only to return again in a different way. This is give and take applying the right amount of resistance and look. Even though I have been wrestling since the same age as when he started this isn’t easy. I don’t worry about making it physically through an hour practice I worry about making it through mentally.
He needles me wanting to make me pay for having him come in and practice on a beautiful spring day. I could say ‘fuck it” and let him go but I trudge ahead holding him accountable. I think he said he wanted to be a champion not me. As we drill he delivers a constant critique.
“Jesus, that’s not how you do it. Don’t do it if you’re not going to do it right.” He scolds me. A year ago that would have been me saying the same thing. Just past his senior season in high school he feels license to talk shit. Something he has perfected to bring about the quickest degree of irritation in me. The ten minutes of drilling I worked so hard to convince him to do has quickly eroded into full live wrestling. He scores the first mental takedown before we have even started. If he can for this small period of time minimize me to something other than his dad or coach or the guy in charge he has gained precious personal freedom. Our relationship now is so much about control.
I try to get my grip on him as he tries to dissect me like a surgeon. Our style of wrestling mirrors our relationship, me wanting to keep some kind of grasp and he staying away moving and sticking. Everything he does I taught him I know him as well as he knows himself. My composure gets him irritated as he slaps my ear. Like a bull I put my head in his face and stalk forward. He punches me in the shoulder bouncing away. I plod ahead squaring my stance and lowering my center of gravity.
“Are you too slow and old to shoot on me?” He laughs like a gambler who thinks he beat the house.
“Oh, tough guy wants to punch me?” I taunt back.
“It’s wrestling don’t be such a baby.”
Now it’s about pride he has taken us here. I have taken us here. We are both suckers for foolish pride. I will give up takedowns to him, some charity some earned but never will I let him not be my son.
So much of this is pomp and some is just salt we pour on each other’s self-imposed wounds. Now, I laugh thinking how irritated he is. I am now under his skin, not my seventy pound weight advantage or my old man’s strength but my patience and composure has slowly slid into his psyche.
Shoving him on his heels he backs up continuing his stream of shit talk. He shoots low under my outstretched arms. I sprawl and land on him causing him to grunt. Before I can spin behind he circles back to his feet.
“Why don’t you do something other than try and fat me?”
“Why don’t you stand your ground and fight?” I say trying to force my will. I want to keep him here in my control for a while make him pay for all the talking and the attitude. But what I really want to do is make him work and just be close to him. I want to laugh with him and talk about wrestling with him like we used to when he was in fourth or fifth grade and begged his mom to bring him to practice right after school got out. I also want to make him deal with the strength the pressure of a 200 pound man. I also don’t want to lose him to all the things outside these walls? Our sweat drips down our foreheads as our chests heave for oxygen. Our words have become as choppy as our movements.
Thirty, forty minutes go by until exhaustion steals our pride. We lay on the mat. I can hear him breath.
“Are we done?”
“Yes.” I say my eyes closed.
He gets up and walks out the door.
“Don’t forget to do your homework.”
The door closes as I lay in a pool of sweat and he runs to the locker room.
I get get up head out of the dark wrestling room and I see his body jogging down the hallway toward the outside doors, jogging toward the sun, his friends and freedom. “Later Dad” he yells waving his hand.