The Last Match

June 1, 2014 at 11:21 pm (Amateur Wrestling, high school, High School Sports, High School Wrestling, Parenting, Single Mom, Single Parent, sports, Teenagers, Wrestling) (, , , , , , )

It has taken me over three months to get the courage to write this post. The post I’ve been dreading since the moment I started my little wrestling mom blog. This is the post where I tell you about his last match, and the end of his wrestling career.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, my boys have played many sports and been involved in a myriad of things over the years. From gymnastics at age 3 because he needed an outlet for the inhuman amount of energy he possessed (and he was too young for soccer), to the other one wanting to try the violin and later the guitar, to one earning a scholarship to a fine arts camp for his artistic talent, to marching band and more. They’ve played soccer, baseball, football, lacrosse……and wrestled.

I truly think that only people who are close to people who have wrestled can know what this sport is really about. It’s hard for people who have no experience in it to wrap their head around the strong emotions it brings out. Most don’t even try. But those of you who get it, know. You just know, and it is you to whom I speak.

My youngest son, the sophomore, had a decent year; he improved on last year’s record in that he stayed eligible the entire season. That was cause for celebration in itself! He won some, he lost some, he wrestled JV. It was good. My oldest, my senior, also improved his record. I was just happy he was there; compared to last year, this season was going great even if he did not make it to state. He was alive, and wrestling, I think, is what made that possible. Last year was the most terrifying of all my years as a parent. I watched my son hanging on by the tips of his fingers to school, to wrestling, to life. I felt like this year was just borrowed time after that, and not much else mattered – win, lose, I didn’t even care. I was just blissfully happy that I was able to watch him do it.

Then along came Districts. Round One of eliminations on the road to States. Michigan is a pretty competitive state for wrestling, at least in my limited experience it seems so. We are no Iowa or even Pennsylvania, but you have to work your ass off to even make it to States. The kids that make it didn’t pick it up in high school, not unless you are a mutant freak with mutant freak talent who is a reincarnated gladiator from 400 B.C. The kids that make it are very good and have a LOT of mat time. The kids that win are the kids that took it up as 4 year olds and forgo all other activities in favor of wrestling until they are seniors. Ok I might be exaggerating, and I’m sure plenty of deserving “latecomers” get their chance at the state tournament, but I think the overwhelming majority have done it all their young lives. But I digress.

So, along came Districts. I had been so busy with my new job that the season just flew by and it seemed like just another Saturday at first. But about 15 minutes after I took my seat in the stands, I was overwhelmed at the gravity of it. My son had never made it past this round so far, and this was his last chance. But he was better. He was older and more experienced, and most of all he had his head on straight this year. I threw up a desperate plea to the Universe that he would please, just this day, make it through. Just….Please. Please show this kid that there is a reward for doing the right thing. Please show this kid that the thing that kept him going during his darkest hours was worth hanging on to. Please.

And then I let it go. It was all in the hands of the Fates now.

He won his first match with a quick pin in the first. I was over-the-moon thrilled! That meant he had to lose TWO MORE TIMES in order to get knocked out….yay for long days at tournaments!! He too, was thrilled.

On to the second match and a much tougher opponent. This second guy was from a school that just dominated all day long. He had taken third at state last year. So while my son was upset about this loss, he was still in it for Regionals, and had nothing to be ashamed of. The kid was a tank.

Third match, and at this point he’s at sudden death as far as what will happen next week. He had to win this one to stay in. He did. I couldn’t really feel physical feelings at this point. You know those colorful, wobbly rubber bouncy balls you get out of vending machines? That’s what I felt like. Except more fragile and neurotic. I wasn’t sure which way I’d bounce next at any given moment.

Honestly, I’d have to ask him if he had another match after the third one. I think he did, but being a wobbly rubber ball, frenetically neurotic, some of this day has escaped my memory. If he had one, he won it. That’s all we need to know.

His last match was a good matchup. It was the kind you like to watch from high atop the bleachers when it’s not your kid out there. Double overtime. Kids very closely matched in skill and strength. My kid happened to get stuck trying to use a move so as not to be called for stalling. The other lady’s kid saw it coming. This would not have been a loss to hang his head about, not even close. However…..

As I looked at my buddies the stats girls, tears welling up in my eyes, I tried to tamp it down. “Don’t look at them, don’t look at your youngest, and by any means neccessary, do not look at the young man out there who just wrestled his Last. Match.” I guess I said that to myself, but I can’t say for sure. That’s what happened, anyway. I looked in his direction, waiting to see in what manner he would exit the gym, but we didn’t make eye contact. I knew then and I know now, he couldn’t. I watched him push gracefully and calmly through the door, warm-up clothes in hand, and stood there as the blazing red door slammed in my face, as heavy gym doors do. But the slam carried with it the entire weight of the day.

I went outside into the harsh, cold, very snowy day to get some air. I collected my thoughts and shed a couple of tears. I knew I’d have to go back inside and eventually see my boy, but I knew he needed time.

For what seemed like hours, I couldn’t find either of my boys. My youngest had gotten knocked out of the tournament in the first round, paired up with another state placer from the same team that beat pretty much everyone that day. Usually I can find him at the food table. Eventually after a couple of trips from the food tables to the gym and back, I saw him. We saw each other across the cafeteria and started walking toward each other, and he had a look on his face that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. It was pain and sadness, but it was also pain and sadness for what he knew his brother was going through. And his mother. When we met, we ended up three feet away from our cross-town rivals. He hugged me, and it just all came out.

Thank goodness he is a strong enough young man that he feels it’s ok to cry in front of his biggest “enemies”, because we both did. I was louder and sobbier, but he was sniffly too. Thank goodness he has big shoulders. Thank goodness he loves his family. It was a very touching moment. No words were said, because we both felt and knew the same thing-it’s over for him. Finally, I asked him where his brother was. He was still in the locker room with the other senior on our team who had also just wrestled his final match. I am very glad moms are not allowed in locker rooms.

When I eventually saw my Drew, he was sitting at the food table with a few other wrestlers and the stats girls. It was very gloomy over there. He wasn’t really ready to see me yet, but I couldn’t wait any longer, I had to see he was ok. He stood up and we hugged, and cried. This son is not as comfortable in public, and I knew he didn’t want to cry in front of his friends. There was just no stopping it or helping it. It’s hard to describe the feeling I had. I’ve never had this feeling before as a mother. Of course, I wanted to take it all away from him just like we want to when they’re little, but that of course, is impossible. No words we can find, no actions to divert attention, nothing can make it better. And I know that each time any of the three of us thinks about it in the years to come, even though life has of course gone on, we will remember that feeling.

I hope he never lives with regret that “maybe I could have tried harder, put more effort into it, not totally screwed my life up junior year”….regret is a bitch to live with. I hope he looks back and sees what could potentially be regretful and just realizes that’s the path he chose and he is who he is today because of it. I hope he’s got a Buddhist mentality about it; it is not good and it is not bad, it just is.

I love this young man very much. And I am sorry he didn’t get to fulfill his wildest dreams as an athlete. But I do know that he learned a lot about life participating in this sport, and a lot about himself. I know he made friends and did accomplish things many others could not. I know that he learned that only he controls his destiny with his choices, and that choices have consequences. He learned that the depths he needs to reach to pull out success, do exist in him, and how far reaching those depths are.

I’m so very lucky to have had the chance to ride along for this journey of his. The highs and lows of it; the tough lessons and the triumphs. At times it’s been the glue that held us together. When we had nothing else, we had this. I expect it might be different for a Dad, but I enjoyed it to the fullest.

Thank you, son.

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