The whole thing falls apart after we talk for about an hour. He’s told me about the plane, which he’s early for, to his hometown Seattle. And he’s told me about wrestling. The last time he lost was more than three years ago, and now schools along the East Coast are recruiting him: North Carolina, Virginia, U Mass. They’ve offered him full rides with $200 spending money a month, and he can’t wait to leave, he says, he really can’t wait to leave.
I’ve asked about all the crazy things wrestlers do to lose weight before a match, and he talks about running around the outdoor track in a rubber sweat suit. The tubes, he says, stick out the sleeves of the suit, and you can see the trails of sweat in the dirt each time around. He mentions losing 7 pounds of water in a day, as if it were a normal thing, as if losing that much that quickly were something everyone did. When I ask if he likes that kind of suffering, he laughs a little and asks if I have anything good to read because he has three hours to kill.
We’re in Terminal A and at first the rest of the seats are empty. There’s a TV broadcasting a football game at the next gate over, hot dogs are turning slowly on metal rollers in the airport bar across the thoroughfare, and pretzels hang from hooks in a glass case behind the counter. An agent walks over to the gate, takes out a tray of plastic letters, and starts spelling out "Baltimore."
I ask the agent if he knows what time it is.
"Where?" he says.
I say, "What."
"6:27," he says, smiling. "Anything you guys need, ok? You just ask."
Over the next hour the agent walks back and forth between Gate 55 and here. With each passing he barks out the time, including seconds, and the wrestler and I laugh a little. But the wrestler’s laugh is strange, and he twists a bit in his seat. It makes me wonder what he’s worrying about with a full ride and $200 a month.
I ask if he needs to lose weight, and he says he doesn’t.
"I’m 6’2", 227," he says. "That’s good. I wrestle 240 so I’m ok."
"You don’t look like you weigh 227."
"Well, I’m sitting down. Maybe that’s why," he says.
"You’re a good kid," I say. "You’re going to be okay out there."
"Yeah," he says, buckling and unbuckling his watch. "I’ve got three more hours here. I haven’t even got there yet."
I don’t tell him I used to wrestle. Instead, I walk over to the bar and buy two draft beers in plastic cups.
"Can I take them over to the gate?" I ask the cashier. "My friend’s waiting."
"Well â€¦ no," she says, ringing me up.
"We’re stuck here for three hours," I say. "Besides, look at this place, there’s nobody here."
"Yeah â€¦ ok," she says and gives me back my change. Behind her popcorn is pushing over the lid of the metal pot and falling to the bottom of the case.
I turn around and start walking back to the gate, and the wrestler is standing up, talking to a man and a woman. I sit down and set the beers on the end table. The wrestler doesn’t look at me. Something has happened.
"Don’t you understand?" the woman says. She’s demanding softly because the terminal is quiet and still practically empty.
"Answer your mother," says the man.
The wrestler doesn’t say anything. He’s stuck standing there, every one of those 227 pounds silent.
"You’re staying here," says his father. "You ain’t going anywhere. Where do you think you’re going, huh? You think you can just leave your mother and me. We’re who raised you."
The wrestler still doesn’t say anything. The father, who’s wearing a nylon racing-jacket, pushes him in the chest and into the chair. He talks down to him, and the wrestler stares straight ahead as the clean airport light slides off the sleeves of the jacket.
"It’s 6:35 now!" yells the agent. "15 seconds. No, 17."
The mother weeps softly in the aisle of connected seats. She sits next to her son, and her hair falls around her face, a ruptured curtain behind which her makeup is running.
I bring the cup to my mouth and gulp while the father paces, one hand kneading the other fist. He’s looking up at the ceiling and cursing quietly. I hear words like "ungrateful" and "goddamn."
"Honey," says the mother. "You don’t want to go away. Why go away? Why?"
He doesn’t answer.
"Why?" She mews like a kitten. "What is it that you want so badly?" Her tank top is loose on her shoulders, and she’s sweating into the cotton.
The father comes back over.
"We’ve given you everything you need. There’s no reason to go anywhere else! You’re not a man. You’re still stealing from your mother’s purse, goddamn it."
There are a few more people at Gate 56 now, and we’re all looking at the father. The wrestler is quiet. Here’s what I have learned: in high level competition first moves performed when the whistle is blown don’t always work. After several unsuccessful attempts, frustration can prevent a wrestler from going to the next level of attack, the chain move. I look at him and wonder if he knows this.
I gulp down more beer and think about doing something.
"You belong at home," says the father.
"Yes," says the mother. "You belong at home, with us."
"Say something," says the father, still kneading his fist. "Say you’re sorry to your mother for breaking her heart!"
They wait there, all three of them silent in the terminal.
The first move from a bottom position is often used to set up the real intended primary move, like a Granby roll or a cross-body ride. This is what you do: knee swivel to a leg switch. If the switch is missed, catch your opponent’s wrist and throw it over your head with a hip swivel. There, just like that. I want to tell him this, pull him aside and maneuver his body into learning the slips and grabs of the move then send him back onto the mat.
"It’s 6:39," says the agent, stepping off the moving sidewalk.
"He’s okay," I say.
The father turns around.
"What?" he yells.
"Your kid," I say. "He’s okay. You should get to know him."
The father straightens up.
"You shut the fuck up!" he says, pointing. "I know what I know. You just stay the fuck out of this."
The mother starts crying harder, and the father turns back around.
"C’mon," says the father. He grips the wrestler under the arm and tries to pull him up. "We’re going home now."
The mother stands and waits, plucking the wet cotton from her skin, but the father can’t pull the wrestler up.
"Get up!" he yells and tugs.
"Boy, you get up now!" he says, but the boy doesn’t move.
It’s funny, but I hadn’t thought about that move before. I’m in the terminal holding my beer and rooting for absolutely nothing to happen.
"I’m not going to tell you again," he yells, still tugging.
Don’t get up, I think, and he doesn’t.