11. A Whole Nelson

A Whole Nelson

And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. 

‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭42:16‬a

A year later, Austin perked up. I strolled into his room to be greeted by his new friends I’d never seen before. They both were mean-mugging me with paint on their faces. Each of them wore camouflage utilities, the one to my left wearing a kevlar helmet with night vision goggles (NVGs) while the other wore no headgear but had a bowie knife sheathed on his right shoulder and a bundle of rope on his left. Each held an M-16, the left one down at the ready1 and the other at port arms.2 For some reason, the leftmost character’s NVGs dematerialized into green lines. The distal portion of his scope to the end of the muzzle had the same strange effect. Underneath both menacing posters were bold letters: Marines.

Austin sat in his computer chair. When he scooted out from behind the screen he sported a new red T-shirt with the same letters though written in orange: Marines.

“What’s up with this Marine stuff,” I asked, “who are they?” 

“Oh, bro, they’re the best military branch. Better than Army, Navy and Air force.” 

I had never heard of them. The only branches I knew of were the three Austin threw under the bus.

“Why are they the best?” 

“Dude, they have the coolest uniforms, they fight better, man they’re awesome.” Truly Austin didn’t know. Somehow the pride of the Corps traveled across space and time to infiltrate his subconscious.

“How’d you find out about ‘em?”

“Nick’s dad. Said I should join. I snagged a shirt at school when a recruiter showed up.” 

“Cool man.” I replied, not caring about or sharing his enthusiasm.

“Nick gave me this, I don’t need it.” He handed me a wallet woven with synthetic black thread. On the back shone a stitched golden Eagle Globe and Anchor.

“What’s this on the wallet?”

“It’s the Marine Corps symbol. They fight in the air, land and sea. They’re basically all of the military branches mixed in one. I told you they’re the best.”

“Huh, okay,” still not knowing what to think. I figured Marines were cool, but I didn’t care. I had demons to slay on Diablo II.

“You can have it, I don’t need a wallet.”

“Sure, I’ll take it. I could use a new one,” I said as I took the object. Sure Austin convinced me the Marines and their symbol were awesome, but I was more a fan of free stuff.

A few weeks before my thirteenth birthday, on September 11th 2001, I strolled into Inglewood having heard something bad happened, but not sure what. My first class was physical education. In the locker room, a student told me we were attacked. 

“Really? What happened?”

“The world trade centers were hit. Planes crashed into them!” he said.

I had no idea what to make of this. I thought Seattle was getting bombed. The World Trade Center meant nothing to my prepubescent West-coast locked little brain. As the day unfolded, I quickly learned what occurred. Other than the fear and shock that gripped the entire nation, September 11th at that time wasn’t a defining moment for me. It was simply a ripple in time that splashed into my narrow world of escapism. 

Later that school year, my friend Ryan Fung came up to me. “Hey dude, join wrestling man, it’s crazy.”

“Why? Hasn’t it started already?”

“Yeah, we’ve already done a week of practice, but they’d let you in. Guys are ditching left and right. Come on, you should try it. Mr. Nguyen is the coach.” Mr. Nguyen was our science teacher, one of my favorites. “There’s also this crazy guy there, coach Nelson. He’s a Marine!”

My ears perked. “Oh yeah? Cool, I heard Marines are the best.” 

“Yeah man, he’s nuts! You gotta give it a shot. But if you start, don’t quit. Tons of guys are quitting.”

I didn’t want to. I knew nothing about wrestling, or sports in general. The last time I played a sport was when I quit baseball in 4th grade after I walked nearly every hitter during the first game I pitched. The cups were uncomfortable too. The thought of some real-life activity invading my important digital extra-curricular hobby unsettled me. Peer pressure eventually shoved me into the smelly locker-room. Once I entered, no matter how much I came to hate it, I resolved to never quit.

Mr. Nguyen was a nice, funny guy. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body. This must have been why he caged the five-foot-ten, barrel-chested, sasquatch with tree-trunk limbs, salty-white hair perfectly tapered into a flat top crew cut and a roar that could make your ears bleed. We called him the Beast.

The sweaty mats were where I was introduced to ‘80’s rock and pain. The booming music was no match for coach Nelson’s screams as he commanded us through every awful movement one can perform with their body. I was in the worst shape of my life then. The extra pounds from snacks and videogames were beginning to accumulate. After recovering from the initial shock though, I came to like the workouts. The actual act of wrestling however, I sucked at.

My initial practice meet was the first, and last duel I’d win. I’d been with the team for at most two weeks by that point. In this fight I went toe to toe with a slightly shorter and pudgier Indian kid. He knocked me to the ground but I managed to get around him. After a short grapple, I ended up on top of his chest, having no clue what to do to get both of his shoulders on the mat. I looked around in a panic while he squirmed underneath me. 

Out of my periphery I saw coach Nelson waving his arms. Once I made eye contact, he signaled the next step. He arched his right arm up in front of him like a swimmer with his elbow bent ninety degrees and proceeded to internally rotate his shoulder where his hand touched his ribcage. Still leaning on my fellow butter-ball, I pressed my chest into his, hooked my arm behind the kid’s neck and pinned him. Having no clue which move I performed, I came to find out that was the moment I learned a half nelson from a whole Nelson.

  1. The ready is a position where the dominant hand is on the pistol grip and the supporting hand orients the muzzle downward. This position provides safety but also allows for quick engagement if threats emerge quickly.
  2. Port arms is the rifle manual position where the Marine’s right hand grips the tapered small of the stock where it connects with the main body. The left hand positioned higher holds the handguard so that the muzzle of the barrel points upward to the left at a 45 degree angle.

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