Today, there is a big brown bear in class. I can’t tell if it’s a brown bear or a grizzly or if it even matters. What matters is that it lines up on the mat, bows in, warms up, and does the drills just like the rest of us. It shrimps and spider crawls and butt scoots, but no one else seems worried.
It’s time to free-flow roll and I see aftermath blood on the mats and I plead with the jiu-jitsu gods not to be paired with the bear, but though some cosmic cruelty, Coach calls my name and then the bear’s name. I can’t repeat the bear’s name because it’s not like any other name I’ve ever heard. It sounds like how explosions looks. Expanding and fiery. A roaring whoosh.
We slap hands, the bear and I, and bang fists. The bear lunges and I pull guard, which is a thing where I fall back and wrap my legs around its torso real tight. I try to break the bear down, to trap an arm, and pull it in close so I can sweep or shoot a triangle, but the bear pressures my groin. It slices its knee across my thigh, passes my guard, and transitions to side control so I’m pinned to the mat, the bear bearing down on me at a perpendicular angle. It has one bristly paw under my neck, the other across my body to block my hip. It chucks one hind leg over my belly so I’m now in its heavy, awful mount.
My head fills up with noise and pressure. I look for Coach, pray he calls Time! but I cannot find him. I hear nothing but the bear’s hot, heavy breath in my ears, my nose, my heart.
The bear takes my right arm clean off. There’s a series of pops like bands snapping within me but it sounds like something outside of me. It doesn’t hurt, maybe because of adrenaline or the absolute need to stay alive. I don’t know. It takes my left arm too, right below the elbow. I bleed in heartbeats. It severs me fully apart and tosses me in all directions so that I am, collectively speaking, small, steaming piles of unbodied parts everywhere, in each corner of the mat and some in between. I can see this from one corner where my head has rolled.
I’ve never been spread so thin.
Anyone would be ashamed for me, but no one is around. Everyone has left.
* * *
The bear gathers me up in it paws, surprisingly gentle now. My nerves have since shut down, and I feel an absolute palpable nothing.
The bear carries me outside like a tender lover and sets me down on the concrete close to the Italian restaurant, closed but with its lights still buzzing neon, nonetheless.
Before the bear leaves, it places my head atop the pile of my body parts. I topple over an elbow, an ankle. I see one thing, then another, and settle in a crevice between a heel and a shoulder blade. My eyes angle toward the sky.
I’ve been training for months. Since I started, I’ve learned not to panic when being smothered by a large, sweaty man twice my size. I’ve learned that ringworm is a fungus, not a worm, and it’s easily treatable. I’ve learned to push past tangy armpits and mushroomy crotches.
Whatever I need to learn about the bear has escaped me indefinitely.
* * *
Night has come, and I wonder where my teammates have gone. Krumpus, who sweats overly roasted coffee beans. Jackie who has toes like billy goats. Brennan who emits springtime detergent. Brooks with his mothball breath. Dwayne and his mildewed gi. Big Ben. Charlie. Jun. Chunky. Feebles. Tony. They’re all gone.
The moon is directly above me. Me: deconstructed. A sum of my parts. A pile, twisted, torn, and turning to jelly. A thin breath of clouds pass across the moon’s familiar face. To me the face of the moon looks like someone balancing on a skateboard, and he’s coming right at me. I’ve never known anyone else who sees this. Please tell me if you do.