Rolling with the Gawd$
by Grant Wamack, January 10th 2022
Abstract trails of blue hair dye dripped down the side of Oscar Kayano’s cauliflowered ears, snaked down his square jawline, and plopped into the blood-stained basin as he hunched over the bathroom sink. Moody rap music raged in the background, assisting in the nuanced transformation of the Brazilian grappler.
He mumbled along to the words, as he ran his taped fingers through his soaking wet hair. His thick mane was once jet black, but now an electric blue. A cosmetic signal to competition, a primal warning sign he hoped would strike fear into the heart of his opponents. He stared at his reflection, admiring his chiseled musculature, the spears tatted right below his clavicles, the surreal lion crawling down his left bicep, and the cryptic shamanic tattoos covering his broad chest, sliding over the full extent of his arms.
It’s show time Osc, he thought. It’s showtime baby.
Oscar lightly hit himself in the face with open palms, relishing the spikes of pain surging through his facial muscles, hoping it would force him awake.
Shaking the remnants of water out of his hair, he went into the kitchen and popped a handful of colorful pills, recommended by his nutritionist. Then he laced up his running shoes, opened the door to a indigo sky, and hit the pavement.
One year, two months, and five days ago, Oscar was competing in the Polaris Invitational as a purple belt. This was his first time making the cut, but he worked his ass off to get here, putting in countless hours on sweat-drenched mats, perfecting his technique and rolling with guys twice his size and three times as skilled. He had a burning desire to be the best or at the very least leave his stamp on the sport.
His opponent Roger Glory wasn’t super well-known, but Oscar did his research and realized he was no slouch on the mats. He was an all-American Division 1 wrestler back in high school with a stunning record of 157-3. Slick movement, great takedowns, and good hip mobility gave him an advantage against certain jiu jitsu players.
Oscar’s ego got in the way, and he soon found himself in a similar predicament. After one minute of back and forth of hand-slapping and evading his guard, Oscar slipped and found himself caught in between the Roger’s thick legs, a boa constrictor tight triangle constricting his breathing. Oscar did everything in his power to escape, but nothing was working, and the submission only grew tighter by the second.
Should I tap?
His ancestors encircled him on the mat, wizened faces, shaking their heads in disapproval. Shame breathing down his neck.
The fluorescent lights overhead grew dim, transforming into flying saucers. Humming. His breathing slowed and became ragged. The darkness overtook him like a solar eclipse. Everything turned a muddy black. He woke up to a medical aid pouring water on his face and shining a penlight in his eyes.
“Get that shit out of my face,” Oscar waved the light away and pushed the medical aid back.
The devasting reality of the loss hit him later that night, sometime between spitting out the over-cooked beef of a greasy cheeseburger and flipping over the kitchen table in a searing rage. His entire body transformed into a burning furnace with no off switch in sight.
This was his second major loss.
He paced back and forth, replaying the submission in his mind over and over and over and over and over and over and over until he developed a weighty migraine. Rushing into his bedroom, he dug around the drawers in his nightstand until he found a plastic baggie with sticky green weed in it. There was sticker that said “EMERGENCY USE ONLY” hanging half-way off the plastic. He wrote it down as a half-assed joke, but this was an emergency, and he needed an out from reality.
Lighting up the joint, Oscar sat on the balcony, looking up at the stars blanketing the night sky. The tips of palm trees peeked through the darkness like green phantoms hiding their faces. He embraced the body high, letting the anger wash away like a leaf in the wind.
“Much better,” he said aloud, hoping that would trick some part of his subconscious mind into believing the statement.
He took another puff, allowing the thick cloud of smoke to consume him entirely, dragging him down into depths of his high.
Oscar sat cross-legged on the beach, feeling the ocean breeze ruffle his curly blue hair. Anxiety nestled at the base of his throat like a young sanderling, struggling to escape his muscular confines.
Calm down Osc. Calm down. Return to breath. Return to center.
He took a deep breath from his diaphragm, and released it slowly through his mouth, allowing the silence to wash over him like a wave. This form of transcendental meditation was taught to him by one of his wrestling coaches in college before he transitioned into jiu jitsu. It always brought him back to himself. Back to center in times of distress.
The incessant chatter of his thoughts threatened to flood his senses, teetering on disruption. The weight of the loss was pushing against the silence, a hairpin trigger, waiting to combust inside his mental space.
Loser. Fraud. Fake bitch. Can’t handle the pressure huh?
Muddy contorted faces yelled gibberish at Oscar. A dull hum filled his eardrums with the thick consistency of spoiled honey. He remembered slipping, only momentarily, but that mistake was all that his opponent needed to take his back. Long wiry legs snaking around his hips, flattening him out. Next thing he knew, a forearm slid underneath his neck. Oscar did everything in his power to escape the chokehold, but he could feel the inevitable doom wrapping around his mind like an anaconda. He knew he had lost moments before the choke was fully secured.
He refused to give up, refused to tap, refused to let down his namesake. The fluorescent lights in the gym grew supernova bright before he sunk into absolute darkness.
That was his first major loss. He closed his eyes, returning to his breath, returning to his anchor that felt like a massive weight, threatening to pull him down into the earth’s crust.
The cellphone vibrated on Oscar’s chest. He woke up, wiping the sleep out of his eyes and the drool coating his chin. He answered the phone.
“H-hello, what’s up?”
“Stop fucking around. It’s me—Titus. Your fuckin coach. Are you sleeping right now? You should be training.”
“Yeah, well…I overslept.”
“Sleep is for losers.”
“Tell that to your heart condition.”
“You got me there…so listen, I got this guy who has these experimental drugs. Top athletes are taking ‘em, but it’s still on the hush.”
“Why are you whispering? You act like you got the cure to cancer or something.”
“Was I whispering? It doesn’t matter. Anyway, they’re extracted from stingrays. Gives you more strength, focus, stamina, the whole nine yards.”
“Hold on, stingrays?” A sense of unease swam around Oscar’s gut, nagging at him. He brushed the feeling aside, trying to focus on his coach’s words.
“Yeah stingrays. I know it sounds out there like the Outer Limits or something, maybe you’re too young for that reference, but I heard it helped some other athletes improve their game tremendously.”
“Alright, but I don’t want to pop hot on a piss test or even worse my balls shrivel up, coach. You know my career means the world to me. I won’t jeopardize it for a potential leap in skill.”
“That’s more than understandable Oscar, but listen, they’re relatively safe. The drugs are in the initial stages of being approved by the U-S-D-A and my guy assures me there’s no side effects whatsoever. Whatsoever.”
“Who’s your guy?”
“A confidential source. Someone who’s been in the sport for decades. He knows his stuff. Has degrees and everything.”
“And you swear there are no crazy ass side effects?”
“I swear on Helio Gracie’s grave.”
“Alright, if this will get me the win, and you think it’s safe, then tell him yes.”
The unease coiled in Oscar’s stomach only intensified. He pushed it down so deep within his consciousness, his left eye started twitching.
A heavy stream of dark yellow piss rained down on the toilet bowl. Oscar shoved his cock back into his boxer briefs and sniffled. Washing his hands, his stomach cramped up, and he doubled over, groaning in pain. His stomach twisted into Euclidean knots and he gripped the lip of the sink, searching for a semblance of stability. Everything around him felt indistinct, loose, and watery.
His mind drifted back to earlier in the day when his coach stood by in the cramped examination room as a doctor stuck the needle in his ass and injected him with the stringray serum. Both of them talked up the drug as if it was a miracle contained in a syringe. No one told him the official name of the drug, but he had total faith in his coach, but his faith had been rattled the moment he fell to his knees on the bathroom floor, and he heard a sickening crunch.
Gripping the sides of his head, he wanted to scream out in pain. His fished his phone out of his pocket, struggling to find his coach’s number. It slipped out of his hand and skidded across the floor, disappearing underneath the bathtub. He doubled over, vomiting half-digested shrimp, now a small pile of pink and white meat sitting in front of him. Bile threatened to rise up from his chest, but he took a deep breath, forcing it back down. He could barely take the smell filling his nostrils.
Coach was going to be pissed if he couldn’t compete tomorrow. He was going to have to fight through the pain and keep this a secret. Didn’t need a doctor lecturing him about his health and he didn’t want to be the laughingstock of the BJJ community. All he saw in his mind’s eye was that gold medal, that shiny piece of notoriety and fame.
Oscar vomited the rest of his meal on the bathroom floor and rolled over to his side exhausted. He pulled his shirt up, feeling the ridges of his rib cage. His fingers trembled as his discovered small openings inside his stomach. Thin filaments that felt like they would break if he applied too much pressure. He pulled his fingers out the newly formed gills and brought his slimy hand to his nose. His finger reeked of saltwater, fish and rotting seaweed.
He threw up again, dry heaving.
When is this shit ever going to end?
Shallow water. Crystal blue on all sides. Hints of the sun cutting through the calm blue water. Sandy ocean floor speeding underneath Oscar’s white belly. He soared through the water, feeling free. No pressure, no coaches, no competition, and no fear of bacterial infection on the mats.
Weightless joy surged through his being.
The water darkened a few shades and anxiety rolled through Oscar’s fins. He wondered if there was a predator nearby.
An undulating mass of darkness rose from the sand like an Uzumakian monolith. Oscar moved faster, leaving the shallow depths, searching for cover.
The darkness gained on him at a frightening speed, leaving behind oily black trails. The substance enveloped a colony of coral and the invertebrate dissolved like a bunch of pixels. Oscar worried that this was the end.
An alarm beeped somewhere in the distance. Oscar swam faster, gliding along the magnetic fields.
The darkness shrank when the alarm grew to a dizzying pitch, and everything became a blinding white.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.
Oscar jumped rope, skipping one foot in front of the other like a seasoned boxer. He eased into a consistent rhythm, visualizing himself getting his hand raised after the competition.
“You ready?” His coach asked, eyes hidden behind aviator shades.
“That’s what I like to hear, but you might wanna lay off the motivational podcasts and put that energy into the gym.”
Oscar made weight effortlessly, hitting a clean 195 lbs. That competitive spirit rose up in him like the sea levels in the summertime. He was ready to rip someone’s head off. This is what he lived for, what made him feel alive.
After shaking hands with his opponent Patrick Barboza, Oscar went straight to business. He grabbed a single leg and pulled his opponent to the ground, falling into his half guard. He leaned over, pushing his weight on his opponent’s chest, smothering him. Patrick’s leg became weak and Oscar knee-sliced over the leg, obtaining side control.
This is exactly where he wanted to be, a dominant position.
One arm was driven into Patrick’s neck, applying pressure while the other was on his hip. Oscar went out on a limb and slid his knee on top of Patrick’s stomach. Patrick shrunk his own body into a shrimp, pushing off Oscar’s knee and Oscar fell over to his side.
Patrick regained side control, throwing his leg over Oscar’s back, and gripped the crook of his elbow in his hands.
This fucker was strong. Probably on steroids.
An arm bar was coming, and it was coming in fast. Patrick leaned backwards, holding Oscar’s arm tightly, and extending it fully outward.
Oscar felt the pressure, the fire in his nerves, the panic spilling out of his facial expression. His arm should’ve snapped, but it didn’t. Part of his muscle and bone had turned into pure cartilage.
Thank god for drugs.
Oscar walked his legs towards Patrick’s, bridging out of the grip and successfully escaping. He mauled Patrick, targeting his back, and sinking in a leg around his waist followed by the other. Then he slid his forearm under Patrick’s broad neck, falling backwards, and locking the choke in with his other arm. Patrick tried to hold out, pushing his neck down but it was too late.
Frantic tapping. It was over.
The crowd erupted in the gym and Oscar stood, raising his hands to the sky in victory. Cameras flashed and his stomach churned.
Not now. Please…
His coach ran over to his side, asking him if he was okay. Oscar could barely speak, limbs becoming weak and weary. He tried his best to hold onto consciousness, but his body gave up the ghost and he passed out.
The beach was completely empty except for a crew of sanderlings, crabs, and the wind surrounding Oscar. The windchill was freezing, but he didn’t mind.
He sat in the sand, massaging the gold medal hanging around his neck, wondering if it was all worth it. A void swelled up in his stomach searching for something more. In the passing weeks, he developed a ravenous appetite for seafood, not caring for steak or beef the way he used to. Barely touching fruits and vegetables.
The ocean called out to him like a siren. He took off his swim trunks, discarding them on a pile of driftwood and seaweed. Goosebumps formed on his arms like a second skin. He stepped into the freezing water, taking forward steps, until it was up to his neck. Taking a deep breath, he plunged under the water, allowing the ocean to swallow him whole.