• ,

A bad Picasso in a blood-soaked singlet

It was my first match at the Bloomsburg Invitational Wrestling Tournament in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. Right off the whistle, I shot in for a double leg takedown. Unfortunately, my opponent had the exact same idea and shot only a fraction of a second later. My face and his knee collided head-on. There was a loud crunch followed by a torrent of blood. My nose was a busted fire hydrant.

The referee stopped the match and my coach ran out onto the mat. “Holy &%$!” he said. “You look like a bad Picasso.” He stuffed cotton up my deformed nose and said, “Try not to wrestle with your face.”

I tried, but it didn’t work.

In the second period, my opponent hit me with a vicious cross-face cradle and blood, once again, flew in all directions. My coach called for the trainer (and a mop). The trainer said, “Holy &%$!, you look like a bad Picasso! Your nose is all over your face!” He plugged the leak with more gauze and told me something I had already figured out on my own: I would have to breathe through my mouth.

By the third period, my blue and white singlet was now the color of a bruised plum, and my nose was so big I could hardly see. I thought of the scene from Rocky where Sylvester Stallone asks Mick to cut him. Then, I remembered, I couldn’t afford to lose any more blood.

But I did. A lot. Yet somehow, I managed to win.

For the next two matches, the pattern of bleeding and plugging continued. At one point, I thought I overheard the trainer asking people for their blood type. “Being O Positive was cold comfort,” I thought.

Before the semifinals, the referee warned my coach that he would have to call the match if I continued to bleed. Knowing “there will be blood,” my coach stuffed even more cotton up my nose and told me to go for a quick pin.

I did. And, in less than 12 seconds, the match was over. The feat, inspired by a face that looked like a cubist painting, would be my only claim to fame as a collegiate wrestler. For almost 20 years I held the record for the fastest pin in Duke University history.

In the finals, I faced (and probably frightened) the number one seed. He was from Penn State, was undefeated, and was, by all accounts, a legitimate Olympic contender. Considering my condition (and the fact that I was very much unseeded), my prospects were about as good as my chances of finding a date later that evening. My coach gave me a pep talk, saying I had nothing to lose -- except, of course, more blood.

“He puts his singlet on just like you,” he said, “one leg at a time.” (I had my doubts.) “Go for another big move – you’ll be like David taking down Goliath!”

“But David could breathe,” I thought. “And, he had a sling!”

Off the whistle, I flew into Goliath like a Kamikaze pilot. I latched on to his elbow and armpit and flung myself backwards. The giant sailed over my head and crashed with a “Thud!” His shoulder splintered like a middle school clique, and tears shot from his eyes as he writhed in pain. For the entire first period, I held him on his back, grinding my chin into his shattered collarbone. But, as hard as I tried, I couldn’t force his other shoulder against the mat. He was determined not to get pinned.

After the bell, his coach and trainer strongly recommended that he forfeit the match. They told him he needed immediate medical attention, maybe even surgery. When he refused, I knew I was in trouble.

For the next two periods, wrestling with one arm literally tied behind his back, he took me down and let me up, took me down and let me up, again and again. Each time, he got two points and I got one. When the final whistle blew, he had won 15 to 14. The referee looked at us both with admiration and pity, and then raised my opponent’s one good arm.

That night, desperate for a diversion and hard up for cash, I bet my teammates that I would go to the bar in my underwear if they picked up the tab.

Wearing nothing but boxers and boots, I walked into the Holiday Inn lounge and sat on a stool at the bar. For whatever reason, perhaps sympathy or shock, the bartender didn’t kick me out.

Instead, he asked, “What the hell happened to you? You look like a bad Picasso. Was it a car wreck?”

“No,” I said, “wrestling. You should see the other guy.”

“I’d rather not,” he said. “What would you like?”

“Something to dull the pain,” I said.

“How about a Long Island Iced Tea?” he suggested.

“Make it two,” I said.

“Ya got an ID?” he asked.

“What do you think?” I said.

Several hours later, I woke up on the floor next to my bed gasping for breath. I was drowning in my own blood. Apparently, my nose, now the size of a Siamese twin, had decided to send its unwanted liquid to other, more capable spigots. Like a communist Chia Pet, my mouth, eyes, ears and pores were all sprouting red. My roommate screamed, threw up, and then called for an ambulance.

At the hospital, the ENT looked at me, cringed and said, “You look like a bad Picasso. That’s one of the worst breaks I’ve ever seen. I’m afraid we’re gonna have to consult a plastic surgeon…”

Waiting on the examination table, I thought about the celebrity noses I most admired. “Maybe I could get a Lee Van Cleef or an Augustus Caesar?” I thought.

When the plastic surgeon arrived, he said, “Holy %$@!, you look like…”

“A bad Picasso,” I interrupted. “I know.”

“I was actually going to say something else,” he said, “but, come to think of it…”

Then, his eyes widened and he exclaimed, “Wait a second -- something doesn’t seem right.” He pulled out a pare of needle nosed pliers the length of a narwhal tusk and plunged it deep into my nasal cavity. Tears flew from my face as I squirmed in horror. I felt like Dustan Hoffman from the torture scene in Marathon Man. Then, the doctor latched on to what felt like my cerebral cortex, braced his foot on the edge of the gurney, and yanked as hard as he could.

Like a magician, he started pulling out an endless spool of wadded gauze. Nurses, orderlies and other patients stared in disbelief as the pile of crusty cotton grew to the size of an unwrapped pharaoh.

As I cowered and convalesced on the table, the doctor said, “It’s a bit ironic, it was the bandages and not the break that almost killed you.”

“What a relief,” I thought. “What a relief.”

Folwell, pronounced, “fall-well” is, without a doubt, the worst name for a wrestler. To “fall well” is to get “pinned easily.” It was a hard name to overcome. I should have taken up badminton -- or become a writer!

Folwell Dunbar is a New Orleans educator, artist and survivor of many things, from roaches to German U-boats and heartbreak. He is putting together a collection of these short stories and survival tales called He Falls Well (his name is pronounced “fall well”). NolaVie is honored to preview some of those stories here. Email him [email protected].