Pete and Chris agreed to let Nick back into the Club at my urging, and with Jenna’s permission. Nick kept to his best behavior—he and Jenna might as well have been training on different planets. That was a relief to me. In a way, I was responsible for Nick now.
One milestone I was watching for was the first newbie to step onto the mat after Nick had joined. I remembered how big a deal it had been for me once I wasn’t the least experienced guy on the mat anymore. It had marked the moment I felt like a real member of the Club.
The day it happened for Nick, the new guy’s name was Sig. Sig was a tall, gangly undergrad with a big mess of Nordic hair and a perpetual smile. He was a quick study, too; Pete demonstrated an armlock that night, and Sig managed to catch me in it when we were rolling afterwards.
When Sig paired off with Nick, I sat the round out and watched. After all, I felt responsible for how he was getting on now. Like I expected, there wasn’t much back-and-forth between them. Nick made the most of Sig’s unstable base and took him straight into top control. Sig didn’t know to keep his arms in, so Nick caught him in three or four different armbars. “You’re really good,” Sig said to him as they reset, and Nick beamed. It was going well.
Then it fell apart. They went at it again, with Nick ending up in Sig’s guard and working at Sig’s lapel to flatten him out. All at once Nick cried out like he was hurt, stood up, and staggered back a few steps. “No metal on the mat!” he shouted. He almost ran to the edge of the mat and took a knee, muttering to himself.
Sig looked mortified. I took him aside. “No metal on the mat” was one of our safety rules: jewelry can cause cuts, or catch on fingers, or worse—but it wasn’t something to freak out about, like Nick was doing. Sure enough, Sig was wearing a little gold crucifix. He’d tucked it into the shirt he wore under his borrowed gi; it must have worked its way out while Nick was manhandling him. “I’m really sorry,” Sig said. “I always wear it. I didn’t think of it.”
“It’s not your fault,” I told him. “Just take it off and keep going.”
But Nick hadn’t come back from the edge of the mat. “What’s the matter with you?” I said to him. I was ready to chew him out, but it looked more like he was having a panic attack. He was repeating to himself, “No metal on the mat. No metal on the mat.”
“Are you all right?” I asked him.
He said unconvincingly, “It’s not a big deal.”
“You need to apologize to the new guy.”
“He’s taken the cross off?”
I looked over my shoulder. “He’s doing it now. Get a grip.”
“All right. I’ll talk to him.” Nick stood up. He was shaking a little. “My fault. Ignore me.”
Nick was rattled, but he did apologize to Sig by the end of the class. It looked like he had salvaged the situation.
Later, Sig would laugh the incident off. Everyone at the Club liked Sig, but he hit it off particularly well with Nick. In a few weeks, Nick was showing up in Sig’s gray Civic, and the two of them paired off for practice most classes.
Submitted by Corodon Fuller