AUTHOR’S NOTE: “An Ocean. . .” is a side project I’m currently working on during my down time from the MAGNUS series. This is a story friends and family have been bugging me about for years. Yes, it is epic. Yes, it is unbelievable at times. It is the true story of how my wife and I met eleven years ago. Chapter 1 is as follows.
The Next Bruce Lee
I’m sure you’ve heard the story of David and Goliath. You know: regular guy delivers lunch to his older brothers during a battle, hears a rather large and overly boisterous fellow along the enemy line making unnecessary taunts, volunteers to take the guy to the School of Rock. While I can’t say that I’ve ever had an opportunity to cut a man’s head off after putting a river stone square between his eyes, I kind of know what it feels like to face a giant.
February 2004. It wasn’t that cold in North Texas because I was outside wearing shorts. I landed my first punch, kicked a time or two, and stepped forward. The fight was in my favor- after all, I was a student of wing chun kung fu, a martial art created and mastered by a woman in a world of larger male warriors.
You see, I was never football player material. I would never walk into a dark alley and scare a random passerby by my darkened frame. Some may have said I chose wing chun. I said wing chun chose me. I was the perfect size and weight, and it was plain to see that afternoon as I faced my Goliath.
He took a step backwards and I kept moving forward, always staying true to my training and hard work. Another three quick punches hit their marks and my opponent finally tasted the sweet nectar poured upon him by Lady Luck- he raised his right knee just as I struck with my left foot. I heard a loud pop and lowered my two gloved hands. “Sorry,” I said with a grimace as I took a step toward my teacher. “Are you okay?”
He raised and lowered the knee in question, gave it a shake, and nodded. “Yeah. What about you?”
Of course I was okay. I had just hurt – no, devastated – my 6’3 wing chun teacher, a retired Marine who also held a black belt in kenpo karate, and also towered over me by a good seven inches.
“That was great. How about we call it a day? See you on Tuesday?”
That sounded like a good idea to me. My inner warrior smirked at the thought of my teacher holding back the pain until I left his presence. Yeah, it was a good day to be me. “Sure. Tuesday it is.”
As I made the thirty minute drive home to Arlington, Texas, I envisioned the next two months of training that stood before me. I was busy preparing for a mixed martial arts tournament in which I was already registered for two events. After that stellar performance at practice, I realized it was all uphill from there.
And then the pain began.
Oh, adrenaline. I know you mean well. I even know you’ve done some pretty incredible things in your day. People lifting soda machines off of trapped children? That’s awesome. Farmers getting their arms pulled off in a tractor, walking back to the homestead, and dialing 911 for help? Yeah, I get it. Incredible.
Here’s where I have a problem with you: when you make a 135 pound twenty-five year old feel like a champion for an entire day; when you allow said twenty-five year old to walk around on his left foot for hours until he realizes that that loud pop wasn’t his teacher’s throbbing kneecap but his own broken foot.
So yeah…thanks for nothing, adrenaline.
“If you’re not better yet, let’s not risk it. Take a break. And remember to keep off of your foot.” I hung up the phone and shook my head in disgust. Thus began Week 3 of no practice for me. The journey from my living room to the computer was difficult. Was it just me or was my foot getting worse? Maybe my teacher was right. Maybe I should stay off of my foot.
I sat down in front of the computer and sang an internal lamentation of the slow degradation of my career as the next Bruce Lee. I was so close I could taste it. So close I could see my opponents’ blood stains on my sweet yellow and black kung fu pants- pants that I swore would never be washed clean. It would be a reminder to all who would cross my path from thenceforth. I would have been the most intimidating Wing Chun Warrior of the West. But somehow, in some strange way, I could already see that future slip away as the resounding pop kept echoing in my head.
So what’s next? I asked myself as the computer screen flickered to life. The screen blackened for a moment. Looking back at me was a defeated man. Depressed. Alone. Unsure and afraid. I suppose that’s what happens to most people when life doesn’t go their way and you have no Plan B; when you pour all of your energy and time into a cause that fails and leaves you bankrupt.
I don’t even have any friends, I thought to myself. No one I can call to come over and hang out with.
It was 2004, so my computer was finally in working mode after a few long and painfully drawn out minutes. I propped my foot up on a stool and pulled up a search engine. I have a computer. I can find friends- and I don’t even need to leave the house! Words of comfort for an introvert.
The good news? In 2004 there were a plethora of websites catering to people just like me.
The bad news? In 2004 there were a plethora of websites catering to people just like me.
I began the slow crawl through the dungeons of despair and soon realized I was no closer to new friendships than I was to being the next kung fu legend. I’m just too boring. I’m not rich enough. Too plain.
I did have an older brother, though, and he had recently gotten into photography. Perhaps you’re reading this and don’t know me. Perhaps you’ve stumbled across my photo in one place or another online. If that were the case, I’d assume the first thought that crossed your mind was, “Dude’s a good looking guy, photogenic, and a natural in front of the camera.” Well thanks for the vote of confidence, but, well…
After a few awkward attempts at modeling, my brother managed to snap two or three shots that were at least halfway decent. They were all in black and white, which was a positive, as they made me look that much more debonair and sophisticated (even though I was wearing a pair of Adidas training pants and my trademark Spring-themed brown shirt). I took the pictures and uploaded them to a new website I had stumbled across. While perusing through the website, I found that around half of the users weren’t even American. I felt a natural draw towards it, thinking This is just what I need. No weird and fake romantic illusions, no nerve-wracking opportunities to meet up. Just getting to know a few other people while my foot heals. Yeah, that’s perfect.
A couple of days later, I logged on to the new site and had my first message waiting in my inbox:
Thanks, but I already knew that. I’m a natural.
copyright Robert Allen Johnson, 2015