When I was 11 years old I loved The Ultimate Warrior, a professional wrestler famous for his face paint, ring entrance, hair, physique, arm tassels, and incomprehensible interviews. I had no ring to enter, and being an 11 year old boy, little more than a concaved chest and big dreams. But I could replicate the hair—I had a mullet from the ages of 2-13, so with a little teasing and a lot of Aquanet, I was good to go on that front. I also had arm tassels, purchased out of a WWF catalogue after many, many weeks of saving my allowance.

And on several occasions, before we both went to school (me to the 4th grade, she to paralegal courses at Phillips Junior College), my mom would apply The Ultimate Warrior’s mask to my face. My mom had explained the strong feelings I had about The Ultimate Warrior to my teachers, and because I was a good student (with good teachers), they let it pass.

At dinner I would replicate the Warrior’s interview style (including the grunts, snorts, and psychotic metaphors he was known for) when I would order my brother to hand over the last Pizza Hut breadstick. It sounded something like this:

“CODY!!! (Snort) The sun will set on YOU! (Snort) And the streets will FLOW with your BLOOD if you do not give me that BREADSTICK! (Snort)”

It doesn’t enhance brotherly relations to threaten a street full of blood over a breadstick, but it usually worked.

Ascendant Years

My mom first returned to school when I was eight years old, going to a vocational college in Northern Utah, earning a one-year certificate that allegedly qualified her to be a secretary. Realizing she didn’t want to be an alleged secretary, she enrolled in a junior college in Salt Lake City, and, in 1992, earned an Associates Degree in Paralegal Studies. (That probably should be written without the capital letters, but among the many things those years and that degree earned include the right to be written in capital letters.)

During the years she spent earning that degree we ate a lot of fast food–and more than once I went to bed with a face full of paint and pizza sauce. My dad often worked late (and for a time had a second job), and my mom would spend most of the night in front of an enormous PC bought with student loans, doing her homework.

We had that computer until I was in high school, long after I knew there were other ways to move a cursor than pressing “Control/Alt” and the arrow key(s) at the same time. Those years, spent eating pizza and watching WWF on Monday Nights on the USA Network, were ascendant years for my family.

They were ascendant years for The Ultimate Warrior, too – he would win the World Championship in an epic match with Hulk Hogan. That match, between two “good guy” characters, drew a sharp line between boys who turned 9 in 1990. I still don’t know how anyone rooted for Hogan’s “All-American, Eat Your Vitamins” shtick versus The Warrior’s “Hailing from Parts Unknown, rush the stage” approach to battle.

It wasn’t just me—my brother liked the Warrior better than Hogan, too.

We were definitely a Warrior family.

A Thank You

When I was 20, I decided I wanted more out of life, but I knew that I was not going down a road that would get me where I wanted to go. I decided to go to college, and once I decided that, it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t finish—even when I became a dad and a husband halfway through my bachelor’s degree.

I think those thoughts never occurred to me because I knew that if I found some time to pull myself away from the computer for a few minutes and apply a Warrior mask (or at least the metaphorical version), then I too could be both a parent and a student.

This spring, The Ultimate Warrior and my mom, born two years apart, died within one week of each other. I tried calling her to ask her if she had seen the news, but I didn’t reach her in time. So, during a week where we are supposed to express gratitude, I wanted to give a public thank you to The Ultimate Warrior, for keeping my brother and I company on Monday nights during those years, and to thank my mom for taking those years to help make a better life for us—and for showing me one way to build a better life of my own.

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