The Anglo Luchador
You’re growing tired of me.
Flashes from cellphones flickered like stars in the night sky from the stands in Arena del Angel. San Luis Potosi didn’t expect The Anglo Luchador. Neither did the staff at HLL Uno. None of it was on the runsheet – not the entrance, the tirade, the appearance of El Monolito, none of it. Yet the crowd ate it up like a Sunday evening mole. Their deflation when the referees and young boys finally separated the two, the former PRIME Intense Champion and a mountain of humanity, more malice and granite than man, was a facsimile of a space station airlock sucking the artificial atmosphere into the frigid vacuum of the nothingness between planets and stars. Old school promoters might have given the kneejerk reaction that not letting the two fight “killed the territory.” No one would be quite sure until the largest lucha libre promotion in Mexico returned to SLP, but that episode of the weekly flagship program featured a limp crowd lifting tepid voices.
If you ask anyone sitting with a sightline on the luchador, they noticed something different.
“His eyes,” Juan Cordova remarked to someone doing a recap for RingDispatch.com, “When all those people were covering him, like wasps on a hornet, man, he looked… scared.”
And all the things I don’t talk about.
The “Nuzzle Lord” disgusted him even before he stepped in front of the camera in an official capacity. Parents – maybe dads less so than moms – know the concept of personal space is null and void until rambunctious children become moody teenagers. The idea of a grown man soliciting twee nuzzles from strangers made his skin crawl, even before fog began to roll onto his brain from the dark waters of evil intrusive thoughts.
It was one thing to be creepy, he thought. Disingenuous was another. The whole world saw the way his incel smarm turned into school-shooter aggression with his participation in the continued assault on the Tag Champions. The nerve afterwards, laundering his image with “DJ Tristy-Crispy.” Sicko shit, plain and simple. A man like that didn’t deserve praise, even ironically. A man like that deserved a one-way ticket to the ICU.
He knew it wasn’t a reward, not after Mexico. It wasn’t punishment either. Lindsay Troy and Thomas Battaglia didn’t see eye-to-eye all the time, but there was respect between the two. Sure, maybe it was the kind of respect a brother and sister had for each other even as they took turns shrieking insults and invective at each other before slamming their respective bedroom doors. But no matter how he thought at his darkest, the reality was that there was no hate between the two. The same couldn’t be said for Troy and the apostate Love Convoy or the Hallmark Journey, or whatever stupid, extraneous nickname they’d coined this week.
It was coincidence. Serendipitous coincidence.
Sorry I don’t want your touch. It’s not that I don’t want you.
Half-a-million bucks is a lot of fuckin’ money, the kind of cash that even a main event caliber wrestler and a big pharma exec can absorb, but not as easily as one might imagine. They’re not billionaires, you know. Indie wrestlers and salarymen alike shed no tears at the news, nor should they have. Everyone close to a man close to the edge though? They felt it. Especially the kids. It wasn’t that the money deprived them of treats. Roots in an Italian-American rowhome in South Philly instilled gratitude and charity into the heart of a wrestler who was lucky enough to instill those values the same into his children. The boys, Vinny especially, didn’t understand what his dad did wrong.
The younger son saw how the gravity of things affected his dad, his hero. He thought it curious that he’d lose his temper so easily with someone half his age. He might have been the only one to see it, but he noticed how his dad refrained from touching anyone the day after the show. He was jovial, genial even, but he didn’t once fling his arm around “Uncle Nate’s” shoulder or even slap his hand, even as they progressively sunk deeper and deeper into inebriation. Dad didn’t hug Mom once. Didn’t tussle Zo’s hair. Didn’t try in vain to pick him up. Disney. Epcot Center. The Happiest Stinkin’ Place on Earth, and Dad tried to be an island.
The only time anyone touched him was when Mom and Uncle Nate had to help him into the resort, into the elevator, down the hall, into their suite. Dad flopped on the bed but didn’t lay down right away. Slumped over, posterior slowly indenting the memory foam mattress under the weight of the beer and tequila and French wine and water mixed with powdered electrolyte in his belly. Each breath through his nostrils labored more intensely than the last. Only rarely Vinny had seen his dad like this before. Each time before, there were laughs to be had. Goofiness. A blithe aura around him, good times.
This time, the eyes weren’t the only part of his body that seemed glassy.
Vinny crept into the master bedroom, unnoticed by his father slipping in and out of sleep sitting up. Tiptoeing like he was in a cartoon, he sidled his father, looking to get in and give him a hug. Maybe he’d remember it; maybe he wouldn’t. But Vinny had to try and remind his dad that things weren’t all that bad. His approach was successful until he came to the arm he had to move to try and complete his mission.
At that moment when his son touched him ever so slightly, Tom jolted awake. He looked over and didn’t see who was really there. In his stupor, he saw Tristan Crispin-Gladhappy.
“AHHHHHHH! GET AWAY FROM ME!”
He swung his arm wide, missing his son but sending the message clearly. Vinny let out a shriek and recoiled back. Dad was still dazed. The room swirled around him, but his son only saw one figure in sharp focus. It was the first time he was ever afraid of his father.
Dad let out a sharp exhale and collapsed into bed. Tam entered the room behind her son.
“Vincenzo, you can’t sneak up on someone that drunk.”
Sniffling, fighting back tears in his eyes, he turned to his mother.
“I just wanted to make him feel better, mom.”
She looked upon her son with soft eyes, wanting to tell him she’d been fighting the silent battle for the last two weeks-and-change herself. She had to be strong, because she was the only person in the family capable of it at this point.
“I know. Your dad loves you. He’ll feel better soon, okay?”
He stopped sniffling. Even though he didn’t really believe her, the faith instilled deep inside of him allowed him to be a brave little guy again. He stood up straight, grabbed his father’s phone from the nightstand, and scurried out of the room.
Sorry I can’t take your touch.
The funny thing about alcohol is that drinking to forget doesn’t always work. Three AM and Tom was out of bed, groggy and disoriented but awake from a full bladder. Stumbling to the bathroom was his singular focus. As the first drops hastened into a gushing stream, he suddenly remembered the last thing that happened to him before he dozed off for good.
Now it was Tom’s turn to check in on his son. Peeking his head into his kids’ shared room, he saw on the bottom bunk his son, in his pajamas, clutching the gigantic Baby Yoda plush he guilted Uncle Nate into buying him. Tom saw how peacefully he was sleeping and turned away.
He didn’t get another wink of sleep the rest of the night, even though he tried his best.
It’s just that I fell in love with a war.
The one-man war he waged on Jabber for the ten days and counting since ReVival 21 was, in a word, relentless. Never had a man been this pathetically online on a forum seen by so few people. But he had to keep defending his name, right?
Barbs from Ivan and Ned and Eddie and even Tony, the man he beat the brakes off of at Colossus, were expected. Reacting to that rogue’s gallery was what put him in the awful frame of mind in the first place. There was no leaving pride on the battlefield.
It was when the others started chiming in that he started to feel the walls closing in.
Justine Calvin tried to mask her aghastness at history repeating so shortly after someone closer to her nearly went on a self-destructive bender with jokes. Brandon Youngblood dropped the surly act and gave an impassioned plea to take care of himself. Heh, the Tower of Babel, advocating against self-destruction. When does that ever happen? He tried ignoring both of them, playing their uncharacteristic shifts in personality off, but it was when Coral Avalon told him to shut up and Jared Sykes started playing life coach that really jolted him into a panic. Jared Sykes, the voice of compassion and reason? Justine Calvin, blithely cracking jokes? That’s when he knew he entered a strange new front in the forever war of insecurity inside of his own head.
He looked up from his phone and didn’t recognize the room he was in anymore. Instead, a mass of arms descended from the ceiling, circling around him, triggering a latent claustrophobia that made the skin on the back of his shoulders steeple in terror. Flop sweat uncomfortably formed on his forehead and under his pecs as the aperture at the top of the interwoven arms engulfing him began filling with a head chanting “Everyone loves a nuzzle.” The red curled tufts and bucked teeth of Tristan Crispin-Gladhappy floated ominously like a storm cloud eclipsing the sun. He stared with his mouth agape before rubbing his eyes and looking around frantically for an escape. He saw a door ajar and leapt through it with the grace and deftness of a stuntman. Left on hands and knees in the corridor, he scanned for sanctuary. The bathroom door was also left ajar, no occupants. He scuttled in, slammed the door shut, and disrobed before crawling into the tub.
Nobody told me it ended, and it left a pearl in my head, and I roll it around every night just to watch it glow.
She knocked on the door.
“Tom, are you gonna spend all night in there?”
No answer. She jiggled the handle but found with surprise he didn’t lock the door. Before her eyes were clothes strewn haphazardly around the room. A sock even landed in the toilet, which, thankfully, was empty of anything but clear water at the time. In the tub lay her husband, blank expression on his face, right arm dangling over the side lip dripping water slowly onto the shorts he was wearing during the unseasonably steamy weather in February. The lukewarm water leveled out just above his bellybutton as he propped himself up on the back wall just behind the edge of his bath. To her even greater surprise, not a drop of alcohol was in sight.
“Oh honey, what is going on?”
The exterior facade on his face began to crack ever so slightly. Her own confusion began to soften into sadness. Yeah, Tam had been furious at the last minute airfare to Mexico and having to deal with an angry Lindsay Troy on the phone during month-end closing and the seeming detachment of her husband from the rest of the world. It wasn’t the first time she’d been mad at him, and it probably wouldn’t be the last. She fell in love with a wrestler, a petty, impulsive, macho fuckface of a wrestler. She knew what she was in for and part of her liked the ride anyway.
It was the morosity that concerned her. The panic and the guarded nature. Not letting anyone in. Yeah, that’s part of the macho nature of a pro wrestler, but him being away from the business for so long locked away that part of him. Being back in the crossfire, all the conflicts, even with people he didn’t want to hurt – he wanted to fight everyone, but there was always a difference between exhibitions vs. Brandon Youngblood or SAIGO and blood wars with Gamble or Balaam – they let out the ugliness inside of him.
“Tom…” she trailed off, bending down to get face-to-face with her husband. “I know there’s something wrong. But you can’t go fucking off and not telling anyone why you do what you’re doing all the time.”
His expression remained blank except for a tear forming in his left eye.
“I just want to help. What’s wrong, babe?”
Finally, he started to move his head to face his wife. His eyes squinted as he blinked, tears streaking down his face, a pained smile forming as he contorted his nose to point upward.
The streaks became waterfalls, and his wail could be mistaken for mourning. At that moment, Tam could only do one thing.
She leaned into the tub and hugged her husband.
For a second, he was shocked, but there was familiarity in her touch. All the sadness and the rage and the conflict in his head remained, and his tears intensified. But the fog started to lift, and he came to reckon with the world in which he was living, both with circumstances beyond his control and the bed he made for himself with his reckless actions. All he could do at that moment was reach his damp arms out around his wife and hug her back.
“I’m so scared…”
“Shhh, shhhh, it’s okay. What are you scared of?”
His crying intensified as he burrowed his head into Tam’s shoulder.
“Let it out… I’m here. I’m here.”
He finally released his grip and pulled back, wiping his eyes and then nose.
“I’m scared that this shit in my head, all the stuff swirling around, it’s gonna destroy me. I can’t stop picking fights.”
“Dude, I have a Jabber account I don’t use. I see the shit that Ivan and Timo’s twerp little kid post unprovoked. You don’t pick the fights.”
“But I don’t let them go either. I always take the bait, and it just drives me to do things, stupid things. Hurtful things. Self-destructive things.”
“Well, you recognize it, right?”
He nodded, wincing, knowing what was going to come next.
“If you recognize it, why can’t you stop?”
“I, I don’t know. And that’s what terrifies me. I’m going to go headlong into every battle I can because I have to prove myself to everyone. Do you know how fuckin’ hard it is to go out, put my blood into every single battle, and come back to see some guy who thinks hammer-arming his partner to make a tag is the most hilarious shit ever saying I let PRIME down? Or some shithead little kid telling me my reign was just tomato cans? And don’t even get me started on that fuckin’ French kid.”
Tam’s face contorted, and her eyes rolled.
“Uh, I’m a woman in business. Five times this week already, Edwards insinuated that I’m too emotional to keep my vice president position.”
They both scowled before Tam started back up again.
“You always feel like you have to be everything to everyone. That’s impossible.”
“Impossible? I’m a pro wrestler. By our job description, we’re supposed to do the impossible. And here I am on the sidelines, cleaning up the possible and choking against the big threats. Against Atken. Against Paxton. It kills me every single fucking time, and now, I have all these eyes burning me, and the shit in my head won’t shut up.”
She soaked in his words for a beat, closed her eyes, and deeply inhaled. When she opened them again, she put both her hands on her husband’s face, one on each cheek.
“I love you. And I love this attitude you have when you get it in your head that you’re an invincible fuckstorm who shows up whenever he wants wherever he wants. It’s hot in the right context.”
He waited for a but that was about to drop, but before it came, she caught him off-guard, playfully dunking his head underwater. He popped back up, exaggeratedly spitting water all over the bathroom.
“But you need a wake-up call. You can’t be who you want to be in this condition. Look at your body, all the scratches. It looks like you tried to fight an alley full of hungry cats. No man in your condition can be an invincible fuckstorm, not even if that’s what you want.”
“But that’s the thing. It’s not about what I want to be,” he replied, wiping the last of the water out of his eyes. “It’s what I have to be. They’re putting me against the incel snuggler. This creep that… you know I saw his face when Vinny tried to hug me in Orlando?”
“Hon, you were drunk.”
“Then maybe I shouldn’t have been drunk, babe,” he snapped back, words weighed down with regret. “These villains, that’s what they are. This isn’t like Empire when the only thing Sean Stevens was guilty of was being cocky or Jonathan Marx boring. This Gladhappy attacked my friends and borderline assaults strangers and no one’s put him on his ass yet. You have Paxton, and you have Jiles stealing jets, and who knows when Bathory will be back and…”
“Look, you’re already helping with Paxton, and you can’t do everything yourself. I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face.”
He exhaled deeply.
“I know. Maybe one day I’ll listen.”
Every night, baby, that’s where I go.
Out of the tub long enough to dry off but still recent to have pruney fingers and toes, Tom finished putting a fresh outfit on in his bedroom. A slight knock rose up from the outside.
“Come in, I’m decent.”
The door creaked open, and in walked his younger son.
“Vinny! What’s up?”
“Dad, I was wondering, can you get me a beanbag chair for my room? The Baby Yoda Uncle Nate got me is too big to fit on my bed. I want to make sure he’s comfy.”
Tom chuckled to himself.
“Yeah, kid. I’ll get one for you.”
“Cool! Thanks, Dad!”
Vinny turned to run out, but his father’s voice beckoned him to stay.
“Vin, hey, uh wait up.”
His son’s face grew perplexed.
“What, am I in trouble, dad?”
“Oh no, no kid. I…”
He cleared his throat to dislodge the words he wanted to say.
“I just wanted to say I’m sorry for Saturday night at Disney.”
The kid’s face grew even more contorted.
“Dad, you don’t have to be sorry.”
“No, Vince, I do.”
Tom bent down to meet his son, face-to-face.
“When you love someone, really love someone, you don’t chase them away. Ever. I was wrong, and I never want to do that again. Never want you to feel that way again, kid.”
“Oh, it’s okay, dad. I don’t care about that anymore.”
“I love you, son.”
“Love you too, dad.”
They embraced. Tom squeezed him tighter than he had since he was a toddler. The moment lingered, and when they finally let go, dad patted son on the shoulder.
“Go downstairs. I’ll be there in a second.”
As Vinny sped out of the bedroom, Tom rose back to his feet.
“Kids really are resilient, huh.”
Just then, his face lit up in epiphany. He nodded and then turned to face the mirror on his dresser. He walked over and stared himself right in the face.
“Hey. I’m ready to sue for peace now.”
Just then, he saw his reflection morph. It was FLAMBERGE. No, Eddie Cross. Ivan? Phil Atken? Hoyt Williams, no Tony Gamble. No, it was Tristan Crispin-Gladhappy. It was all of them at once and none of them at the same time.
“The fuck you are,” the reflection seemingly replied to him.
He closed his eyes and sighed deeply. When he opened them again, only his own image, plain and unadorned by the perception in his brain, stared back at him. He shook his head and walked towards the door.
Baby, just to watch it glow.
Italicized text lyrics from “A Pearl” by Mitski from her 2018 album Be the Cowboy.