Alls my life I has to fight…
“Alright” by Kendrick Lamar floated in the air as Eddie Cross pulled his phone from his pocket, the sound going from muffled to clear as he did. He flicked the ignore button on his screen, put his phone on silent, and shoved it back into his faded jeans.
“Sorry guys, are you ready?”
John Kaplan poked his head up from behind the camera and smiled, curling the tip of his mustache.
“Everything good?” Kaplan nodded toward Eddie’s phone.
“Nah, just someone trying to sell me extended car insurance.”
John nodded and retreated to the viewfinder to focus on the shot. The other two amigo’s, a film reference Eddie didn’t understand, stood by as well. Pete Berch supported a boom mic just out of frame and Juan Castroneves held a cue card with a prompt.
Eddie furrowed his brow. “And you’re sure about these prompts? Some of them seem a little dated. Maybe I should just talk from the heart on this?”
“Hey, this Gibson is a throwback guy? You get a throwback stream. I get paid by the hour either way, but I think this plays better.” John’s voice was a warm blanket from behind the camera.
“This just feels…” Eddie started to say before a hand came up from behind the camera.
“Ok, we’re going live in…” John held his hand up and counted down from five to pointing at Eddie. Monitors came to life behind the three men. Eddie’s face changed in the light, his eyes steely and purpose driven. He rolled his shoulders as he was taught what seems like so long ago.
“UltraViolence, night two. They say that the rivalry between Dave Gibson and Timo Bolamba is a hatred that is hardcore. This, then, must be a hatred for all time.”
Juan flipped to the next cue card and Eddie scanned it quickly out of the corner of his eye and froze in place. John’s seasoned face popped up and looked at the youngster whose tone suggested defeat.
“I can’t do this, guys.”
“We’re LIVE, Eddie,” John reminded him like a father scolding their child.
“This ain’t right,” he said as he pulled off his microphone and battery pack with a clattering of static. “Sorry everyone, but I gotta do me.”
He walked off the set with a sigh and hung his head. This is how the first year comes to an end? What a waste.
— — —
Eddie had been tormented by a memory lately and it had burned his mind, asleep or awake, for weeks. The young man ached to be rid of the pain, but unfortunately, the memory was tied directly to the very match that he had entered himself into.
He sat by himself, scanning the comings and goings of El Temblor’s gym, wondering what in the hell he was doing in this business. Could he escape fate even if he wanted to?
Before long he closed his eyes and the memory returned.
Three weeks before the first Stretcher/Submission match…
Eddie awoke to a murmuring that grew louder. He clutched his beloved teddy bear, Pietro, in his arms. Pietro had red suspenders and a faded t-shirt whose logos had worn off over time. His dad had said some old friend had given it to him when the twins were born, and Eddie kept it close ever since.
His little feet wouldn’t make much noise, and it sounded like Mom and Dad were too busy with their talk to notice him, anyhow. He sneaked to the edge of the stairs and kneeled down to listen to his parents, Pietro at his side. Mom seemed upset with Dad, which was growing more and more common, but he never understood why.
“You can’t be this selfish, Timo. You have a family, what if something happens?”
“Nothing is going to happen. I’ve done this sort of thing a million times.”
“You’ve fought in a match designed to cripple one or both of you a million times?”
“Well, no but…”
Her anxious frustration caused her to weave around the room, while his father remained still, following her with his eyes. He caught glimpses of her face, but the hair obscured her frustration.
“No, but what?” She interjected with a tinge of unhidden annoyance in her voice. “Can you promise me that you’re going to be fine? Should we go upstairs right now and wake up the boys and tell them what you’re doing?”
“That’s not fair,” his father replied.
“What’s not fair about it? Are we a family or not?” she asked, her voice strained. Eddie didn’t understand the question. Of course they were a family.
“Yes, of course. But you don’t have to deal with the same things I do. This is my career, and sometimes I’m going to have to take risks. Not only that, but I can’t just let Dave keep coming after me. It’s been too long and we have come too far to stop now. We have to end this once and for all.”
“It only went this far because you let it get this far,” she retorted. “You could have walked away from Gibson years ago. You’ve had every opportunity. You even went to a different promotion to get away from him and you were doing so well.”
To Eddie, it sounded like his father’s voice cracked like he had burned his finger on the stove. “I know.”
“So why does it have to be you? Why can’t someone else take this match? Are you forgetting what he did to your knee? If you get hurt, who is going to take care of your kids? Is he going to do it?”
“Of course not. We’ll make it work. We always do.”
“I don’t want to ‘make it work.’ I am tired of ‘making it work.’ You asked me to leave my job and raise the boys.”
“You wanted to do that, Gwen!”
“Yes, Timo, but not forever. The boys are getting older. You haven’t won a title in years. They ask about you more than ever! How many times do I have to make excuses for you because you’re never around?!”
“I know, but this time is going to be different. When I beat him I will get another chance at Clinton Sage and the belt.”
Eddie didn’t know why his mom was so upset. His Dad was on TV every week and he was the closest thing there was to a superhero. But his Mom was right and it sure would be nice if he were home more.
She laughed, exasperated. “And what? Smitty is going to cut you a check for a million dollars on the spot? You can’t be that naive. That man still has the first dollar he ever earned.”
“But there’s merchandise sales, and the bonus for the belt, and…”
“And what? We’re broke NOW, Timo. Unless you have some crazy get rich scheme you’re hiding I don’t know about, we’re going to be broke until one or both of us gets a stable income that doesn’t revolve around this goddamn business.”
She crumbled into a chair and for a moment, Eddie thought she had spotted him, but it turned out she was just looking at the clock on the wall just below where he was hiding.
“I need an answer,” her voice shook with nerves. “I don’t want this, but you’re not giving me a choice. Are you going to take this insane match or are you going to turn it down and be with your family?”
Eddie watched the pain twist across his father’s face, just like when Grandpa Rufan went away. He didn’t understand why his father was so upset, but it made him scared.
“Please, Timo. You’re a bigger person than him. You don’t need to do this. Your kids love you. I love you.”
As Timo turned and made his way to the door, every step made Gwen’s shoulders collapse more in on themselves. She began to sob as he gripped the door handle.
“I can’t walk away from this fight, Gwen,” he finally answered. “I don’t expect you to understand why, but I have to finish it once and for all. This has been the life of four generations of my family. If I die in that ring, it will be an honor more than I deserve.”
He took a deep breath and Eddie felt a shudder as Timo rasped, “This is all I know.”
Gwen’s head raised and she shook her head sullenly.
“I don’t get it? You have three fucking lives to support here and you think you need to be some sort of hero?” She choked her words out through shallow breaths, but her eyes were resolute as she rose from the chair. “If you walk out, don’t you dare come back.”
“I understand, and I’m sorry. I love you and the boys, but this is my last chance to stop him.” Eddie saw tears roll down his Father’s face. “I hope I make you proud of me when this is all over.”
Eddie watched his dad open the door and his mother made one last plea, “Nothing hurts more than being disappointed by the one person you never thought would hurt you.”
Her cheeks glistened with tears. Timo closed his eyes and shut the door as she collapsed into the chair. She thought she was speaking to no one but herself, “I never thought it would hurt this bad though.”
Eddie hugged Pietro tight and began to weep softly. Gwen looked up as she heard his mewling and felt a shudder as she whispered, “Oh, God… no….” and ran to Eddie. He buried his head in her shoulder and stayed in her arms until he had cried himself to sleep.
— — —
He started and gasped as El Temblor reached out and shook his shoulder.
“Eddie, it is late. You should be getting back to the hotel, no?”
“Yeah,” he said absentmindedly. As the aging luchador trundled away, Eddie piped up. “Hey El T.”
“What do you know about my Dad?”
“Señor Timo? He is a good man. Saved El Temblor from the streets and gave El Temblor this wonderful gym.”
Eddie wanted to believe that his Father was, in fact, a good man. But the pit in his stomach just wouldn’t allow him to latch on to this notion.
“And what about my Mom?” Eddie cautiously posed.
“Señorita Gwen? Ah, you mean to ask about their fight.” His voice took on a slightly caring tone. “El Temblor will say it like this… What good is it to be The Samoan Silencer if you wilt when needed most? Yet, she is always the one that Señor Timo will regret. He will grow old with his money, but no love.”
Eddie cried out frustrated, “I just don’t understand why!” It echoed through the empty locker room.
El Temblor walked over and sat next to Eddie. He put his arm around the kid and nodded.
“Yes, you do.”
“Sí. Because of the pendejo, Dave Gibson. Señor Timo knows this man will never stop, will hurt him, hurt his family. Gibson only knows how to hurt, not how to love.”
“But, I… aren’t they best friends?”
“Eh, yes and no?” El Temblor replied. “What is the saying, keep friend close, enemy closer?”
“Yeah, something like that,” Eddie was busy trying to wrap his head around what he was hearing.
“So, you see, just like Señor Timo, now you understand Dave Gibson.”
“Sí.” El Temblor stood up and smiled. “But, I am just an old Rudo who knows the value of his words and his heart. The question is, what will Eddie do with his words?”
“Si, tus palabras.” El Temblor walked up and motioned with an open mouth as if he were making a great noise with his mouth. “And what will Eddie do with his heart?”
“I uh… I don’t know.”
El Temblor nods, sagely. “These are questions only Eddie can answer. But now it is time for El Temblor to close the gym. Come now, you have to get rest so Dave Gibson can answer for his treachery.”
“Yeah, yeah, OK,” Eddie replied. “Hey El T?”
“Thanks, I think that actually made sense.”
El Temblor looked up at Eddie as the young man rose and he gave Eddie a hug.
“You are much like Señor Timo, a good man… but also you are own man. Never forget this.”
— — —
The next morning, Eddie woke up, clear minded and rested. He had not dreamed of the fight, but he had thought a lot through the night of what he would say to Dave Gibson if given the chance.
Detroit didn’t have a hill to run up, but it did have an abundance of shoreline on Lake St. Clair, and Eddie needed the endorphins that had gotten used to building in North Carolina every morning.
Pausing briefly, he noticed that he had a missed call. The same number from the day before had tried to reach him this morning. He shrugged it off and earbuds went in each ear. Before long he had picked a track to pump himself up.
I gotta feed the streets, my pistol gon’ bleed the streets
Ski mask on my face, sometimes you gotta cheat
To stay ahead in this bitch-a, drank syrup like it’s liquor
Street life’ll have you catchin’ up to God quicker
His feet churned under him, rhythmically pacing on the shoreline. He felt his heart rate rising slowly, pumping blood through his limbs in time with the beat. His breaths were measured, precise. He felt the terrible burden of the biggest match of his life bearing down on him, but like Son Goku, he knew training under the additional weight would make him stronger than he had ever been.
The memory of his father turning the handle flashed and he blinked, shaking his visions away.
He left because of you.
He left to fight you.
He left to end you.
He beat you.
But you’re still here.
Somehow you’re still fucking here.
His feet involuntarily rap quicker on the shore, and his breath comes alive with the morning chill as it forms into clouds behind him. Steam races off his shoulders into the air. A passerby might think Eddie was running from something, but they would be mistaken. He was done running away… this was running toward the fight.
A fight he was finally prepared to see through until the bloody fucking end.
Dave, I can see now that it was never going to be enough for you to be happy living your life, retired, alone… you’re a blight, and the only thing that makes you happy is destroying other people’s happiness.”
You think I’m a burden, the kid of your so-called friend. Well, I got news for you. I’ve been doing this for a year now and I am tired of being dragged around by people who have intentions and plans and think I am just the son of wrestling royalty.
You want to know what I think? I think I’m twenty-one years old and I’ve already been in a hospital three times in the span of a year because I trusted someone else. I should be in college, or chasing girls, or partying but I am driving around the country never knowing whether or not some maniac is going to try to run me over or ambush me in the dark hallways of an arena and leave me for dead in the desert.
This shit aint normal, bruh. I was brought up right by a mom who barely had enough to get by. She made sure we had food every day, a backpack with completed homework every day, made it on the bus every fuckin’ day. She did it by herself, too.
She had to do it by herself. You saw to that, didn’t you?
But I get it now. I know why she hated you. She knew deep down you were nothing but a parasite, a fucking tick that will latch onto my family any chance he gets and gorge on the blood until he’s too fat to walk.
Despite the emotions he felt, the weight burned out of him and the toxicity poured from him as sweat.
I don’t know why I never put this together before. I’ve seen all the tape, I know the timeline, I know every second of your matches with him. Maybe I didn’t want to see it, maybe I wanted to believe you had changed. After all, you and I were pretty close.
But you did what you did, and it doesn’t really matter what your reasons are, does it? You just can’t help yourself from fucking with my family. My only solace is that my brother was smart enough to quit before you had a chance to turn on him too.
The sad thing is I loved you, Dave. I really did. My Dad does too. You broke my heart, and I gotta imagine his as well. All for what? So you can have one last shot at relevance? So you can teach me some sort of life lesson through pain?
Nah, fuck that. You think you paved the way for people like me? For people in this industry? There’s a thousand people like you in the forgotten footnotes of places that don’t exist anymore. I know because you cling to the past like joining the present is going to give you cancer and you made me watch them all in some misguided attempt to teach me about fucking rest holds and wrist control. Bruh, nobody does that shit anymore.
I used to think this was just about the business. That’s what you taught me, right? Be a bad guy, be a good guy, it doesn’t matter as long as you draw money for the promoter. It was never about that. It was always personal, wasn’t it?
None of this; not the promo, not the match stipulations, not the pageantry, veteran, rookie, none of it is going to make a difference when the bell rings. This all gets stripped down to you and me, and which one of us wants it more.
You’re coming to this match to prove something to me, to prove something to yourself: The old man still has it. You think this is about technique and evolution. The chess match. It ain’t about that anymore. This is about me and you and ending the cycle of shit you cause everyone around you.
Remember, you wanted this. You wanted to push me. You wanted to make me a man. Well, you’re going to get what you wanted. I want to say this one more time so you truly understand: I loved you. I would have walked through hell for you. And it wasn’t enough, was it?
When the time comes, I’m not going to pretend I won’t be scared out of my mind. You taught me everything I know and you know every counter to every counter I know. But this is my time now, and I won’t stop until I’ve cut you open and drawn you like poison from the wound you inflicted on my family all those years ago.
All you had to do was love me back.
But you chose this path instead.
I hope it was worth it.