I’ve been lost for some time. I’ve strayed from the path I intended to walk, and have been placed into a limbo of my own making. My next steps won’t pull me out of the tailspin entirely, nor will they plummet me into the end of my time – only if I allow it to.
Where to go from here?
What is my next move?
I was lost. Everything was hurting. My mind was in a haze of disorientation and confusion for where I had been to have reached this point.
Beneath me, a cool dampness. It registered, then, that the darkness was predominantly due to my eyes being closed.
So I strained my eyelids to open, like when you’re stuck in a dream and realized that it is in fact, just a dream. You try to command your eyes to open, fighting your own mind and forcing it to reach out and touch a point of consciousness it had been far from. In a lonely instant, you snapped back to reality from whatever dream you had, and instantly regret it.
Looking up, I wait a few seconds for my vision to adjust, and run a forearm over my eyes to knock away any gross, crusty goop that blocked clarity. What I see is a shaft of light, surrounded by the dark colored dirt above me. I can’t see beyond the light, but as I turned my head I realized it must be the surface because I laid on the ground of some wider, open space. There are some stalactites hanging over me, unthreatening as they’ve been for however many ages of existence. “Water… must have…” I reached up with a dirt-laden hand to my forehead, and touched it to draw a wetness from it. “Woke me up.”
With a grunt, I sit up and do a cursory check of myself. Everything seems to be in order, nothing broken. Looking up again, the hole where the light is coming from must be fifteen feet up. “I took a fall,” I mused, but can’t remember what happened, then shrugged. “Maybe a sinkhole, now I’m down here anyway.”
I hauled myself up to my feet and knocked off some of the dirt on my midnight blue athleisure, trimmed in neon green, as a few thoughts flooded back to my mind, “I went out for a morning hike. Family’s waiting at the hotel. I’m supposed to meet them for breakfast. Shit, we’re leaving in the morning… no, tonight, but a redeye. This is the last day of our trip.”
This was supposed to be a leisurely ‘getaway from New York City’ vacation for my wife, Cindy; my son, Logan, and among the first interstate trips for our almost one year old daughter, Morgan. Of course, whereas a leisure trip may have put ideas in their heads for beaches, shopping, and sightseeing; personally, I see it as morning hikes, trips to local foodie haunts that I then critique – @CuisineFiend on the PlateMe app – and midnight workouts. But it never included falling through a dang hole in the ground and landing in a cave below. I briefly drifted to the thoughts of how someone keeps falling in dreams, and the theory of when you hit the ground– you’re dead. “I guess this isn’t a dream, then,” I thought as I looked around.
The cavern itself was fairly pretty. There was more natural light coming in from a side entrance – likely the way most people took to enter and exit this area. The rock formations ranged but the general idea to me was that this place had been formed a long time ago, and it wasn’t going anywhere. On the ceiling, there was something that lived on the walls, an algae or other organism that colored the rock in a reddish-orange hue. It spread throughout and gave the cave the look of warmed embers on a logpile. The air was cooler than what awaited me outside, and I took a moment to enjoy the silence and the stillness that blanketed me while I was here.
I spread my arms outward from my body, soaking it in. “The exact opposite of being in the city, involved in the nonstop whirlwind. This is what I came for,” I felt a pang of something you can only find in nature, away from the concrete structures and buzzing technology. I’m not exactly sure what it was – a sense of peace, a feeling of oneness, or just the relief of having my phone on mute. Regardless, I enjoyed the sensation, like a momentary natural high.
“Are you getting what you wanted from here?” a voice echoed off the cave walls, and caused me to flinch in surprise as I whirled around, my arms reflexively raised in a defensive stance.
“Goddamn it, what the hell!” I exclaimed under my breath as I looked around and didn’t see anyone immediately nearby. Then I spotted perhaps an alternate reason for the glow in the cave: A reddish-orange flame emanated from one side of the cave, opposite form where my exit was. I tried to focus and note if someone was there, but couldn’t make out anyone moving.
“I’m over here, all right,” the voice said, not mockingly or with malice. “Come, you must have found your way here for a reason,” they matter-of-factly stated.
I creeped closer towards the flame, not knowing what to expect when I reached it. What I saw made me question myself at the sight of the person who sat on a rock next to the fire.
It was me. Not the present me, though. It was a version of myself from my youth, when I had first entered the wrestling business: A clean shaven face, light brown hair, short and spiky on top, faded to scalp on the sides and back, along with a more muscular but less defined body build. I, uh, that is… the younger me wore an ocean blue cutoff shirt and black shorts, along with black wrestling boots and a silver chain around the neck. He looked up at me and I was speechless.
“To answer your questions, Larry,” the cocky little bastard jumped ahead of me, “You aren’t hallucinating. Of course you aren’t dead. You’re not conscious, and the hell if I know why you picked this version of yourself to speak with. I’m just gonna sit here until you find something to ask me.”
Even though I just gave myself all the answers to those questions, I didn’t understand. “Why am I seeing you?” I tried for starters, with everything around me dimming as I focused in on the fire, and this person before me.
“Why? Isn’t that a loaded fucking question!” Young Larry exclaimed, laughing at me. Like I said, cocky bastard, this one. “I suppose you’re looking for some answers, and this is your way of sorting out some shit from within.”
“Wait, how can I sort out anything when I can’t even understand this?” I protested, then stopped because it sounded like something Logan would complain about.
“Yeah, you can sense it, right? You’ve been a little bitch of late. You’re not really addressing the issues you’ve been having in the ring. Win or lose, you haven’t been at your best. That really just sucks, man. It’s no fun when you’re in quicksand, but that’s exactly the position you’ve been in lately, unable to figure out that the more you struggle against yourself, the worse you’ll be dragged.”
I shook my head a couple times, “Okay, I still don’t get it. I may be struggling in PRIME, for instance, but my opponents have pretty much been finding a lower road than I have. In my last two matches, I’ve had Ria try to give me a vasectomy via low blow… and been cratered by The Anglo Luchador with a damned barbed wire two-by-four. That’s not exactly losing off of my ability,” I scowled.
“I think you’re missing the point here, Larry. It’s still losing, and losing is not what got you admitted into PRIME in the first place. Since we’re speaking of there, let’s make it our example. In another time and place, you wouldn’t have been bested by those types of maneuvers, would you? I would think you would have been the one making use of those tactics. It’s a shame, somewhere along the line you’ve lost that edge.”
“I haven’t lost my edge, only maybe some sanity from that barbed wire digging into my skull, given what I’m looking at here,” I spat as I motioned to this visage. “If you’re here to help, and not just mock me for a couple of matches gone off the rails, then what do you suggest I do about it?” I crossed my arms while shooting a glare to this young prick.
“When did it happen,” Young Larry pondered while scratching his facial hair-less chin. “I mean, there have been moments where you weren’t exactly showing your true self. Even my own appearance here, is nothing more than a veil you hid behind for years. Brown hair? The amount of dye and hair glue you used to cover your real appearance would make Phil Atken do a double take! You didn’t want people to associate you with your past, of course, and that was your solution. Phil Atken… now there’s someone who’s been a good example, wouldn’t you say?”
“He’s done well, sure. He’s a lot better than I gave him credit for when we faced off,” I conceded.
“Yes, but if I didn’t know any better, I’d say he’s given you some food for thought. Hell, even before his match against Pete Whealdon, he said some things that were of interest to you. I would know, I am you, and I heard it loud and clear.”
“He’s a jackoff who thinks he’s going to save wrestling from the veterans, which ironically, he is one,” I scoffed and uncrossed my arms with a shrug. “I don’t see what that has to do with me finding my way back.”
Young Larry chuckled and waved a finger. “Of course you don’t. That’s why we’re here, isn’t it? That Philly A, he pretty much called you out for gobbling up opportunities that you really didn’t deserve, including in PRIME. He basically put your protégé, Cesar, leaving Tact Enterprises on you, which isn’t undeserved. You tried to train him up as a wrestler, and all you were doing was holding him back. You tried having him run the business in your absence last year, and then made him look like a fool by taking it all back at your whim. You made him vulnerable, ripe for influence at the whiff of betrayal, with what happened with his father. We know the truth, here, of course. You can’t escape your own memories, Larry…”
“Yeah, Atken’s a real saint, doing such charity as stepping all over others’ affairs while playing judge and jury, too. Real class act. Who the hell gives a damn, he’s got a Universal Title shot, which I’m sure is what he wanted all along.”
“Yes, he’s advancing while you’re still in the starting blocks,” Young Larry pointed at the present day version. “He made a very real comparison without realizing it, too, between you and Pete Whealdon. In fact, you two are facing each other at ReViVal 11, and that should make for a very real and visceral setup to see where his comparison holds water, and where it leaks out and down the drain.”
“Pete Whealdon? The guy isn’t exactly making waves either, I’ll give you that,” I nodded, but then raised an arm and slashed the air, which did nothing to dispel this figure of my younger self. “He’s got nothing else in common with me. I’m stable while he’s still trying to figure out his life, much less his wrestling future. I’ve got everything in front of me, and he’s got another couple people who are going to give him every reason to stop circling that drain Phil Atken mentioned, and just allow it to suck him straight down it.”
“Right, right, it’ll be a piece of cake. Just like all the other matches you’ve had in PRIME?”
I could feel the back of my neck getting warm from being called out, and pointed at this phantom, who was leaning back against the wall of the cave, arms behind his head. “You know what, you stupid little…”
Then I paused.
Because he had a point. I wasn’t winning with the arrows I‘d been slinging. I wasn’t finding success with the approach I had used. Instead, I was being one-upped and shown up.
“Was that a light bulb that went on, or is it just your gears grinding to a halt?” Young Larry chortled as he maintained the relaxed seated position.
“Okay, so you’re saying that I’ve got to take a fresh look at things, fine. I already did change up some things before I returned, and now you’re saying I need to change even further?”
“Well,” Young Larry began, “You could keep getting nut-shotted, bloodied, and submitted, but it’s your call,” he smirked. Smug asshole.
“Let’s play this out for a second,” I considered, resting one arm on the other in front of me, and scratching my beard. “Beyond whatever psychological hang-ups Whealdon may have, and I mean, honestly, it feels like the minority of wrestlers in PRIME haven’t fit in a therapy session at this point. After the accumulated years of punishment most of us have endured, it‘s no wonder. But Atken said Pete was essentially not someone trying to take from others, and undercut the younger talent. He was lost and without… purpose…” Something about that sentiment struck a chord. “You think I lack a purpose?”
“Not lack entirely, but lost the way. You’ve been so hung up on the past, that you’re unable to apply the very changes you’re alluding to.”
“What, living in the past? How have I been doing that?” I challenged him.
“Larry, let’s face it. When you left Empire Pro, it wasn’t on the best of terms, and you know it. You were looking for an escape to spend time with your son, your wife… you didn’t have your heart in the ring. You still managed to get through a round of Ultratitle, but that was about your last gasp. You crashed and burned with the championship you held, shortly thereafter, and then floundered at a chance to regain it. Like now, you’ve resumed a continuation of that floundering. In other places, you’ve made strides because there, you started relatively clean slate. You knew no one, you had only to make strategic changes,” Young Larry made a motion to his head. “In PRIME, there’s more to it. Think about it.”
As he spoke, it suddenly dawned on me that I had been wearing proverbial shackles. “You could be right. I mean, it feels like that’s a piece of it,” I breathed a sigh, “I entered PRIME in the Almasy Invitational, and immediately compared it to Ultratitle. The disturbed ghosts came back to haunt me, for my disappointment and underachievement. I went on to lose in the opening round due to that, and not really seeing Nicholas Pfefferman. Atken could have been me, if I had come back with a clear head and willing to squelch the ghosts of my past. Instead, I seemed to have been overwhelmed by them, and he sensed that. He took me down. The matches since then have been a continuation of the same scars opening back up, over and over again.”
I walked up close to the fire, and I saw an image of my protégé, Cesar, in the tongues of flames.
“I wanted Cesar to see that I could be a force to be reckoned with here, in a place that had a few familiar names. It felt like a homecoming, but ended up being more of a homecoming than I wanted. In fact, I haven’t even reached the level that I did in the F-Wrestling circuit. I’ve been subpar to that time, to the time when you were around,” I indicated my younger self, who now sat up and observed, less relaxed than before. “I needed to see that I’m not that much different than Whealdon. I haven’t found my best place in PRIME yet. What I really did was assume I’d be able to replicate the same success since my return, without changing anything. But the very fact that this playing field knows me in a different way, and even if they don’t, they’ve been doing a better job of addressing their demons, or even embracing some of them. It’s caused me to lag behind. I’ve been ignoring the change that needs to happen.”
“You also have a third to contend with this show, in Tony Gamble,” Young Larry tilted his head,
“Don’t forget he’s a PRIME Hall of Famer, and he had no issue stooping low to make an impact. He got involved in the Intense Title match, and he didn’t even have a contract until after he did that. He went out and made it happen, something you’ve kind of sucked at doing here, too.”
“Hey! I already said I’m trying to change, no need to keep laying it on,” I snapped back.
“Alright, sorry, that one was more out of vindictiveness,” my younger self quipped.
“Tony Gamble, huh? Yeah, he went and got what he was looking for, I guess. But you know what? That’s alright,” I smirked a little. “I’ve been looking to make amends to Ms. Troy after that dumb incident at the ballpark, with the San Diego Chicken. Maybe this is an opportunity to do just that. I can take on the Grin, and wipe it clear off his face by spoiling his grand redebut. I bet he thinks he’s going to use this as a warmup, but I’m no one’s warmup. Hell, if anything, I’m showing that no matter what kind of crap I’ve had dealt to me, be it legal or not, I’ve not given a fuck about the numbers on the board. If anything, it just makes me want to find out what I can do when I finally do breakthrough. And unlike Tony, I don’t need to prey upon exhausted opponents to do it. Instead, I’m going to use him as the example. I’m going to show him that anyone on this roster, regardless of record, is capable of showing him up and putting him flat back on the mat.”
“Well, that’s the rosiest spin on, ‘I’m pretty much the bottom of the roster, and I’ll still beat this guy,’ that I’ve heard us say, maybe ever,” Young Larry gave a wink.
“It’s not pleasant to admit, but at this point I’ve got nothing to lose in going all out, and I don’t just mean with wrestling. If I need to add another scar on Tony’s face? If I’ve got to send Pete spiralling further down into his own self-loathing and misery? I’ve not enough respect for them to care, anyway. It’s about what I’ll do to get the job done.”
“Very good, Larry. Until we meet again… sleep easy…”
And with that, the Young Larry snaps his fingers, and everything bleeds to a serene darkness for Larry.