Private: Ned Reform
“It lasted for a long time, I believe. A very long time. It was a great success, but even great successes come to a natural end.”
― Isaac Asimov
From the desk of Benedict F. Reform, Phd:
My dearest Melinda,
Goodbyes are never easy – as you know.
It seems my time in PRIME is drawing to its end, and I find myself oddly reflective over the whole ordeal. Granted, I’ve had very little positive to say about PRIME as an organization and even less kind words for its dimwitted leader, but I’ve always believed that even a glitter of gold can be found amongst the garbage if one looks hard enough.
I am nothing if not a hopeless optimist.
I think of old whathisname and his classic antics. I find myself wishing the best for that other person. Also that woman who once told me that thing – I hope she finds happiness with whatever it is she does. She deserves it.
As you can see, I will treasure the connections I’ve made in PRIME for the rest of my days.
But the time has come. All I can hope is that during my tenure here, I’ve touched at least one life. They say that you never know what impact you make on your students – even those that outwardly dislike you now might grow to appreciate the lessons you’ve imparted down the line.
I can only hope I’ve made a difference.
Dr. Ned Reform
Ned Reform stands in front of a mirror. For seemingly the first time ever, he is not dressed professionally: in fact, he’s wearing – GASP – jeans and… get this… a PRIME Wrestling t-shirt. Ned runs his hands through his beard as he looks at himself in the mirror. He checks his teeth, searches the nose for any cave goblins, and then cracks his neck before taking a deep breath. His previously serious face switches on a dime to a smiling, game show host-like, borderline creepy grin. His voice drips with all the sincerity of a local weatherman describing the low pressure system moving in.
“Ladies and gentlemen.”
His forehead burrows. His voice goes back to his normal cadence.
“No… that’s cliche. Impersonal. This is your big goodbye. Connect with them more.”
Back to smiley face and newscaster voice.
“My fellow PRIMEsters. As I, Doctor Ned Reform, stand before you today, I am awash with a mix of emotions. I reflect back on this journey we’ve been on, and I can’t help but be proud of each and every one of you for the immense growth I’ve seen over this past year. In fact, I’ve always believed it important to name those milestones and acknowledge the little steps we take to better ourselves every day. And in that spirit…”
Reform reaches over to a chair next to him on which rests a small blue bucket. Reform grabs the bucket, and with the insincere toothy grin plastered on his face and without breaking eye contact with his reflection in the mirror, Ned reaches into the bucket and pulls out a small piece of paper. He looks at the paper and chuckles to himself, holding the paper up to the mirror.
It reads, “The Anglo Luchador.”
“Ah yes! The Luchador from the Isle of Angles. One of my dearest friends, surely. And he exemplifies what I am speaking of. When I first arrived in PRIME, this person barely qualified to be called a man. He was a whiny, self-obsessed, needy little person begging for validation on the internet on a daily basis. And look at him now! He…”
Ned pauses. Thinks. Mutters to himself as he crumbles up the paper and throws it aside.
“Okay, maybe we don’t lead with that one…”
“The most beautiful moments always seemed to accelerate and slip beyond one’s grasp just when you want to hold onto them for as long as possible.”
― E.A. Bucchianeri
Back into the bucket. A new name: “Jared Sykes.” Reform’s face lights up.
“Ah! Now we’re talking. Jared Sykes. A good man. Nay, a great man. A man who has overcome great adversity, yes? I can remember it like it was yesterday: people trying to tear him down. Saying his performance as the Joker was lackluster. Praying for Morbius to bomb at the box office. Which, of course, it did. But he persevered! Despite some of the worst performances in the history of cinema, Jared is still going strong! That, my friends, is surely to be admired.”
Back into the bucket. “Brandon Youngblood.”
Reform’s face saddens. He hangs his head respectfully. “May he rest in peace.”
Back into the bucket. “Hayes Hanlon.”
“Ah yes!” Reform snaps his fingers. “The man with the mustache, yes? Perhaps the person on the PRIME roster who I am most proud of. When I arrived, he was a sniveling child: a pathetic and lost soul playing pretend, wanting desperately to be an accepted member of the roster. And one match with me in which I graciously allowed him to be victorious, and that boy became a man. He found his courage. He found his voice! He became the champion!”
The pride is evident on Ned’s face. We live vicariously through our students, after all.
“Of course, he then lost it in short order to a drug addicted cretin… but we never stop improving, yes?”
Reform places the bucket back on the chair. Again turns to the mirror. Again puts on airs of cheerfulness.
“And this is just a small sample of the cherished memories I will take with me on my journey, children. I know a small piece of PRIME will always be with Dr. Ned Reform on his journey through life, and it is my sincere hope that a small piece of me will always be with you. Which brings me to my final subject…”
A small but noticeable twitch in the Good Doctor’s eye. Other than that, he does not break the facade.
“One Mr. Abe Lipschitz. A ridiculous name to be sure, but that is beside the point. Mr. Lipschitz has the distinct honor of going down in history as Dr. Ned Reform’s final PRIME opponent. The final chapter in a storied and amazing journey. Mr. Lipschitz has been seeking my attention for weeks now. And before I go, I want to deliver one final message to him.”
Ned pauses. Milks the moment for drama. Sighs and shakes his head. What is coming is surely going to be profound.
“I want to apologize.”
“We do on stage things that are supposed to happen off. Which is a kind of integrity, if you look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else.”
― Tom Stoppard
Another beat so he can let us really feel the weight of his humility and graciousness.
“Yes. I have been behaving in a manner unbecoming of an educator and mentor. You continuously cried out for my attention, and I rather callously denied you. I make no excuses, only offer this by way of explanation: I was, perhaps understandably, not in the most pristine of states of mind. I had begun to doubt my purpose in life, Mr. Lipschitz, and what is a man without purpose?”
It’s a rhetorical question, but he pauses anyway.
“You see, I should have seen you for what you are. I am known world-wide as a skilled educator, and I should have recognized the signs of a needy student when I saw one, yes? You harassed me, you stalked me, you were relentless in your pursuit of a match and your mission to disrupt my life… because you lack the vocabulary to simply ask for my guidance. Like a petulant toddler struggling to find the words, you act out simply because you believe it to be the most efficient way to get my attention. This is my fault: I should have explained to you that we don’t push down the girl on the playground when we like her. We should not break mother’s favorite china as a way to express our feelings of neglect. And we should not terrorize Dr. Ned Reform simply because we feel intimidated by his undeniable presence. I was a fool for missing this obvious cry for help, but I will rectify this situation in one week’s time.”
The Sage on the Stage swells a little bit. Makes himself just the tiniest bit taller.
“I will give you the honor of defeating Dr. Ned Reform in his final PRIME match. You see, you do not punish an attention-seeking adolescent… instead, you affirm. Positive reinforcement. Punishment gets you nowhere, yes? And thus, for you: a historic victory… an unparalleled feather in your metaphorical cap. This I will do for you in recompense. Consider it my final lesson for you, Mr. Lipschitz. Use this momentum to propel yourself to the top, so I can look back someday and say…”
Reform pauses. Seems to be imagining this hypothetical future. He even gets a little choked up and wipes a tear from his eye.
“…I can say, ‘I knew him when.’
Ned beats his chest softly as he looks to the ceiling like a proud and emotional father.
“And thus, I…”
KNOCK. KNOCK. KNOCK.
A firm pounding of Ned’s front door pauses him mid-speech. With the momentum of his brilliant and moving tribute broken, The Good Doctor turns to the offending sound.
“It’s open!” he says impatiently.
The door opens slowly. A timid looking UPS delivery driver stands with a brown box in hand.
“Hi. Uh, package for a Mr. James Dufresne.”
“Ned Reform,” snaps Reform. Then he realizes his own grave mistake. “DOCTOR Ned Reform.”
“Uh, no. This says it’s for…”
“It’s for me!” says Reform. “Leave it and go.”
The driver, sensing Ned’s rather icy reception, can’t get out of there fast enough. Reform curiously removes the tape from the top from the box, opening it up to a sea of Styrofoam packing peanuts. He shuffles around before finding a card.
It reads, “Happy Birthday.”
“A bit late,” he muses. “But I suppose a kind gesture nonetheless.”
Opening the card, Reform begins to read aloud. “Hiya Doc. Just thought you might want a souvenir ahead of our big match. You can keep it. See you Friday! Warmest regards…. Abe Lipschitz?”
Reform breaks out into a smile. “Well! Would you look at that. My approach is working already! Now, let’s see what he sent me…”
Ned digs around for a bit before hitting paydirt. He pulls out the item in question and holds it up. His smile… slowly… fades. The color drains from his face. Then his teeth begin to clench as his head turns a crimson red. He can’t stop staring at the gift.
A rubber Elon Musk mask.
Reform falls to his knees. Screams to the sky.
“And there are really never endings, happy or otherwise.”
― Erin Morgenstern