Do you really think that you can just put it in a safe behind a painting,
Lock it up and leave?
It was early in Nashville, but the sun was already poking holes in the darkness. The tide was turning for Rob Williams. Here he sat, in a dark and quiet gym, completing a superset of lat pulldowns and bench press. He hadn’t worked out with this much vigor in years. And the quiet, that was new, too. Normally loud, screaming music was a prerequisite to exercise. Now he found something comforting in the stillness.
“Burn the ships, Rob.”
Rob had fully expected this voice to go away once he’d made his debut with PRIME. It hadn’t. He had expected this to be a natural, mundane trade off – in the most basic of plot lines one could come up with.
Inner voice plus feisty promo equals reignited passion. It made too much sense. The classic “Athlete rediscovering himself” ala Rocky or Bloodsport. Maybe Bloodsport is a bad example.
It wasn’t gone, though. And it seemed to only be growing alongside the smoldering zeal to compete. What had been a whisper in the wind, a creak of the floorboard, was now molting.
He had enough sense during the whirlwind of socializing following last ReVival to try and keep it under wraps. The following hours and days were spent with fans, his most loyal advisor John, and his beautiful inamorata. But here, now, in the dark and alone, he would face it.
“What the fuck,” Rob spoke aloud.
“Burn the ships. No escape. It’s the only way to win.”
“Who are you? Am I losing it?”
It was there, in the quiet of this hotel gym, that Rob would meet his conscience. His inner monologue, if you will.
“No, Rob, you’re not losing it. In fact, you’re on the precipice of something great. Dawn is on the horizon. I am what you have been plowing with drugs and alcohol all of these years.”
Distrust was a reflex for Rob. Bang the leg, the knee jerks – tell Rob to trust you and he would assume you’re out to get him. Years of lowering his “bottom” had brought a circus troupe of sordid characters. No one was honest. There was always an angle, a play, a motive.
“What does that even mean?”
He was certain no one else could hear this voice. Since it had gotten louder, he’d become mindful of whether others reacted when it spoke. To date no one had acknowledged it. And this terrified him.
“You have to burn the ships, Rob. Leave yourself no way to retreat.”
Rob pulled his headphones from his bag of gear and slipped them over his ears. Quickly fumbling with his phone, he tapped until “Roots Bloody Roots” blared in to his brain. Heart rate elevated, breathing fast. He shut his eyes tight, sucking in as much air through his nose as he could.
“It’s ok. It’s ok,” he reassured himself.
It had gone away again. But it was getting louder each time, closer even. Like distant headlights on a night drive, it had been far away and small at first. Not anymore. Rob took a few minutes to gather his composure and finished his set. The shower was warm.
Whatever went away, I’ll get it over now
I’ll get money, I’ll get funny again
The winter chill in the morning as he left the gym reminded Rob of hunting with his father when he was a boy. Rob didn’t like hunting, his dad didn’t like taking them, but it was a tradition both were committed to. Rob began slipping into nostalgia, remembering the smell of his father’s Redman chew and the Hank Williams Sr. songs he incessantly played. After a few high balls he’d tell Rob how nobody knew how lonely he was like Hank.
Rob remembered the eyes of the deer that he’d killed. It wasn’t an instant kill- they’d trailed it for some forty or fifty yards before it dropped. When he got up to it, the snow it laid in growing more red than white by the second, he stared into its eyes. An awful noise escaped the animal’s mouth. Rob couldn’t look away – the deer’s eyes were so dark and so large. Rob watched as the last light evaporated from them.
“Don’t look to the past for answers, look towards the future.”
A vision. No where he had been. No, this was new.
“You’re awake,” Charlotte smiled at him.
That was not his home. A camel duvet cover lay across his chest in a king-sized memory foam bed. The air vaguely smelled of leather and chamomile. She had a child nestled on her breast.
“This isn’t real.”
“But it could be,” the voice said. It wasn’t completely foreign to him, now that it was growing stronger and clearer. Yet, he just couldn’t put his finger on whose voice it was. “Don’t concern yourself with that, Rob. Just take a moment to soak in what can be.”
“He has your eyes, Rob,” Charlotte said without looking up from the baby. It couldn’t have been more than a month or two. For that matter it could have been 3 or 4 years old, what did Rob know? Rob looked around the room, the battleship gray wall adorned with photos of Rob’s career and the two of them and a newborn photoshoot of the baby. The baby made a noise as it suckled.
“He looks just like you.”
He leaned over, looking into the baby’s eyes. They were just like the deer’s eyes – large and dark. But alive. Full of love and innocence. Eyes that hadn’t seen the filth of this world like Rob’s. The voice spoke to him again as he stared deep into the child’s eyes.
“All you want is here, Rob. I can offer it to you. Salvation. Fame. Money.”
“What do you want?”
“You have to go all in, Rob. No more half-assing it. This laisse-faire attitude is insufficient. If you are to be my champion, you must give of yourself entirely. Enough with this self-pitying and questioning yourself. Always questioning if you are enough. Who are you to decide you are not enough?”
Rob looked up to the sky as if he expected there would be an explanation written on the ceiling. The voice spoke in such a nebulous way. Normally, such open-endedness would leave Rob furious. He only found himself more curious, though.
“You will be my agent. You will cleanse PRIME.”
“Yes, Rob. You must clean PRIME of the unworthy. I will put them in your path. I will send others to help you along your way. It begins at Revival 39, with Sean O’ Neill and Mar. We’ve put them on the scales and they have come up short. Your duty is to show them the way – the truth.”
“How do I do that? I don’t even know what the hell is going on. How am I going to show anyone anything?”
“Don’t worry, Rob. More will be revealed. You will be my vessel. My rod and staff. But for now, focus on what has already been made clear. Your job at ReVival is to punish them. For too long you have been focused on small things. Win. Lose. These are words small people use. You are part of the works. You are part of something greater than any of them can understand. If you go in with the intent to cleanse them, you have risen above these petty definitions.”
It didn’t make sense, but Rob had been working on having faith since this round of AA. They talked about it incessantly in the AA meetings. Trust the process, they said.
“Ok. I’ll do it.”
“That’s good, Rob. Follow the path and all of this can be yours. All of this and more. Go tell them. Tell them of the works and move with faith that you will come out victorious.”
The sun had risen in Nashville. Beautiful purples and yellows and reds shot out from the sun across the land in a rippling mountainous sunrise. It may have been the best Rob had ever seen.
You were always weird
But I never had to hold you by the edges like I do now
“It’s not really how they do things now, Rob.”
John looked good when he dressed himself up a bit. He wore the debonair scruff look well, his cornflower blue button up shirt open three buttons down.
“I don’t care. This is how I do it.”
“You’re the meal ticket,” John lamented. They had spent an hour setting up a camera on a tripod directly in front of them, a part of a media package provided by PRIME at Rob’s request. The work order had likely raised some eye brows. Behind them was a black curtain used to mute the backdrop. They stood side by side, facing the camera.
“No retreat. You’re not here to make friends You are white, hot nuclear atonement. Your words will strike fear into their hearts. They will bear witness.”
“No retreat,” Rob answered aloud.
“Nothing. Start the camera.”
John stepped to the camera, fumbled around few a few moments, and then began counting. 3… 2…1… Rob stared into the lens with a deep intensity in his eyes.
“Sean O’Neill… Mar. Whatever. I hope you two know how lucky you are. You will be the first in PRIME to bear witness to the ascension of Rob Williams.”
“You see, gentlemen, this is the start of my campaign. I am Sherman and PRIME is the South and I will burn every fucking thing in my path as I march to the sea. You know what was great about Sherman, John?”
“As a Southerner, I gotta say not much, Rob.”
“Yeah, I forgot about that. Sorry, bud. But humor me here, we’re live hoss.”
“Ok, Rob – what was great about Sherman?”
“He understood that it wasn’t enough to just win. He could have left all of those roads and towns and railroads intact, but he didn’t. There was no retreat for his army. The only way to go back home was victory.”
“It was overkill”
“That’s where you and the Southerners who bemoaned his treatment were wrong. By the time his scouts first saw Atlanta, a victory for the Union was almost certain. There was no reason for him to raze it. I’m sure you can agree, as a Southerner, right John?”
“That’s right, Rob.”
“Wrong. Wrong, John. Sherman understood that he wasn’t fighting a war. He was fighting an idea. Simply winning and accepting the South’s surrender wasn’t enough. No, he needed to mangle them. Any remaining notion that there was strength enough to rise up against the Union had to be completely squashed. A victory in and of itself is inadequate.”
Rob’s eyes were filled with fire and his body was electric. Vibrating. One with the invisible energy few can tap into.
“Yes, John, you must snuff an idea. And that’s what I am going to do to you, Sean O’Neill and you, Mar. ReVival 39 will be the first testament to a NEW Rob Williams. I am going to make both of you hurt so goddamn bad that you will be like the South after the Civil War, a kicked dog cowering in fear any time its master raises his voice.”
“You can’t hurt me. I’ve been to depths you couldn’t imagine – driving through red lights on my way to the methadone clinic just PRAYING someone hits me. BUT NO MORE! I have been delivered… here, to you. The lot of you, PRIME, are but serpents striking at the heels of this great man. And I will strike your heads. One by one, stone by stone, brick by brick. I am here to purify PRIME.”
Rob slid an outstretched thumb across his throat, signifying both to cut the camera and sending a message to his opponents. John once again fumbled with the camera until he was confident, he had turned the recording off before turning around to face Rob.
“Rob, what’s all this religiosity?”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“You quoted the bible, buddy. And all of this witness me, purify you, etcetera. I mean if that’s your new..”
“It ain’t a thing, man,” Rob cut him off midsentence. “You just worry about booking the gigs and getting my name out there.”
John moved a step back physically almost as if to show how impacted he was. His hand came up to rest on his chest.
“Well goddamn, bud, tell me how you really feel.”
“I’m sorry, John,” Rob dropped his head and put his hand on John’s shoulder. “I’m just fired up. You know how it is when I get going. It’s almost like something’s talking through me.”
“No, it’s good, bud. Just make sure you’re aiming it straight and keeping between the ditches.”
Rob nodded his head. It was a gift to have a friend like John. Grade school was tough on everyone, but even tougher on kids that didn’t have friends. Rob had been an only child – spending lots of time in solitude. Some might call it lonely. John had 5 sisters so he had always welcomed coming to stay at Rob’s house.
“How’s the, uh, sobriety going,” John asked sheepishly.
The fact that Rob hadn’t snapped back said volumes without saying much at all. When Rob was on the sauce it took very little for him to feel cornered and come out swinging. He’d spent most his life feeling like his back was to the wall.
“Good. Whatever it is you got going on, keep it up. Anything is better than the way you were. How are you feeling about this match?”
“I’m ready, John. Ready to be under the lights again. I’m ready to crack some fucking heads. It’s been so long selling my soul for peanuts, living in weekly motels and scraping by. I’m all in.”
The two made small talk for a bit longer. Some talk of the old days and some talk of those to come. Rob had never told another man that he loved him. That just wasn’t something that people did in his world. But he did love John. Maybe he would learn to be as comfortable with the voice as he had with telling John that he loved him. As always, they embraced with a hug before going their separate ways.
Walk away now
And you’re gonna start a war
Fifty bubbly and bright eyes stared at Rob. Smiling, always smiling.
“Hi Rob,” they all said.
“Yeah, thanks. I’m uh, forty or fifty some odd days sober today,” Rob shared with the group. He nodded as they clapped, still uncomfortable but not crawling out of his own skin. “And I think I’m finally figuring out this faith business.”
A few heads moved north and south as if gesturing Rob to go on, like a reassuring parent.
“I’ve never believed in God. I’ve come in here a bunch of times pretending cause I was scared. Scared of spending another night too drunk or high to get up going over everything I’ve done wrong and swearing I’m going to do better tomorrow just to get up and do it all over again the next day. Scared that maybe next time I would keep squeezing the trigger. But I always had one eye on the door, right? I’d get a few meals in me, sell my family and girlfriend on how much better I was doing, and fill everybody up with hope. Just enough hope that she’d stay or they wouldn’t fire me or whatever. And then I’d get high. Get drunk. Cause I didn’t believe – I had no faith.”
“There was always this nagging voice that would say, “How long do you think you can keep this up?”. Just before, I mean. And it didn’t matter what was on the line, I was off to the races. Booze runs a fast race, though. Anyways, I feel like I’m finally ready. I’ve surrendered fully and I am beginning to have faith. And that voice isn’t saying, “How long do you think you can keep this up.”. It’s asking, “Just how far are you willing to go?”
For the first time, it felt good when they clapped. Something resembling a smile crept across Rob’s lips. When they prayed that night, for the first time, Rob prayed with them. Outside he shot the shit with a local who had recognized him. While others talked about the steps and their Higher Power, they discussed what they missed about bygone eras of wrestling. For Rob, that was as close to “God” as he knew.
“Hey, good luck, Rob.”
He thanked the stranger before shaking hands and heading off into the dark, but Rob knew he didn’t need luck. There was a sweltering fire inside him. And it burned brighter with each passing day. Rob believed it would reach crescendo at ReVival 39, enveloping his opponents in a vivid and brilliant inferno. He would rise from the ashes, like Atlanta after Sherman, as a renewed and beautiful phoenix. Rob knew his duty and was ready serve. He was all in.
The stars sure looked pretty in Nashville.