Cody O’Malley came into the world nearly a month early thanks to a type B nuchal cord. His mother, Melissa, had rushed to the Mayo Clinic when her cramping became too much to bear. He’d stopped kicking. Her obstetrician performed an emergency c-section, thankfully avoiding complications and something far worse. Her first moments with her son were spent in separation, a partition of glass between her and the intensive care nursery, an umbilical catheter and IVs and pulse oximeter cords jacketing the walls of his incubator. Nurses assured her that everything was fine, that he was a healthy young boy who just needed a little more time. His frail body writhed, tiny fingers absently pawing at the nasal pillow CPAP mask strapped to his cooling cap. The only way she could still herself was through sedation.
Brandon had come while she rested, taking the same perch his ex-wife had hours before. The only reason he knew his son had even been born was because of a private investigator. When he found out, he left the Global Championship Wrestling tour to be there, consequences be damned.
He wasn’t welcome.
For months, he tried to prepare himself for this moment, to see the son he didn’t deserve finally born. He felt joy for the first time since he could remember. All he wanted to do was hold him, to tell him how much he loved him. An ignorant fantasy. Loving affirmations from a ghost passing through. Of what were such feelings worth coming from the man who nearly killed him in utero?
Time was fleeting, every blink of his eyes a commitment to memory of the moment. There was a good chance he’d never see him again. The bustle of movement from nurses and families was a whirlwind. All it would take was one of the staff to ask him who he was there for and he’d be found out. He had to get away. His mind raced as he tried to make it back to his rental car. Sitting inside, dark thoughts flooded in. He deserved punishment. To be hated. To be ostracized.
He believed he deserved every bit of his father’s physical and sexual abuse .
Welled raw loathing. He backed out of the lot, seeking a quiet place to park, away from sight. What was he feeling? Could he feel? There were no tears to shed, try as he might. He began digging with everything he had, all his might, to feel something, anything, remotely human. It crawled up his spine, prickled underneath his skin. Finally, he started yelling. Wailing. He clawed at his scalp, heavy slaps to his cheeks rocking his head back and forth, over and over, all before he started punching himself in the chest. Those blows graduated toward his own eyes. He couldn’t stop, refused to, a drooling howling maw, a ceaseless barrage, and after exhausting minutes passed, the tears finally began to flow.
They mixed well with his own blood.
A better world. A better PRIME.
Everyone Phil Atken has faced was unprepared for what he would bring. They laughed about his age, painted him a coward and a monster of the month. Behind his cool demeanor, the greasy salesman sensibility, was a raging inferno. A statement of purpose. Cull the old guard. Pave the way for the new. One by one, he took his foes behind the woodshed and burned a slug in the back of their heads.
He processed their corpses into glue.
We both know this is different. I’m the one who labeled you a threat from day one. Saw the collision course between us on the horizon. It all came true. And now, here we stand. Finally.
My greatest challenge to date.
People want to distill you, make you fit into whatever box they need. A bitter charlatan. A vain huckster. Whichever they choose, it plays into your hands. Why? Because you’re smarter than them. You know just what to do in any given scenario to give your message the flavor it needs.
You may even attempt flattery.
You’ll pluck the strings of empathy, peddle to the masses that kindly Phil has always been ground under the boot of the sport he so desperately loved. The wrestling industry never wanted you, yet still, you find yourself at the precipice of Everest. A fitting monomyth
In truth, The Humble Proprietor is a counter puncher.
Ask Randall Knox how that strategy turned out for him.
I’m not going to cut you down for your failures, laugh at the very real emotions and resentment you feel. That Phil Atken lies dead in a ditch. What rose in his place is Lazarus, a vicious machine. Calculating. Ruthless. You fight like a man with nothing to lose and everything to prove.
But it can’t last forever.
You can’t fight your own nature.
I know what you’re thinking, Phil; a big juicy counter window just opened up. The ‘people beat you down’ chestnut.
Just realize when you swing, I’ve already feinted, arming a killshot for your liver.
Phil Atken was a World Champion before practically every member of this roster graduated wrestling school. On a cold night in Quebec back in 2004, he stood in the Action! Wrestling ring, sledgehammer at his side, carrying on and goading the fans’ hatreds. He was the main event of a wrestling show on major network television. Yes, the promotion’s owner, Reed Young, had run off his entire roster with his cocaine fueled erraticism and neverending stupidity. All that meant was a better chance for opportunity for yourself.
Isn’t that the same clean slate you want for your PRIME?
Don’t sell the new generation that your mission is for their benefit. As great as you’ve become in the ring, your true nature comes out with the tiniest morsel of success. Already counting chickens before they hatch. Sermonizing.
Haven’t you had enough?
That night, you were handed the Action! Championship. You didn’t wrestle for it. Didn’t beat someone for it. You were chosen. And it was everything you could have ever wanted, until it became convenient to call it a throne of ash.
Try to continue the Amway presentation. Get as many suckers on the line while the getting is good. In a few days, your consumer base dries up. The Tower of Babel is about to release some trade secrets.
Action! Wrestling didn’t die because it made Phil Atken its World Champion.
It died because when the promotion needed him most, he was nowhere to be found.
The Not So Distant Past
Halar Garden West was a tower of concrete, small fixed windows and narrow steel grated patios fenestrating its tired facade. The Karachi night was filled with the ambiance of sirens and distant gunshots, a skyglow of polluted amber stretching to the horizon, its dangers a neverending malebolge of madness. In its throes, survival was victory.
Brandon Youngblood resented making through another day.
He unlocked his deadbolt, tossing his keys inside his apartment once the door was open, their rattle across cracked laminate cutting through the white noise of ceiling and oscillating fans. Limping, his every step yawned with pain, a growing swell moaning underneath his clammy skin. He stunk of spent adrenaline and cigarettes from another pit fought out of, his knuckles blistered, his fingernails caked with dirt and cinder, blood weeping through the knees of his herringbone slacks. His jawline was a mess of bruises, cuts lacing his eyebrows and clots licking down his cheeks. He couldn’t open his left eye. Another day like the others, blended together in a haze of listlessness, no place to be, not since his protection contract for the al-Shirani Brothers…
A violent story for another time.
He slunk to his kitchen, undoing the top buttons of his rumpled dress shirt, sickly green walls surrounding him. Sighing, he opened the fridge, grabbing his days old fish kata-kat, its oil soaking through its paper wrapping. Tossing it on the counter, he began picking at it, his eye scanning and his hand fumbling for the half spent whiskey bottle nestled within a pile of food wrappings and plastic bags. He tried to relax, tried to settle himself, all alone with his thoughts.
The worst place to be.
The tone from his phone broke his ritual, its chime requesting a video call. At this time of night? Taciet Securities never were cognizant of time zones. He didn’t look at who was making the call. If he had, he never would have answered. “…Lindsay?”
Of all people, why did it have to be Lindsay Troy? It had been years since last they spoke. Chicago. Colossus VIII. PRIME laid to rest. That night, he told her he was going away. To find himself. To find peace.
He told her no matter what, don’t come looking for him.
Yet, there she was, somehow, her presence suddenly making him concerned with his appearance despite her being a world away.
Try as she might, she couldn’t mask her dismay at his worn, decrypted form. What followed next within her was motherly; a disappointment in actions needing dealt with. “Making friends as usual I see…” Surgical sarcasm. It was her artform.
He sighed, wanting no part of this unexpected reunion. “What do you want?”
“You look like Hell Brandon–”
He was quick to cut her off, moving through the darkness of his apartment, whiskey in hand. “You’re burning my minutes.”
“Never pegged you the penny pinching type.” As much as they could have volleyed back and forth for hours, watching his haggard movements caused greater concern. “You went dark. I did a lot of digging to get your number. Hoped you were taking care of yourself, finding your peace…”
Walking into his living room, he fell into his couch, mildew aresoling from the leather cushions. He could have ended the call at any time, yet he didn’t; instead, he brushed the heap of liquor bottles filling his sofa table to the floor, the clanging and shattering dissonance sharp. Fishing one of the bottles from the floor, he balanced his phone against it, creating a makeshift stand. He rubbed his temples as he groaned. “Was it worth it?”
“Got no patience for your lecture.”
A meager silence. He scooped his whiskey bottle from his hip, twisting off its top and taking a swig before wiping his chapped lips with his forearm.
She’d already become exasperated. “I thought you gave up drinking.”
He lolled the bottle’s body about by the neck, managing a wry smile as he listened at the soothing swish from inside. “So did I. But you know what? If I don’t polish this off before I crawl into bed, my old man is gonna come visit me in my dreams. And then I start remembering shit nobody ever should.” Another pull followed by a cough. “Or maybe it’s me beating my ex-wife. Probably ain’t what you want to hear. Life’s great. Wonderful. What a blessing.”
“Put it down.”
“Or what?” he edged forward in his seat.
“I’m telling you to put it down.” Her glare was serrating. Sullen, after a few tense moments, he did as he was told, putting the bottle on the edge of the table. She nodded coolly before continuing. “When’s the last time you looked at yourself? Like really looked at yourself?” Her brows furrowed. He could hear her heel nervously bouncing off her floor. “What are you doing to yourself? You’re better than this.”
“I like to fight..”
“Looks like a blast.”
“It is.” his shoulders slackened. “I go out, find a place in Lyari, maybe Lahore. It’s cheap entertainment for folks. Local government don’t give a shit whether these people got running water because there’s thirty political parties and they’re all killing each other. And the police? Ha! Fuck the police. They only come around to snatch folks up so they can farm them for their organs–”
“So that’s what you did? Crawled into some hole where nobody could find you? For this? Avoiding responsibility–”
He cut her off with a growl. “I. Pay. My alimony. Every month.” His fingers dug into his scalp. “Melissa’s taken care of. And I got other money going into a trust fund for–”
“Your son.” A lilting rankle cut through the noise. “What about your son, Brandon?”
“He’s not my son.”
“How can you say that?”
Thinking on her question, he hung his head in shame. “Because his world is better off without me. And you know why? Because every day, I replay it. Relive it. I feel it in my hand. Melissa. I feel her jaw breaking against my knuckles.” he trembled, fighting with all his might not to grab the whiskey bottle. “I hurt her…tried to kill him before I knew he existed…there ain’t no coming back from that.”
She gave him his time to grieve. Nothing had changed. All he would do was wallow, feeling sorry for himself. “Maybe if you didn’t give a shit, I’d agree. But you do. And it haunts you. It rips into your soul, and with what you’ve been through with your father–”
“No. No! That ain’t an excuse! What my father did to me, what my family did to me, no! No! How I treated her…what I did to her…everything I touched? No!”
Her voice rose to match his. “Shut up and listen!” After quelling his outburst, she tried to reason with him. To afford him some sliver of light in the tunnel of hope. “You lost control because you lived with it without help. I can’t even imagine it. I don’t want to. And even when you’re saying all that, that just proves–”
“I appreciate what you’re trying to do. Really. I do. But there’s no place for me in anyone’s life. I’m not welcome. I don’t deserve to be welcomed. And I don’t wanna be. Melissa and Cody? They’re gonna want for nothing. That’s the one thing I can give them. And I don’t need no fucking thanks for it or nothing.”
“What you need is help, Brandon. Real help. We can try and figure out–”
“Lindsay…just let me die, okay?”
Enough. She couldn’t take it anymore.“Stop talking like that! Stop living in the fucking past! Jesus…are you just going to sit there and close the world around you and kill yourself?“ She’d begun to pace, her face flushing, as the screen rattled. “It takes guts to try and heal. To live! To make amends and become something more and fight for forgiveness! Maybe they don’t want you…but that’s their decision! Not yours!”
”When you reached out to me…when we became friends after I learned who you really are…I told you I wouldn’t judge you for what you’d done because you took all the responsibility and never tried to slip blame or be fake about your guilt. And what happened, Brandon? You called me, every night, and you told me what you were doing. Helping at women’s shelters. Kids from broken families. Why did you stop? You’re in a place with people in need. Stop killing yourself. Help them! Matter! Earn your redemption!”
It was frustrating, being stripped to the bone, to have his remorses so challenged. He felt unworthy of forgiveness, punishing himself everyday, the callous growing larger and larger. He’d come to Karachi seeking his death, put himself in harm’s way on security and protection jobs, spent his nights in mud pits letting people beat him to a pulp until survival instincts kicked in.
Instinct. Even within a miasma of blood alcohol and trauma, something inside him refused to give up, no matter how hard he tried to drown it. It’s why he taught himself Balochi and Urdu even though part of the reason he chose to come to Pakistan in the first place was because of how impossible it felt to learn the region’s languages. It’s why he carefully mended his wounds rather than let them fester with infection. It’s why, even though these weren’t his people, watching them struggle wounded his soul.
After so long believing all he was worth was some unmarked grave, to hear someone actually care about him despite everything he had done? It brought a sobering clarity. “Thank you Lindsay.”
“You want to thank me? Don’t tell me. Show me. Get help for your PTSD. Take control of your life and make your world a better place.” Her emotions nearly got the better of her, but she quickly recovered, her eyes narrowing. “I got your number now, Brandon. And I’m never too busy or too far away if you need someone to talk to, okay?.” A genuine smile plastered his face. Inspiration. Spent as he was, he couldn’t remember the last time he felt his body this relaxed. “Don’t worry. I’m tired of being a stranger.”
For the first time in three years, he managed to sleep without the help of alcohol.
You’re not the only man with blood on your hands, Phil. You could just as easily point the mirror toward me and just start listing the promotions I walked out on. But the one you could twist the knife with most is PRIME.
2010. Devin Shakur. Out of all the stables and figures wanting to kill PRIME from outside as well as within, it was he who finally succeeded. Not overnight. Not as spectacularly as Reed Young did with Action! No, PRIME died slowly. And I could have stopped it. Become the hero. Suplex him into oblivion. Maybe the Universal Championship follows. Maybe, I stop this company from going silent for over a decade. When PRIME needed me most, I was nowhere to be found.
That makes us the same, right?
When I walked away, it was because I’d had my fill. I’d spent years in the same mindset as you; the rage, the disgust, the hatred for all my peers. I was going to make them pay and stuff it down their throats when I dominated them. Except…it exhausted me to my very soul. I used this sport to mask my insecurities, to demand accomplishment and love on selfmade terms because I’d spent my whole life feeling neither. Being the best in the sport doesn’t matter when you’re a specter shuffling through life, unable to grow. Unable to make amends.
Unable to become a better man.
No championship, no tournament win, no accolade was ever great enough to fill the emptiness in my heart. Wrestling supremacy wasn’t going to absolve me of abusing my wife, of nearly killing my infant son. It wasn’t going to undo what my father had done to me.
So I left. Stayed away for nearly a decade. Most of that time was spent in self punishment myself. Hurting myself. Trying to die. But somewhere along the way, despite being in one of the worst Hells on this Earth, I found the will to live. It’s funny; until I turned the corner, I’d gladly have traded lives with you. You had a loving family. Your insomnia is because you can’t let go of your wrestling record, not because you could feel the phantom burn of cigarette cherries your father pressed into your thighs. You were winning life.
You were happy.
And just the mere scent of PRIME’s return was enough to undo all that.
It’s not what we abandoned in this sport that defines us; it’s what we did after. In the ring, I fought for myself. Took the risks. Defended and advocated for myself. I refused to let what others thought define me. I carved a Hall of Fame career from it before I won the Universal Championship. Personally? Everyday, I work to earn and maintain redemption from the ones I hurt. You? Like the Action! Championship, if it wasn’t handed to you, you rolled over. You had opportunity after opportunity in company’s the world over. Oh, you hated The Frontier. Viking mothers. In GCW you used the alpha version of The Glue Factory and whined about how your peers were holding you down and you were only in the sport for the paycheck. You’re not happy unless you’re feeling miserable. I won’t suppose upon your family life. I hope Mrs. Factory is doing well. Send her my regards.
We both have a chance to rewrite the story of our abandonments with a definitive declaration.
Make no mistake, you’ve become great. But the Humble Proprietor is no different than the many cult leaders within these walls. He wants to put PRIME in The Shotgun. If it won’t love him, he will burn it all to the ground. He isn’t the monster of the month.
He’s an existential threat to everyone on this roster. Young as well as old.
At ReVival 13, I’ll take that threat head on.
When I’m done, the Glue Factory will be on clearance.