The Anglo Luchador
The only liquid that is powerful enough to wash away the stain of time. The medieval quacks had the right idea for the wrong reasons. You have to let the bad blood out before the good blood takes its place. You don’t have to humor their theory of humors, but the idea of purging the unlucky, the rotten, the downright evil to have a place for the healthy attitudes to grow makes too much sense. Maybe the science was bad, but the philosophy was eerily prescient.
“You don’t think it’s bad luck to be packing before closing, do you”
Tom Battaglia, clad in sweatpants and a ratty old purple Roman Catholic High School hoodie, slapped the packing tape gun on a box in the midst of a seemingly interminable number of them laying around his house.
“You know, you brought the whole idea up, and you keep bringing up reasons why we shouldn’t be doing it.”
“No, it’s not that, it’s just…”
His voice trailed off as he looked around the stately suburban home, growing emptier and emptier with each bit of decor and furniture and appliances packed carefully and efficiently into cardboard containers.
“I just don’t want to count chickens before they hatch. Especially if it means having a delicious omelet for breakfast.”
“You’re something else, you know that?” she said with a smile and a chuckle. “I’m going to go get a drink. You want anything?”
“Nah. Too many boxes to pack. I’ll rest when we’re finished.”
Tam left for the kitchen, the last possible room in the house they planned on packing up. Tom looked around at the increasingly barren home. A gossamer blanket started to cover him, and he saw into the past, memories of him carrying a pregnant wife across the threshold, a vision of him carrying a baby up the steps with a bottle, then shifting to that same child, older, speeding down, laughing. Tummy time on the floor with an older boy giggling on the floor with his baby brother. Two adolescents chasing each other through the house. Younger versions of him and his wife, dancing on their anniversary. Him carrying a turkey from the kitchen to the larger dining room table. A lifetime of visions from his past, warm ones, replayed before his eyes, tugging at the part of his brain that triggered regret. A tear started to form in the corner of his right eye.
“I thought you wanted to get things done,” Tam said in between sips of a Pamplemousse LaCroix. “Yet I see absolutely no progress from before I went in the kitchen.”
“Oh, uh, sorry,” he replied, shaken from his daze. “Just sorta spaced, y’know? Maybe the gravity is just getting to me.”
He went to tape the box before another thought popped in his head, one born of the regret fermenting and percolating in his brain.
“We’re downgrading space. We’re not going to have enough room for all this stuff in the new house. What should we do?”
“We’ll figure it out.”
Tom was not so sure he agreed with his wife.
Letting the malevolence out is only the first step. You have to be choosy about the replacement. Rose, your current humors are gnarled and ugly, forged in selfishness and ill-perceived notions of entitlement. When I forcibly let them out at Colossus, what will you let in? Even more feelings of malaise? Excuses at how the fight you picked with me wasn’t the cakewalk you thought it’d be, watching Paxton and Hanlon and FLAMBERGE and that snot-nosed little shithead who ran from the grind battle me? Or will the doorman to your soul let something else in, so that this career you’ve embarked upon doesn’t get washed away in a flood of jealousy and disappointment before it begins?
Even as unseasonably warm as the area had been from Thanksgiving through early December, the air chilled Lorenzo Battaglia enough to wear a parka in his wheelchair out in his tiny, concrete-padded yard in South Philadelphia. The 2PM sky in December was always his favorite, the gray clouds sweeping across the visible ceiling above the rowhomes with the setting sun blazing behind them like a golden inlay. Most of his peers, his friends, even his family preferred the vibrant blue of the summer, but as a wrestler, the idea of gold peeking up from the most dismal sky, it represented the struggle he would overcome in every town he made.
He saw the smiles on all the kids’ faces in that sky, heard the roar of the crowds on the wind. His career never made it past the Northeast region before wrestling hit it big when the Greensboro Territory hit national syndication, but those who appreciated him, he returned that love in kind. But there were no six people whose appreciation meant more to him than that of his wife and five children. His relationships with all of them were strained because he couldn’t quite find the way to show reciprocity with the people who were closest to him. Little Timmy in the front row only saw The Italian Stallion once a month, and Lorenzo didn’t need to burden himself with his expectations.
Tommaso, Luigi, Guido, Giacomo, and Michele, and their mother Joelle? He knew every single want, fear, joy, and heartbreak. Little Timmy was easy. For a pro wrestler, a job requiring communication skills as requisite, his skills in that arena were painfully bereft at home. He couldn’t relay them to his family in a way that was unencumbered by his stringent expectations and the rigidity of his ideals. He looked up at the sky and saw his face in the gray clouds.
Then he saw something else in the gold bursting forth beyond that drab wall peeking above the backs of the houses across the alleyway. It was a face, one he’d been especially harsh on. Sure, none of his five children would characterize him as Father of the Year, but it was the oldest in particular he came down upon with the most force, unnecessary almost every single time. His chest became gnarled with regret at first, but the stranglehold of his own intrusive thoughts lessened as he thought first of the man he’d become but then of the wrestler, the man who forged his own way and became a force of nature all on his own. The face shone brightly above the clouds, and the name…
“Dear, Tommy just called.”
Joelle’s voice was sharp enough to get her husband’s attention with his failing hearing but not too loud as to startle him. He turned around with a grumble.
“He’s closing on his new house tomorrow. Then they’re going to set up a move. He wants us over this weekend for a housewarming.”
“Oh, uh, good. I want to talk to him anyway.”
Joelle rolled her eyes.
“I hope you’re not picking a fight with him.”
“Oh… oh no. I know how you’d think that, but not this time. I… I think
I owe him something.”
Joelle nodded with strain. One could forgive her for not believing her stubborn husband, but he knew in his heart he’d felt a change. He would make things right with his son, his oldest son, his most successful one. He smiled as he looked up at the sky, trying to ignore the cough that he fought harder and harder to suppress with each passing hour.
There’s a great choice in front of you, whether you decide you believe it. To be at a crossroads in your second match… that feels unfair. But then again, it was unfair of you to drug me after I’d been dragged through hell myself. Eye for an eye leaves the world blind, sure, but when deeds of malice go unpunished, the sludge of injustice taints every cubic inch of the space in which we compete. Kerry Kuroyama and Nate Colton think they can be above the fray and show the world what wrestling should be, but as much as their goal is aspirational, a goal I share, it’s not possible right now when you drag the mud in from whatever place of motivation you reside. Even though I count your father as one of my few friends in this industry, your motivations are foreign to me. The apple fell far from the tree in that regard.
“Are you sure you think this is the right move?”
“Tom,” Tam answered, “It’s a little late now. We’re about to close on a new house, which was your idea in the first place.”
“I know, I know. But…”
“Hey, sorry I’m late. Traffic on 76 is brutal.”
The realtor rushed into the office, throwing a briefcase on the oak table, breathlessly taking his seat.
“It’s okay, Jay,” Tam replied. “As you can see, the sellers aren’t here yet either. And your other client just hit me with the ol’ cold feet.”
“I did not! I’m just, I mean you know how nervous I can get on big decisions. You know how much I hemmed and hawed signing the PRIME contract two years ago.”
“Yeah, and I’ll tell you what I told you then. Sometimes, you just have to be bold. I mean, hon, why do you think I was so eager when you pitched me this idea in the first place?”
“You got a taste of what good pho was like and needed to be closer to Washington Avenue?”
She shot him a deathglare, the kind he only ever got from Lindsay Troy when he mentioned the words “Roderick” and “McRatrick” consecutively.
“Jeez, lighten up.”
She shook her head.
“We made a lot of great memories out in Malvern. But there was an emptiness growing. I could feel it. I didn’t like it. The space, it made you do stupid things. It made me feel isolated. Who knows how it affected the boys. There was some bad shit brewing. I wanted to get it cut out as soon as I could.”
“And you can’t let the good in if there’s bad stuff brewing.”
“You always have a way of cutting through the bullshit.”
“I married a pro wrestler,” she said with a laugh, “it comes with the package.”
Just then four more people walked into the room.
“Awesome,” Jay said. “We can get started.”
Even as the hands in slovenly calligraphy created signatures on legal paper, the pangs of regret would not leave the back of Tom’s mind.
As your footprints leave filth and waste in my home, my blood is not enough to clean it up. I have already shed enough of myself in vain. The gushers I sprang could not protect Nora or her mother or my own brother. My blood only cleansed the sins of my hubris, but there is still so much injustice left that Paxton Ray thinks he can make right with half-hearted apologies and a new girlfriend. But that’s not my business anymore, sadly. I tried. I really fucking tried, Rose. I know you don’t care, and I know my attempts are meaningless to you, which is why you took it upon yourself to make an example of me right after that war finished.
But mark my words, either you bleed and clean up the mess you made, or you don’t, and I will have failed yet again. On one hand, I’ve learned to live with my own failures this year, but on the other, I have hated every single second of that cohabitation. Dealing with a slovenly roommate and liking the experience are two different concepts that coexist in tenuous balance far too many times. Many who have to deal with that dynamic are powerless to do anything about it.
I am not.
Call me Adam of Grayskull because I have the power to change my fate.
The process of preparing for a move was arduous and full of interruptions. A married couple consisting of a major league professional wrestler and a high-level pharma exec tends to have things like “work” and “children” to manage on top of putting things into boxes. Movers will take boxes from point A to their truck to point B, Packing would be all on the people moving. Unfortunately for the Battaglias, Edwards – and it was always Edwards – started shit again during the year-end reviews, and, well, the world saw how a blatant and vicious low blow derailed the tandem Dino Dive on ReVival. Rocky’s pterodactyl eggs required more than one bucket of ice after the show. Even for important people in their field, mundane tasks sometimes warrant satisfaction, celebration even.
Tom stood in the foyer and looked around. With everything packed away, ready for the move, the gravity of what his wife had told him at the mortgage office during closing hit him. With knick-knacks or paintings bringing life to the room, the inside felt naked. The permanent fixtures providing solitary light with all the lamps stowed gave the room an eerie glow. The home had become a house again. The walls and the floors felt drained of color. The emptiness felt pervasive.
He had to imagine the house as it was again. His brain put everything back into place, mentally unpacking the boxes, remembering the house when it was alive, when it was a home. He saw the living room and dining room, the bubble wrap removed from the tables and chairs, the paintings on the walls, throw pillows and blankets on the couch mussed up, the television blaring. But he could only see himself on the couch, blankly drinking a beer, watching lucha libre on television. Tam was nowhere to be found outside of the faint aural imprint coming from her office in the next room as she spoke to a faceless colleague. Neither one of the boys was in the living room either. The wisp of the raid music from Pokemon Scarlet wafted down the steps from his room, door opened. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw out the window Zo practicing crossovers and midrange jumpers on the court outside.
All four humans who called that address home were there on the premises, but they were four roommates doing their own thing. Gone was the togetherness that bonded them. The fact that in Tom’s halcyon remembrance from the other day were drawn from further past only starkly defined how much they’d drifted apart, and he wondered what the catalyst was.
The return of The Anglo Luchador gave Tom his own problems, and the space the house had provided gave him a coward’s refuge. Once, he was the twine that held three growing personalities together. Somewhere down the line, perhaps when Hoyt Williams sicced Balaam on him the first time after that ill-advised press conference, maybe when his memories of Pom’s eye invaded his mind, or when Paxton Ray took his Intense Championship and unraveled his 2023, he decided to snip the twine rather than bind those closest to him even more tightly so they could repay him for all the help he gave them over the years.
There was too much room in the house, and any attempt at salvaging that room and having his cake after eating it greedily would prove futile after Arthur Pleasant violated his privacy and Paxton assaulted his brother. All of the golden warm memories dissolved in a vat of acid, and all that remained was a stark, profound, hollow emptiness.
Emptiness that defined his relationship with his father.
Emptiness that he saw through Rose’s eyes as she pontificated to him without allowing him a word edgewise.
He realized in that moment that his wife was right. He realized that this move would help him make the course correction he and his family needed so he didn’t turn out distant like Lorenzo or embittered and entitled like Rose. Everything started to make sense. The idea that he himself suggested finally made perfect sense, and for once, throwing something to the wall that he thought Tam wanted to hear instead of something that would be mutually beneficial accidentally reaped a golden harvest.
He breathed deeply the air inside of the house one last time and produced a dry, dusty cough.
“Good riddance,” he muttered under his breath, unaware that someone had sidled up behind him.
“So you’ve finally bought in, huh?”
He turned around in shock to see Tam behind him.
“GAHH, don’t sneak up on me like that.”
“Still easily startled, huh. It’s a wonder why you succeeded at wrestling.”
“Hey, that’s always why I’ve been a better tecnico than rudo anyway. Rudos are supposed to resist being shocked like that.”
Tam laughed before she replied.
“So why are you all-in now? I could see the flop sweat forming in the pits under your shirt signing the papers.”
“Eh,” he started slowly. “I realized you were right. And I realized that I was going about trying to keep being the dad I’ve always been here and the wrestler I wanted to be since coming back all the wrong way. All of it stemmed from the wrong ideas, the Mexico trip, the shock collar, the shit with Ria, even all the way back to the IcyHot fiasco.”
Tam laughed again.
“At least you seem to want to learn. I was afraid I’d have to kick you outta here and run off with a personal trainer or something.”
“Don’t joke about that shit.”
She rolled her eyes.
“C’mon,” she said. “The kids are both at friends’ houses, and you’ve done such a good job packing that you deserve a beer.”
“You’re not just saying that because you want to forget about Edwards with some White Claws, are you?”
She playfully slapped the back of her husband’s head as she pulled up the cab company’s phone number on her cell.
Blood cleanses, Rose.
You’ve boldly stepped into my house and decided you would throw all your refuse and detritus where you pleased. You thought you could get away with it because you had the power of guilt on your side. Newsflash, Rose. The truly innocent wield the weapons of righteousness to repel the guilt. My weapons are a mop and a duster. The solvent will be your blood. I will make you spill what you will use to clean up the mess you made of my home and then you will take the implements from my hands and clean up the awful morass you made yourself. Your four goons can help too. And if they don’t like it, I have four comrades I trust with my life to enforce the decisions you made for yourself the moment your ego and hubris decided to pick me off at my lowest point.
Few people in Philly ever get used to the early onset of dusk in the winter months. It’s not so much the surprise but the unwanted nature of it. No one wants night to fall before dinnertime, but nature moves the way as its forces are governed by physical law. But the nightfall felt appropriate for Tom and Tam and the boys. Their move was complete. Boxes adorned the corner house in South Philadelphia, but the important pieces were in place. The movers set up the beds. The couches and tables were in their places, ready to host housewarming guests.
The people were the important pieces anyway. Mikey and Miranda. Suleimon and Timo. His teacher Pedro and his agent Steve. The only pieces missing were his parents, but they were chronically late to everything anyway. Everything was in place to close this latest chapter in his life. Blood, both natural and transformed, flowed through his new home, and despite his and his family’s lives still residing mostly in boxes, that new home felt like a vibrant organism. Tom smiled as he sat on his couch, watching the conversations unfold.
“Tom…” he heard over his shoulder. Tam had a look of concern on her face.
“Your phone’s vibrating off the hook. You never turned the ringer back on, did you?”
“Shit…” it was probably his parents, he thought. How could he be so off the ball? He rushed over to the box on top of which rested his phone. He hit the “answer” button a second before it would’ve sent the caller to his voicemail.
“Hey Mom what…”
His face turned pale.
“I… I’ll be right over.”
He hit “end” on the call. Everyone in the house looked at him.
“Is everything okay, babe?” Tam asked.
Tom shook his head.
“That was my mom…”
A beat, a single, painful, ominous beat.
“Dad… dad died.”