“We ain’t never gonna change,
We ain’t doin’ nothing wrong”
“I’m Rob and I’m an alcoholic.”
Another Tuesday night in an unnervingly bright church basement. They always held meetings in the same room they held Sunday school. It was comical, really. A bunch of grown men sitting in a circle surrounded by comic depictions of the bible. You had to have it bad to sit in a tiny chair in a 3000 lumens glow looking at cartoon pictures of Jesus.
“I’m…,” he counted on his fingers, “thirty-two days sober.”
And they always clapped. Twenty-four years in and out of meetings and rehabs and his skin still crawled every time they clapped. What in the world was there to clap for?
On one hand, he wanted to scream at them and tell the various walking khakis and Hokas currently eagerly smiling at him that they didn’t get it. On the other, he wanted to get honest. He wanted to say that he was having a hell of a time keeping “the plug in the jug” and that he just didn’t see a way to keep going. What would his dad think?
“Thanks, I just wanted to check in.” His eyes dropped to the white Styrofoam cup in his hands filled with a coffee that tasted like a hate crime. As they regurgitated their hollow slogans, Rob sloshed the scalding liquid back and forth, watching the way it sullied the perfect white sides of the cup. How apropos.
The banker shared about his boss not allowing him to go to meetings on his lunch break, the principal opined his struggles relinquishing control, and on and on. He went through the motions because that’s what he did in life. In the program they talked about “terminal uniqueness” – thinking you’re too different from the group to relate and be a part of. But he was different. In so many ways he was different.
Tonight, in some damp and dingy bingo hall, Rob would stop being a wart on the ass of this society. The scales of awkwardness would fall away like a molting snake and he would be the man he knew he really was. All of the failures and heartbreaks and broken promises would fade under the buzzing fluorescent lights and he’d get that feeling in the pit of his stomach – the same one he always got right before sinking that first drink. Tonight, he would be “The Legend”.
Oh, yes, the prayer. The hands of the two men on either side of Williams felt remarkably soft as they joined in a circle to pray the drink away. Rob never prayed. Nor did he close his eyes, even though it felt like he was breaking some unwritten law. He watched them all intently, once again being of two minds. There was a distinct envy. These people actually believed and it made them better men and they went to sleep easy at night. But, they had offered their darkness as a sacrifice.
They’d forgotten the electric smell of iron as blood permeates the air.
“Let this be a lesson to you, girl
Don’t come around where you don’t belong”
He leaned is head back and took a big breath in, his eyes jumping around the mold spots on the ceiling. She wove the sewing needle through his skin with a steady hand. This was old hat for her now, moving with precision. It hurt so much more when he was sober.
“You’ve got to give this shit up, Rob.”
Rob’s gaze traced the wrinkles around Charlotte’s squinting eyes. His antics had put most of them there.
She was right, though. She was always right – just ask her. His body was a road map of scars she had sewn, glued, or stapled in a hundred different moldy motel bathrooms. At this point she was more of a battlefield nurse than a… girlfriend, ring manager, muse, caretaker. Take your pick.
He’d painted her a prettier picture.
“You’re no fucking 20-year-old kid anymore.”
“Don’t I fuckin’ know it. I’m forty-four this year and I feel every bit of sixty… but what else am I gonna do?”
She didn’t know. Charlotte still somehow believed that he had another big run in him, but he was racing against the last few grains of sand in the hourglass.
“Anything. Swing a hammer, flip burgers, answer phones. I don’t care, anything is better than living like this.”
Rob turned his head, his eyes going blank as he stared at the stained wallpaper. She knew to put the stick down and let the dead horse lie. At best he would go on a tear tonight, waking her up with tears in his eyes to tell her how right she was and swearing that he would change – again.
“That’s as good as it’s getting with this sewing kit.” She looked over her handiwork and cracked a smirk of satisfaction. Not bad for what she was working with. “We really should-“
“I ain’t going to no hospital. We ain’t got no insurance and they’re just another damn racket anyhow. I’m going out,” he said as he began buttoning up his blood-stained Hawaiian shirt. He winced as the buttons scraped across the newly sewn wound.
“You can throw me in the Colbert County Jailhouse,
You can throw me off the Wilson Dam,
But there ain’t much difference in the man I wanna be
and the man that I really am.”
There was only three times Rob liked himself: when he was wrestling, when he was drunk, and when he was trying to get her back.
“What’ll it be?”
The bartender was an easily forgettable man with an even more forgettable face. He had a white rag over his shoulder, trying really hard to fit the archetype.
“Double whiskey and a Bud old,” Rob grumbled as he slouched in the seat, dropping his 30-day AA coin on the counter. It was a slow move for his wallet between the tension in his back from tonight’s bump and the freshly sewn hole in his gut. He laid a twenty on the bar next to the chip. The bartender looked at both of them, furled his lip with slight disappointment, and left to prepare Rob’s drink.
Rob thought it felt slow for a Saturday, a thought further reinforced by how quickly the barman returned with his drinks. Typical crowd for a small-town bar – two bar flies in the corner, a couple shooting pool, the girlfriends of the guys in the live band. They played a relaxing and familiar tune that Rob couldn’t quite identify. He nodded to the bar keeper
So here he was once again, in front of a double whiskey and beer staring at his distorted reflection in the glass. He sucked his teeth and reached up to put one hand on the glass and the other on his token.
“Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night. You ain’t a beauty but, hey, you’re alriiiiight”
He let his fingers slide over the coin, feeling the protruding edges of the inscribed words. To thine own self be true.
Rob could probably build a suit of armor out of all the 30-day chips he had collected over the years. What was one more? Rob’s mind drifted to a distant memory of riding up the California coast with Charlotte in his old King Cobra. Springsteen was asking if your daddy’s home and if he did things that Bruce couldn’t do. The sun was high and so was he.
What right did she have to tell him to stop? She wasn’t the one that spent every day in a tin roof shed in the sweltering Georgia summer getting his ass kicked over and over. While he was cutting his teeth running four or five shows a week in high school gyms, she was out at college parties. Her critical thinking was carved out in the class room while his was getting screwed over by snake oil selling, small time promoters trying to make a buck off his back.
She wasn’t going to tell him when it was time. Nobody was. He had a good run in the NGW, UCW, and a lot of others. He would do it again. To thine own self be true.
“Well I’m no hero, girl, that’s understood. Only redemption girl I can offer is beneath this dirty hood.”
The cheap plastic coin clinked as it hit the bar. Rob closed his eyes and raised the glass. What was one more 30-day chip? Just as Rob’s lower lip fell open to welcome the liquid courage, his phone rang in his pocket. He nearly jumped at the interruption. An audible sigh escaped Rob’s lips as he puffed his cheeks and blew out. He winced in pain as he reached for the phone in his back pocket.
The screen read “Son of a Bitch John”.
“Son of a bitch.”
John was Rob’s agent and had been with him since the NGW days. He was one of those people that would make a great underdog biopic – if he ever actually hit the big time. Always had big plans, but they were always in the works. Four feet from gold. There was a time that he could’ve sold ice to an eskimo, though, and Rob was nothing if not nostalgic. Back in the day they were lightning in a bottle. Now they were more like two cripples leaning on one another.
“John, I’m a little busy,” Rob hastily snapped, the smell of whiskey a few inches from his face.
“Buddy, do you have your shitting pants on?”
They were only 5 years apart, but John always called Rob buddy, which Rob hated passionately. It always reminded him of an authority figure or someone his mom was dating trying to get in good with him and tasted like rotgut whiskey going down. It was just another one of John’s five endearing qualities.
“My what? What,” Rob set the glass down on the bar and relieved his bruised shoulder to hold the phone in his free hand, “the fuck are you on about?”
“We got a live one, buddy. Check out of whatever roach motel you’re staying in and get to my place. I’ve got a contract in my hands for PRIME Wrestling. Just get your ass here, I’ll go over all the fine details.
“It’s a town full of losers and I’m pulling out of here to win”
“You ok, buddy?”
“Yeah, John. Better than ever. I’ll see you soon.”
Rob hung up the phone and returned the glass to the bar. He pushed it away, as if he were reassuring the universe that he heard and understood. A commitment to this shot. One more run. His eyes fell to the 30 day chip again – to thine own self be true. Rob pocketed his chip and pushed the seat back, the fire in his belly rising in temperature once again. As the band wound down he stole off into the night determined to pull out of here to win.