From the manuscript of the memoir “Renewed – The Rises and Falls of Jonathan Rhine” – to be released in Fall of 2027
There are moments in life where realization hits like a bullet, a flash of lightning. It is sudden, transformative.
Other times the truth takes time to build, like a pot of water on a stove. It is slow, the pieces coming together and forming organically, to the point that it doesn’t feel like a realization, but a discovery of what was already there.
My realization, the most important realization of my life, had elements of both. It had been building in the background for months, but it took one random conversation for it to strike me. A strange, ridiculous conversation spurred by our opponents at ReVival 12.
“Our opponents are the Masters of the Multiverse?” asks Paxton, looking at his phone as Fighting For Nora and Shweta Kallemullah gather in the Gray’s Academy conference room.
“B-Team,” Shweta chimed in.
“What the fuck does that even mean?”
Jon snorts. “Well, B-Team means they aren’t good.”
“Don’t underestimate anyone, guys.” Shweta also looks at her phone, then looks up suddenly. “Gotta go. Foundation stuff.”
“Anything bad?” Jon asks.
“I’ll tell you later,” she says, hurrying out and slamming the door behind her.
“What’s that mean?” Paxton asked.
“Don’t know, but it sounds bad.”
“No, not that. The Multiverse thing. What the hell is that?”
“Oh,” Jon says, laughing. “Well, it’s a popular thing in entertainment nowadays. Doctor Strange, Spiderman…” he stops as he sees Paxton’s blank expression. “Do you not watch any of this with your daughter?”
Paxton shrugs. “Nora likes Moana.”
“Yep. And lemme tell ya, Jon. There’s no tellin’ how far I’ll go to get away when that movie is playin’.”
Jon chuckles. “Anyway, the multiverse is the idea that there are parallel universes, where versions of us are living out our lives, and different events affect the different universes. It’s a lot of weird shit, and these guys apparently believe in it.”
“Sounds stupid,” Paxton says, picking at his fingernails. After a moment, he looks at Jon. “Though it is kinda interestin’ if you think about it.”
“Ya ever thought about what life would be like if one or two things didn’t happen? How it could change everythin’?”
Jon looks out the window, his focus on a family of birds flitting around the large oak tree in the Academy lawn. “Yeah. Interesting.”
“Like for you, Jon. What if Foster doesn’t paralyze Dustin? Ever thought what your life would be like if that hadn’t happened?”
Jon’s eyes go wide for a second, and then he starts thinking.
May 3, 2020
“Tuck your head! TUCK!” Connor shouts as Foster begins his descent.
At the last moment, Dustin tucks his head and rolls through. There is a thud, but no crunch. Dustin groans and tries to move, but Foster is quick to cover him. Jon slowly drops to his knees and delivers the three count.
“There we go!” Foster laughs, jumping up and clapping. He looks down at Dustin. “Let that be a lesson to you, kid. You have a lot to learn.” He looks around and points at his students. “All right, now we take a break. See y’all in ten!” Foster leaves the ring, whistling, as Connor slides under the ring ropes.
“Dustin, are you okay?” he asks. Dustin rolls to a seated position and shakes his head.
“Yeah, I’m all right,” Dustin answers without looking up. Jon starts to exit the ring, but before he does he looks over at Dustin again, waiting for him to look up so he can read his eyes. But when almost a minute passes without Dustin moving, Jon sighs and leaves the ring.
May 8, 2020
“No, Dustin, don’t do this.”
Jon looks up to see Dustin and Connor speed past him, Dustin with a backpack on and a blank expression.
“Please. I need you to stay. Please don’t go.”
“I’m sorry, Connor,” Dustin says, looking back to see Jonathan following them. “But I can’t stay here anymore. What your dad did five days ago…”
“He’s already apologized, he said he didn’t mean it…”
Dustin stops, whirling on both of them. “No, he meant it. And I’m glad he did. He was right. I have a lot to learn. And I don’t want to learn it here.” He looks past Connor at Jonathan. “I hope you learned something too, Jon. I hope you learned what kind of man Foster is.” Dustin then turns around and walks out the door.
July 7, 2021
“All right, he’s tapping! That’s enough, let go Quinn!” Jon grips at the 17 year old’s hands only to get slapped as the young man continues to wrench the crossface on Connor Nackedy, who howls in pain.
“Quinn, it’s over!” Jon grabs Quinn by the head and pulls him off. Quinn shoots Jon a dark look before turning around and raising his arms in the sky, letting out a roar as his friends slide into the ring to congratulate him. Jon walks over to Connor and crouches down. “You okay, Con?”
Connor doesn’t answer; he rolls out of the ring and walks towards the locker room. Jon looks past Connor to Foster, who is standing in the doorway of his office. He looks at Jon, shakes his head, and then beckons for Jon to see him.
“Rough match,” Jon says as he walks in the door, but is surprised to see Foster wearing a birthday hat and holding out a beer. “Wha…?”
“Happy birthday to us, you old fart!” Foster yells, handing Jon the beer and grabbing one of his own. “How old are you now, 44?”
Jon narrows his eyes. “No, I’m 36. You’re 44.”
“Ah, coulda fooled me, you look like you got shit out of a hangover dragon most days.” Foster sits back in his chair and smiles at his head trainer. “You know, I love sharing a birthday with you. It always gives me someone to celebrate with.”
Jon sits down and takes a sip of his beer. “Yeah, it’s great.”
The silence floats in the air above them, causing Jon to fidget and Foster to tip his beer back longer. Finally, Foster laughs. “Not doing anything else tonight? Any plans to go out, meet a young woman, do something outside this gym for once?”
Jon scowls. “You know that’s not me.”
“You better hope that one day it becomes you, or you’ll be 44 in a wrestling school drinking with your lame ass protege.” Foster takes another gulp and smiles. “Might have another star come out of this school soon, though.”
Foster laughs so hard that beer comes out of the corners of his mouth. “Connor? No way. You were right about that one. He’s just not ready. Truth be told I might cut him.”
Jon sits forward, his eyes widening. “What?”
“I told you, Jon. I am not blinded by fatherhood. I want a legacy in this place, and Connor ain’t it. He can’t hang. He’s too timid. And his friend could’ve been something, but he was too rebellious to do anything with it. What was his name again? Rusty?” Before Jonathan can correct him, Foster waves a hand in the air. “Whatever. Glad I brought all three in. Because Quinn Fleetwood is going to be a superstar. I’ve already had people ask about him as soon as he turns 18.”
Jon looks down and sighs, which catches the eye of Foster. “What’s wrong? Does his success bother you?”
Jon opens his mouth, thinks for a second, then speaks. “It’s just that…he’s a fucking asshole.”
Foster laughs. “Some of the best wrestlers in the world are assholes, Jon.” Foster holds his beer in the air. “Happy fucking birthday.”
“Quinn Fleetwood, a wrestlin’ prodigy? Sounds like a nightmare universe t’me,” Paxton says, laughing.
Jon shrugs. “He’s pretty talented in this world too. I think the main problem with him is…well, me.”
“You see it in all sports. Talent is important, but so is the situation you’re in. How many star players get drafted into bad organizations and languish away? Coaching matters. Faith matters. And if I’m being open and honest with myself…” Jon looks down at his feet. “I don’t like him, and never have. I think he’s a punk. And so I’m not going to make the most out of his talent, because I don’t want to enable his behavior.”
Paxton laughs. “After meetin’ his fuckin’ dad, I think ya made the right decision.”
“Still, though. In a world where Dustin never gets paralyzed and Foster continues to run this place, Quinn doesn’t have those restrictions. He’s free to be the exact person and wrestler he wants to be, and maybe he thrives. Maybe he becomes the star Dustin was meant to become.” Jon thinks for a moment, then shakes his head. “Or maybe he doesn’t.”
“Yeah?” Paxton asks, looking up. “Okay, Jon of the Multiverse, tell me what happens next.”
December 18, 2021
Jon walks out of the locker room at Gray’s, toweling himself off. As he walks towards the exit, he sees a man in a suit standing nervously by the door, holding a manilla envelope. “Hey, can I help you?”
The man’s eyes twinkle when they meet Jon’s. “Oh, Jonathan Rhine! It really is you! Just the man I was looking for.” The man rushes forward, his hand extended. “Victor Parsons. I work for PRIME.”
Jon cocks his head to the side. “PRIME? The defunct wrestling company?”
Victor smiles. “The formerly defunct wrestling company. You’ll be pleased to hear that Ms. Lindsay Troy has revived the promotion, and it will be running in Las Vegas in the new year. There’s a television contract and a partnership with MGM. Everything looks excellent so far.”
Jon slowly nods. “That’s amazing. I was in PRIME over a decade ago. I won the Intense title.”
“Yes, yes, I remember it quite well,” says Victor. “Anyway, we are currently in the process of filling the roster, which is why I’m here.”
Jon’s eyes widen for a minute, and he backs into the wall so he can lean against it. Looking at his feet, he murmurs, “PRIME…” After a moment, he realizes Victor was still speaking, and is now looking at him quizzically. “I’m sorry?”
“I was wondering if you knew where Quinn Fleetwood was so I can give him the contract that Ms. Troy has drawn up for him.”
Jonathan slides a little down the wall. “Oh. I think…um, he may still be in the gym.” Standing suddenly, Jon grabs the back of his neck. “Sorry, I just thought…”
“Oh, don’t worry, Mr. Rhine. Ms. Troy did not forget about you. She wrestles here in New Orleans for DEFIANCE, you see, and she’s heard about your accomplishments here as well.”
“That’s great,” Jon says.
“Yes, she would be honored if you’d accept the position of head referee, since you’ve been doing such a great job moderating the matches between your students.”
Jon looks down the hallway for a moment, then returns his gaze to the manilla envelope in Victor’s hand. “I…that’s a great offer, Mr. Parsons. However, I don’t think I’m ready to become a referee professionally yet. Please give Lindsay my apologies.”
“Very well,” Victor says, shuffling the folder in his hand and walking away. “We do have a backup in mind. A friend of yours, in fact. I’ll go find Mr. Fleetwood to give him the good news. Good bye, Mr. Rhine.”
Jon watches him leave, then walks a few steps down the hall. He closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and then punches a hole in the wall before walking away, wringing out the pain in his fist.
June 13, 2022
“FLEETWOOD!” Quinn shouts, raising his arm as Jon completes the three count. Quinn starts celebrating, but Jon holds up two fingers. Quinn turns around and sees Jon and puts his hands on his head. “What? No, it was three! He’s still down!”
Jon looks down at Edgar, the new student who still hadn’t moved from Quinn’s seated front facebuster, called the Fleetbuster. Then he looks up at Quinn. “Yes, but you got up before I counted to three. You were too cocky, and it cost you the win.”
“Too cocky?” Quinn walks up to Jon until they’re chest to chest. While Quinn only recently turned 18, his body has nearly matured to Jon’s size. “You’re talking to the rookie who’s about to set PRIME on fire when I debut next month. The man who’s going to become the best wrestler this school has ever produced. I’m not cocky, I’m just good.” Quinn gives Jon a small shove to his chest. “And you’re just bitter.”
“Bitter?” Jon says, his shoulders raising so he maintains his height advantage over Quinn.
“Yeah, bitter. Bitter that your old company didn’t want you, they wanted me. Bitter that all you can do is waste away in this gym handing out three counts like candy. Bitter because you look at me and you see a star and not some has-been like when you look in the mirror.”
Jon looks away and sees Foster Nackedy, standing in the doorway of his office. After a moment, Foster goes inside and shuts the door. Jon looks back at Quinn and sneers. “I don’t care if you have a PRIME contract or not. When you’re here, you’re a student, and I’m staff. So you need to respect me.”
Instead of answering, Quinn spits in Jon’s face.
Jon closes his eyes as he slowly wipes his face, then looks out at the crowd of people forming. “Dith. Come in and ref. Quinn and I are sparring now.”
Quinn smiles and retreats to a corner as Aaron “Dith” Timble slides under the ring ropes. Dith walks up to Jon. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Two years ago Foster taught Dustin a lesson. I think I can do the same.”
“Okay,” Dith sighs. “Ring the bell.”
Jon realizes a few minutes in that Quinn’s talent is real. He’s quicker than Jon, and he doesn’t get winded like Jon does. Nevertheless, Jon is able to use his experience to get Quinn into a series of submission holds.
“Give up?” he asks, wrenching on Quinn’s arms behind his back.
“Fuck you,” Quinn says, flexing to power out of the hold. But as soon as he frees himself, he gets knocked over by a Rhine clothesline.
“If a has-been is doing this to you, how do you think you’ll fare against Julian Bathory? Against Impulse?” Jonathan hits his New Life Moonsault, but lands on his knee awkwardly. As he stands, he feels it twitch.
Quinn gets to his feet and sees Jon limping and goes for the knee, hitting a baseball slide. As Jon hobbles, Quinn tries to hit the Fleetbuster, but Jon hits him with an elbow. He grabs Quinn while he’s reeling and lifts him up for a suplex.
“How–” Jon begins, then he feels his knee tweak. He falls backwards with Quinn in tow, and hears the crunch as Quinn hits the mat hard.
Jon hears the gasps as he rolls to his knees, looking down at Quinn. He wants to check on him. He wants to apologize. He wants to say something. Anything.
Instead, he rolls onto his back and looks at the ceiling.
June 18, 2022
“Sorry about this, Jon,” Foster says as they stand outside the facility. Jon looks up at the Academy, likely for the last time.
“No. I’m sorry. I thought I’d be able to teach him something. Like you taught Dustin.”
Foster shakes his head. “Jon, you can’t teach anyone anything. Kids don’t listen to words, or even actions. Dustin didn’t leave because I beat the crap out of him. He left because he didn’t want to wrestle. All you can do to teach someone is to be an example of something they want to aspire to.” He looks down. “Or something they want to avoid.”
Jon slings a backpack over his shoulder. “He gonna be okay?”
“Who, Quinn? Probably. He has a second surgery this weekend. Don’t know if he’s going to wrestle, but he’ll walk again.”
“I’ll send something to the family,” Jon says, but stops when Foster raises his hand.
“You probably shouldn’t. See you around, Jon.”
July 7, 2022
Jon sits at a bar stool in Pirogue’s Whiskey Bayou, taking a sip of his beer. “Did I tell you it’s my birthday,” he asks the bartender, barely able to get his eyes up to meet her distracted gaze.
“You did. Happy birthday. That’s the last one though. You should get someone to pick you up.”
Jon doesn’t answer. He just sips his beer, looking around occasionally to see if anyone wants to talk. A few minutes later, he feels a hand on his shoulder.
“Hello, Jon,” the man says. “Do you know who I am?” Jon turns and stares at the newcomer, then shrugs. “My name is Chet. Chet Fleetwood.”
Jon feels a sudden shot of sobriety as he looks at the hand on his shoulder, then the six people behind Chet. “Hi.”
Chet looks past Jon to the bartender. “Don’t worry, sweetheart. We’ll get him home. Let’s go, Jon.”
Jon stands and lets Chet lead him out of the bar and behind it, near the dumpster. Jon gets a whiff of rotting fish and scowls.
“Quinn was going to be a star, Jon.” Chet holds out a hand and one of the men behind him hands him a baseball bat “But now he won’t ever get to be one. Because of you.”
“Don’t care. I don’t want to hear anything except grunts from you. You ever heard of Fleetwood Mac? Because you’re about to get Fleetwood smacked.”
“That’s the wor–” Jon starts before the baseball bat smashes his face.
It doesn’t take long before Jon loses consciousness, his legs and arms splayed out, blood mixing with cooking grease on the sidewalk. Chet Fleetwood looks down on the broken body of a broken man and spits on him, then leaves him lying under the dumpster.
“Well that’s fuckin’ dark,” Paxton says.
“Foster and I have always been similar. Driven by ego, by emotion. I can see it ending that way if Foster never did what he did.”
Paxton nods and leans back. “It woulda affected me, too. I don’t start trainin’ here. Maybe Nora doesn’t get the treatment she needs. Maybe…” he lets the sentence end without finishing it. “Anyway, ya don’t think anyone woulda saved ya?”
“At that point? Probably not.” Jon suddenly looks up. “Oh. Oh.”
“Uh…nothing,” Jon says, quickly standing. “Got to go to the bathroom.” He leaves and walks towards the bathroom, then stops when he sees Shweta standing there. “Hey. Everything good?”
“Yeah, just some sponsorship things. I handled it.” Shweta raises her eyebrow. “Are…you okay?”
“You had an odd smile on your face. It looked like you woke up from a good dream.”
Jon quickly shakes his head. “A bad one, actually. But it’s better now. Talk to you later, Shway.” He walks past her, sending one last look her way as he heads for the bathroom.
The multiverse conversation with Paxton was silly, it was dark, it meant nothing.
Except suddenly, it meant everything.
As I thought about what my life would’ve been like if Foster never hit that brainbuster, I realized how easy it would have been to lose everyone close to me if I had done something similar. And then I realized who wouldn’t have been there at all.
It was always Shweta. When I worked to keep Gray’s Academy afloat after the incident, it was Shweta who helped me. When I got the call to join PRIME again, it was Shweta who encouraged me. When I started to lose my mind with all of the work of the Foundation, it was Shweta who righted the ship.
I had felt lost for a decade, with no purpose. When I finally found a purpose, I began to think of finding a person to share it with. And I finally realized that I already had been sharing it with someone this whole time.
I didn’t know at the time how much my life would be changing over the next few months. But I had finally figured out who I wanted by my side while it happened.