Eddie Cross felt at peace as he unlocked the door to Dave Gibson’s house in Charlotte, North Carolina, and smelled the familiar slightly musty odor of a retired pro-wrestling bachelor’s life. He couldn’t explain why he knew, the moment he stepped into the room, that he was finally home. He just knew.
In the last three months, he traveled all over the country to places he never dreamed of seeing. The mountains of Idaho were just what Jake Colton told him they would be, the nations capital held tons of history, and Seattle was known as The Emerald City for a reason. Many of the places he visited would make a wonderful home for a young man trying to cut his teeth in the world. However, despite his travels, nothing could replace North Carolina in his heart.
Except something wasn’t quite right. Dishes had piled up in the sink, there was unopened mail on the table that still carried remnants of take-out boxes from weeks ago, and overflowing garbage cans by the garage made it clear that Dave was facing more than a disease.
Eddie was intimately familiar with the signs of depression, after all.
Dave was still at his latest doctor’s appointment. So, to kill time, Eddie set to work cleaning the kitchen. After a while, he made meaningful progress. There was a stack of cleaned dishes drying in a rack, a fresh garbage bag, and he had found the source of a smell he couldn’t quite place. (It turned out to be the remnants of a single serving frozen lasagna.)
Earbuds in, First Person Shooter by Drake bumping, Eddie swished a mop back and forth in 4/4 time signature. As preoccupied as he was, he didn’t notice when Gibson walked into the kitchen and stood watching with a slightly cracked smile on his face.
The Carolina native had the results of yet another battery of tests in his hand, and he almost threw them on the kitchen table. However, upon seeing the mail stacked neatly, the dishes scrubbed free of the caked on grime, and the thick pine scented aroma of clean hitting his nose, he tucked the papers into his jacket pocket.
Nothing in there the kid wants to see, anyhow.
Nothing in there I want the kid to see.
Eddie’s phone lit up and buzzed on the table and the young man turned around and started as he saw Gibson in the doorway. He pulled out his earbuds and wiped sweat away from his brow before flashing an inherited grin that his mentor had seen what felt like a million times before.
“Aren’t you going to get that?” Dave asked as he gestured toward the phone.
“Nah, they been callin’ for weeks and never leave a message.”
“You aren’t curious who it is?”
“Br…uh… I mean, Dave, how important can they be if they don’t text?”
Stupid kid. I see some things haven’t changed after all.
Dave registered the disrespect with a scowl while he neatly removed his jacket.
Goddamn, I missed this.
Eddie docked his earbuds and shoved the phone in his naturally distressed denim jeans. While it was true that the old grappler had let the place get out of hand, the cleaning also served a second purpose: to put the results of Dave’s doctor visit out of his mind temporarily.
“So what did they say?” Anxiety shivered through the young man..
“Nothing I haven’t already heard,” Mr. Old School answered in a standoffish tone. “Don’t worry about that, OK? Let’s talk about Adam Ellis and make a game plan.”
Dave walked over to the refrigerator and pulled out a small bottle of fresh vegetable juice. Gibson wasn’t a huge fan of the taste, but Eddie had done some digging online and suggested trying more nutrients in his diet. Eddie was pleased to see he had listened.
“Adam Ellis? I’ll be fine. He’s a good dude and won’t take liberties.”
“Yeah but you’re still recovering and then there’s your eye to think about,” the elder’s voice was pressed like his vegetable juice as he paused and took a sip.
“My eye? Really? Why are you deflecting?” Eddie tried to push back enough to make a point but not to be rude.
Mr. Old School knew the feeling of failure, and he could handle that feeling. He was, however, unfamiliar with fear. He tried to take a drink and hide behind the pause. He watched as Eddie reached up and pulled the bottle down.
“If you want me to be an equal, you have to start treating me like an equal.”
He’s right. He deserves to know.
Why is it so hard to tell him?
Why is it so hard to tell myself?
A sigh escaped Dave’s lungs, carrying with it the resistance to the truth.
“I’m supposed to have chemo again in the morning,” as he spoke, his words seemed to fall to the ground, defeated. “But I decided I’m not going to go.”
Dave watched as Eddie’s face twisted from concern, to the junction of confusion and frustration, before ultimately settling upon anger.
“What do you mean you’re not going to go?” his protégé asked sternly.
Dave pulled a kitchen chair out, scraping hardwood against tile, and sat down with a stifled groan. “I mean I’m not going to go. It’s not a complicated statement, Ed.”
Eddie reached out and held his hand over the drink, not allowing Dave to escape into another action that broke up their conversation. He leaned in, placing a hand on the table, and got face to face with his mentor.
“Yeah, Dave. Bullshit.” Eddie’s voice was a clenched fist. “It’s not a complicated statement.”
“Well, it’s my decision,” came a calm and calculated response. “I did what I was supposed to in this life, and now it’s time to let nature take its course.”
Eddie leaned on the table a little more. The handmade heirloom oak shifted and creaked under his frame.
“With all due respect, Dave, that’s the coward’s way out.” Eddie’s response was meant to drill into Dave’s heart. “And you might have been a lot of things in life, but a coward isn’t one of them.”
“I figured you’d say something like that.” His head hung and his voice warbled, breaking the gruff demeanor Dave liked to maintain. “Bravery’s got nothing to do with it, Ed. Look around, it’s been months since I had any will left in me. What little there was I’m pretty sure you left in the back of that ambulance.”
Eddie nodded. He knew that any decision that Dave was making he had thought about backwards, forwards, and whatever way the Wonkavator in his mind would go.
“I hear you,” Eddie replied with the coolness of the mountain air in Autumn. “I just… I hoped that maybe you’d have a reason to fight now that I’m back.”
Gibson pulled his head up to meet Eddie’s eyes. For parents, that moment you recognize the unconditional love of your child can’t be explained, but when you feel it, you know exactly what it is.
At that moment, Dave knew.
His breath rasped like fall leaves dancing in the wind. It felt like such a monumental task to even breathe deeply at this point, and when he did, usually fits of coughing followed. As he stood up, a groan betrayed his struggle, and he felt a dagger sharp pain in his hip.
Damn fool of a kid. He’s really gonna make me go through with this, isn’t he?
— — —
The next day, Eddie and Dave sat in a quiet waiting room surrounded by cheerful pictures and brightly colored carpet. The young Samoan tapped a pen in staccato on a clipboard and waited for an answer.
“I don’t know, I haven’t drank or smoked in years. I don’t see how it’s important.”
“I’m just going to go ahead and mark former smoker, former drinker on the paperwork,” EC’s answer betrayed his annoyance. “Don’t you ever tell your doctors this stuff, Dave?”
“What’s the point? They don’t need to know about shit that happened years ago,” he responded gruffly. “Maybe I should tell them about your daddy breaking my hand with a bell hammer too?”
“Hm,” Eddie noted and started writing. “Under other symptoms: Patient has an ornery disposition and problems with disclosing important information.”
“Why you little…”
“David Gibson?” a short and plump straw haired nurse called out as she opened door three to the business end of the clinic.
Dave snarled at Eddie, who had a shit eating grin on his face. ‘We’re going to talk about this when they’re all done pricking and prodding me.”
“Still a little fight left in you,” Eddie needled as Dave grumbled under his breath. “Have fun in there and remember your manners.”
“Yes, Mom,” Mr. Old School’s voice was followed by a raspy breath and a light cough.
As they disappeared behind the doors into the bowels of the clinic, Eddie let his smile fade and took a nervous breath of his own.
— — —
Around an hour later, Eddie sat next to Dave as he hunkered into a beige armchair waiting for an inevitable sting. He looked over to his pupil and showed a barely noticeable twinge in his lip as the needle went into his arm.
The nurse smiled and cheerfully stated, “All done with the IV insertion, David! Do you have any questions?”
He didn’t offer her much of a warning as he replied, “Yeah, did you brush your teeth this morning?”
Eddie rolled his eyes and offered a half-hearted explanation when she made a sour face. “Sorry, he’s had a bad few weeks. I have a few questions, though.”
He sat up straighter in his chair, pulled out his phone, and tapped at the screen with quick, precise movements while Dave watched in silence. “Who is creating the treatment plan? Which health care professionals will we see at each session? Will he need a port, will he need a sc..”
Interrupting what was almost certainly a list from a “what to ask at a chemo appointment” internet search, Dave covered the screen with his free hand.
“Kid, we already went over all that stuff. This isn’t my first rodeo.”
Eddie swallowed hard and let his gaze drift to the floor as a second nurse walked over to them and started preparing to inject some measure of hope into Dave’s system. As she prepared a drip line with drugs, a thought occurred to Eddie and he raised his head.
“Wait, when did this start?” Eddie asked as he realized Dave had been fighting this battle for far longer than he knew.
Dave grunted through gritted teeth, bit his lower lip, and forced out a dismissive response. “Hey, can we talk about your match?”
As the drugs raced through his veins, Dave’s eyes flickered, a tingling sensation spread through his fingers, and an aching heat bloomed through his shoulder.
“That’s not important right now,” Eddie answered, then doubled down on the thought burning up his brain. “When did you start these treatments?”
Dave’s stomach dropped out of him like riding a roller coaster full of loops and drops, and his already ragged breathing increased in pace. “Not now, Ed,” he rasped.
For Eddie, the minutes passed by like seconds, but for Dave the seconds felt like hours. Each heartbeat sent the drug careening through his body, his stress levels spiking as his mind raced with negative thoughts and unanswered questions.
Dave opened his eyes and looked up at what was a clearly impatient Eddie, and they pleaded with his student “please, I need the distraction.”
After a tense moment or two, Eddie shook his head clear and answered, “Right… Adam Ellis.” The Samoan shrugged and started talking, and Dave, for his part, just listened. “Well, he’s a traditional wrestler and pretty talented from what I understand,” Eddie stated. “Seems like a good guy, but I know better than to let my guard down.”
Dave closed his eyes again and pumped his fist in an effort to relieve the strain of the invasive drugs. Eddie wasn’t wrong. This was a lot easier the first few times it happened.
“Gotta say, tho, I think it will be a lot of fun to wrestle him,” Eddie continued. “When I first came to your house and we talked about the art of wrestling, this is the guy you described to me, Dave. Not in it for the drama, not in it to cheat to get ahead.”
Dave stopped pumping his fist and grabbed Eddie’s hand in his own. Gone was the straight jacket grip Eddie had felt thousands of times. In this moment, it was the feeble, unsteady clasp of a man going through a living nightmare. This cold and trembling clutch wasn’t that of a grizzled veteran wrestler. It was of a scared man, fighting for his life.
“Keep talking, Ed.”
“Ok,” he responded and held his mentor’s hand firmly. “This morning when I took my run up the hill I thought a lot about how lucky I’ve been in the business. My Dad told me once that his major regret was that he got pushed too fast and he never had time to learn the right way to do things.”
Eddie looked out a nearby window and noticed that the leaves would start to turn over soon, and a cool breeze rustled through them. “I guess I took for granted all the time that you spent telling me I had to learn to pay my dues and to grow into my britches.”
Eddie felt a tremor run through Dave’s hand and noticed he was shivering. Without a word, he made his way to the nurses desk and came back shortly with a blanket. As he tucked Dave in, Eddie made sure to gingerly move his mentor’s sore arm. The old grappler smiled faintly as he warmed up.
“You’re gonna be just fine, kid.”
“How do you know?”
— — —
As Eddie pushed Dave out to the beaten down rusty Ford truck in a wheelchair, the reality of the situation hit him hard. He didn’t know, going into the treatment, how difficult it was going to be for Dave. He had only seen pictures online and tv shows that make these appointments seem like an annoyance more than anything
Either that or Dave was worse off than he was letting on, which was pretty on brand.
Both he and his mentor were in for a fight, but his own paled in comparison. Maybe there was something he could do about that, though? Maybe he could use his fight to help the man who had been there for him so many times?
The passenger door opened with the buzzing of a digital cicada and Eddie helped Gibson to his feet and into the truck a leg at a time. He hopped into the driver’s seat and fired up the ancient steel behemoth with a difficulty he felt like didn’t exist the last time he drove it.
As he pulled out of the parking lot of the clinic, his mind raced with the possibilities at ReVival 37. Coming off the most brutal match of his young career and breaking his streak of losses, maybe now was the time to strike. Maybe now was the time to show the proof of concept that he hadn’t been a waste of time. He was ready. Dave said so, after all.
There was just one thing standing in Eddie’s way:
You seem a decent fellow, I hate to kill you.
I’m kidding. Dave and I watched The Princess Bride last night, and bruh, the whole scene with the Count and Spanish dude where he is all “I want my father back you son of a bitch!” kinda hits different after the trip to the clinic.
Life has an interesting way of teaching lessons. A couple months back all I could think about was how much I wanted to be done with this whole… thing. Wrestling, training with Dave, being in and out of the hospital, the fucking grind we all have to go through every day to look the way we do to be on top of our games.
But you’re used to all that aren’t you? You probably grew up on weight cuts, double legs, points, leverage, shots, and sprawls. You’ve never known anything else. I want you to know I’m here for it. But… and there is a but… if you’ll indulge me a moment of ego:
I’m pretty sure I’m better than you and I can’t wait to see if I’m right.
Where I came from, the wrestling team was a bunch of meathead country boys that thought it was funny to buck-bomb the nerds that played video games. Maybe you’re different, I don’t know. I’d like to think that whatever juvenile shit you might have gotten into back then you’ve grown out of. Then again, last time I was back home, most of the wrestling team were roofers in Mossy Oak camo clothing with truck nuts dangling from their hitch and they hung out at a bar on the outskirts of town.
You weren’t content to just sit on your ass drinking beer wasting your gift, though, were you? You started training straight out of high school and man you’ve done pretty well for yourself, all things considered. Deep down, I bet you wonder if any one of those guys in the bar coulda been you and you’re not so far removed from being one of those buck-bombing, truck-nutting meatheads as you’d like to believe.
Me? When the end of high school came, there was nobody waiting for me with a hand out. My Dad wasn’t standing there telling me “Come on son, it’s time to join the family business” (Despite what people might think.) I asked him for this. I asked to be stretched. I asked to be humbled. I asked to learn the ropes the hard way. And goddamn did I ever.
You see my record? I know you do. I know you see the losses piled up and think “this is perfect, I got a great pull in the Almasy.”
But what you’re probably not seeing is that every one of those losses is a lesson. A chance to learn and not make the same mistake twice. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to fail and along the way I started to learn how to succeed. I started to realize that I can compete with the best. I started to believe in myself.
I’m not pretending this is a fight I wanted, but RNG is a motherfucker and you’re about to find that out the hard way, bruh. Whether I want to face you or not though, it’s gonna happen. And I gotta tell you, it’s not gonna be you that gets their hand raised at the end. Sorry, I know our generation is big on spoiler alerts, so I should have said something up front.
As Eddie made his way down the road toward the place that he had come to know as home, he looked at a rapidly aging man trying to sleep in the passenger seat and couldn’t help but reflect on how the roles had been reversed after Dave had come to save him from Grant Hampton and his goons.
The road started off as cement and as he drove further from the affluent suburb the clinic was in, turned to asphalt in need of repair. Finally he pulled into the driveway and listened to the garage door open with squealing protestation and the clunk of a rusty spring snapping into place.
A turn of the key and the old Ford sputtered out a dying breath. Eddie looked at his mentor and decided to let him sleep just a little as he slipped inside and prepared Dave’s bed. He returned and scooped the middle aged man up on his arms, and true fear crept into his heart.
There’s no goddamn way he made two hundred and thirty pounds for our match.
As he carried his mentor into the bedroom and laid him into bed, the young man pulled Dave’s covers up over his shoulders and gently closed the door to avoid the unoiled squeal of the hinges. He took another look in the room and let out a breath that felt like molten embers before he turned away.
I don’t know how long he has left. It might be days, it might be weeks, hell he might go into remission and have years. But I’m not wasting whatever time he does have on not giving this my everything. When I was down and out… when I had nothing in this world… he was always there for me, even though I couldn’t see the lesson at the time.
Now it’s my turn to return the favor.
It’s my turn to give him something to live for.