You shift in your chair, trying to get comfortable, recognizing it as the impossible task that it is. Why bother? You should be used to it at this point. After years of travel, uncomfortable seats and long waits have been as much a part of your life as back bumps and running the ropes. This chair is no different, no more intolerable, than any of the others in all the other lobbies and terminals and waiting rooms through the years.
So, how are you going to pass the time?
You could read.
Or try to sleep.
Instead, the inevitable begins and you start scrolling through your phone.
Someone plops down in the seat next to you with an exhausted sigh.
“Why do they have to make these chairs so damn hard?”
You see an older woman, swaddled in a sweatsuit, a jacket, and a headscarf despite the still-warm September day.
“Mmm,” you say. You’ve found an article online with previews and predictions for UltraViolence.
Dave Gibson is coming out of retirement to face his former student Eddie Cross in a Stretcher/Submission Match. It could be a short comeback for Gibson, who faced Eddie’s father, Timo Bolamba, in this same stipulation in a brutal match that left both men laying–
Enough of that. Time to check out social media. You used to make fun of wrestlers who’d vanity search the Internet for their own name but you’ve got a Twitter filter set up to do the exact same thing for yourself.
Dave Gibson is back! Awesome! But how old is he at this point?!?
Fucking Gibbo? Really? PRIME must be running out of ideas…
“Scuse me, sir…”
You’re brought out of your digital reverie by the woman next to you.
“Would you mind plugging this into the outlet there by you on th’ floor?” She has a cord extended in her left hand.
You take the cord and plug it into the outlet by your left foot.
“Obliged…” she says as she connects it to her phone.
You grunt and start scouring the Twitterverse (you refuse to call it fucking X) again.
Dave’s heel turn was super predictable. Once a villain, always a villain…
You think back to those you’ve worked with in the past. You turned on most of them and, on occasion, found yourself as the man betrayed.
“Scuse me again, sir, but I think I recognize you. Aren’t you a rassler?”
You side-eye the woman and get your first decent look at her. Gray hair in small wisps sticking out of the Atlanta Braves ballcap on her head. Her face appears stretched, taut. You notice that her sweatsuit is hanging on her, like there’s a coat-hangar underneath rather than the frame. She is skin and bones.
She’s probably about the same age that your mother would be today, if she were still alive.
“Probably so, especially if you used to watch back in the day. Or watch PRIME these days. I’m Dave Gibson.”
The woman lets out a flinty chuckle. Her laugh crackles like dry leaves on a late fall morning.
“I thought that was you! Lord, I’ve been watchin’ rasslin’ for nearly all my life. You sure can take a beatin’, Dave.”
You smile in spite of yourself.
“So I’ve been told, ma’am…”
Her eyes narrow.
“Well what in the world are you doin’ here? Don’t you have a big match comin’ up in just a few days?”
“Just taking care of a couple of things before I travel to Chicago.”
She goes silent, staring at you. Her eyes flick up and down, then back up.
You settle back into your chair and shut your eyes. Maybe you can just get a little sleep…
“So why’d you do it?”
Your eyes flick open. She’s looking at you, one scraggly eyebrow raised in inquisition.
“Why’d you turn on that nice boy Eddie?”
“Look lady, it’s all just a show…”
“Don’t you talk down to me. I know what I know and when you were mentoring Eddie Cross, I could see how you looked at him. My second husband used to look at my daughter the same way… with love. He loved her like she was his own, and I see the same thing when you look at that boy. And love like that, it doesn’t just disappear.”
Oh, what the shit.
You feel tears brimming up and grit your teeth. Goddammit, not here. Keep it the fuck together.
You speak, cautiously and deliberately:
“I had taught him everything I could. Everything except the last thing. The most important thing. You can never count on anyone but yourself. You have to be prepared, at all times, for someone to turn on you. Your friends. Your partners. Your fath–your family, too.”
“So he doesn’t know…”
You shake your head.
“It’s easier this way. He’s tough enough. He can handle what I did to him. He can’t handle… I don’t…”
You blink several times. The burn in your eyes is different from the one you feel in your chest.
“He would have stayed until the end. And what good would that have been for anybody? He’s just starting. He has his whole career ahead of him, his whole life. It’s easier this way. Cut all ties. He goes his way and I go…”
Go where? Ultimately, that’s the great question, isn’t it? You figure you’ll never know the answer, and if you do, you’ll never be able to share it.
“I go my way.”
The words of a certain Russian Bear echo through your mind…
“Don’t go dancing to the tune of this leech. He will get you in trouble.”
“How long have you known?” she asks.
You shrug. “Three months and four days ago.”
“And… what did they say?”
You hold up four fingers and give a slight smile.
“I was just going to roll with it, you know? Let things run their course. But then this match happened and I decided … I needed to do something. I owed him that much. I didn’t want to risk something happening. The kid doesn’t deserve that. I’ve seen that before.”
Your mind flashes back to the final scene from the final OSE show. A man cradling the body of his partner in the middle of the ring. That wouldn’t be you. That would never be Eddie.
“You should tell him. Tell someone.”
“Fuck that,” you say. “That’s just going to fuck everything up. I’m the bad guy, remember? The dinosaur who just wants things to be the way they used to be, the one who’s no longer welcome.
“One of the benefits of being a manager, or a trainer… once this happened, nobody thought to give me a physical.” You chuckle. “Isn’t that hilarious?”
You start to laugh to yourself, then laugh out loud. You know what you are walking into. Of all the matches you had in your career, all the punishment and all the crazy risks, the Stretcher/Submission Match beat them all. It took you months to recover. When you saw Eddie unveil that torch, you knew what was coming even before he laid down the challenge.
It made your heart swell with pride, and convulse in terror, all at the same time.
Then you recognized it for what it was. One chance, one final chance, to show people who you were and what you can do.
“I should be fine for the match. My heart’s in good shape. Minimal risk of a brain clot. They told me to watch out for pain and tingling in my extremities and I said, Doc, do you know how many times I’ve been dropped on my head?”
You chuckle again. You know what’s waiting for you at Soldier Field. How much it hurt the first time. After so many years away from the ring. and now with this, the pain is going to be exponentially worse.
You welcome it.
It will help remind you that you’re still alive.
A woman approaches you.
“There we are… looks like you’re all done.”
You look up as the nurse disconnects the IV tubes from your arm. They wanted to put in a port but you refused. It would be too hard to conceal in a business where most people have their shirt off, much less in the locker room. The needle marks could be concealed with an elbow pad, and left at that.
You stand, rubbing at your arm, and look down at the woman.
“We’re the same, you know…”
She holds up four fingers.
“I’m real sorry to hear that.”
She shrugs. “The Lord won’t give me anything I can’t handle.”
You stand and gather your effects.
“You take it easy,” you say to the woman.
“I’ll be praying for you, Dave.”
“That’ll be a first. I’ll take what I can get.”
You walk out of the ward and into the parking lot. The sun feels good shining down on your face.
Maybe this is your final match. Maybe this is the final time you step into a ring. A locker room. An arena. Deep down, in your heart of hearts, you feel a contentment for whatever comes next and a contempt for the circumstances that brought you here.
Time to end this story for good.