Private: Matt Ward
START OF APRIL
So intense was the pain radiating from his knee, that droplets of sweat began to collect at the corner of his brow from the simple act of lowering himself into the dry, decaying leather of his desk chair. He leaned forward with a frown and a grimace, as he plucked his favorite pen from amongst the various instruments on the corner of his desk. The padded grip was worn, it’s once bright blue now a deep navy, saturated with the oils of his hand from a thousand, ancient uses. As he straightened a few sheets of blank paper, Matt noticed the ink looked low and he took a deep breath, praying he had the fuel to make it through.
On clear days, there’s a time in the evening where the sky plays in pastels. The orange and blues are soft and sweet. A creamsicle melting into cotton candy. That time of day always makes me think of you. Vibrant, yet gentle.
Dayton, Columbus, Montana, the lake house or the condo in Vegas… you always felt more home than anywhere I ever lived. When we divorced a decade ago, I felt like a guy with no place in this world. I know that it probably sounds silly, asinine even, given I was the fool who filed for dissolution, but I wondered for awhile if I’d just wander around homeless for the rest of my days.
And yet there was a part of me that thought I’d get myself straight, solve the riddle of whatever was wrecking me inside and we’d get right back together. Three years later, I still didn’t know what was gnawing at my guts and you felt as far away as Philipsburg and those mountains in Montana. Now I understand. When I lost Dad, I lost my foundation… the legs under me. You bore the brunt of all my confusion and fear and I ended my relationship with the person who most reminded me of him. The only other foundation I had ever known.
Your grace and compassion in the grossest moments of my life wasn’t deserved, but I can’t thank you enough for not abandoning this ship, and I could never find the words to properly make amends for all the times I tried so hard to steer us off course.
I guess this is an apology letter.
The walls were a coral color. Even with the lights dimmed, they were bold and loud, and every ounce of their shouting was welcomed amidst the otherwise crushing silence of the room.
“We’re just not picking up a heartbeat. No movement.”
For maybe ten minutes, the nurse had waved her ultrasound wand around Mary’s stomach, long enough she’d had to refuel on icy blue gel. At the start of the second trimester, they were supposed to be through the at-risk period, but at Week 14, on a routine check-up, everything was quiet and still, including Matt, slumped frozen in an uncomfortable grey chair seated over Mary’s shoulder.
“Is it possible the baby’s just sleeping or…”
“I’m going to go get Dr. McKellen.” The nurse’s interruption was answer enough. “I’ll give you two a few minutes and be back with the doctor shortly.”
As the nurse exited the room, the ‘click’ of the door latch snapped him from the stupor he’d sat in while they’d searched hopelessly for any reassuring sound or twitch. Matt locked his gaze on Mary and, though nothing fell to her cheeks, he saw the tears drowning her beautiful brown eyes. He sat silent, afraid any words he offered would break the dam.
“I guess you were right.” Mary stared at the blank monitors around her.
“Too old for this. Too much to go wrong.”
“Oh.” It was all he could muster. Looking over his shoulder, Matt checked the door, hoping to see Dr. McKellen walk through and offer the tender comfort that his tongue couldn’t find, but the door didn’t budge. “So what next?”
“Matthew, I dunno. I’m not an expert on this stuff. I guess once the doctor confirms we’ve lost the baby, I’ll probably have to schedule a D&C as soon as…”
“No. Not that stuff.” Matt pointed to all the monitors and medical devices in the room, as he sighed and brushed them away. “For us?”
“I mean… I said it. You were right. We’re too old. Guess it’s not in the cards for us.”
“Hmm” Matt shook his head in agreement, but his mouth went to war. “Nah. I don’t like that?”
“Don’t like that?”
“If we stumble outta the gate, and we quit… I don’t think I can live with it.” He grabbed the edge of the chair and scuffed it across the floor till he was close enough to grab Mary’s hand. “You talked me into this. We’re not tapping out like that. Neither one of us thought we were just gonna jump back into this after years and everything was gonna go smooth. This is one hurdle. We get over it and we push on. I want another little princess.”
“Can’t control that part, babe.” Mary squeezed her husband’s fingers. “You really wanna try again?”
“Yeah. We’ll get ‘em this time.”
START OF APRIL
He moved that letter of apology off to the side and started fresh, a new blank canvas in front of him.
I have earned a doctorate in Psychology. I have caught red eye flights on consecutive nights. Traveled across so many time zones and back that your body literally starts to shut down, terrified and confused by the hell you put it through. I have stepped into the ring with the likes of gods and queens and pirates. I’ve gone to battle against Hoyt and K-Wolf, Nova and Killer, Hessian and Olsig. Lindsay Troy. Nothing I have ever done is as difficult as being a father.
But the diplomas on the wall, the vacation homes, the money in the bank… every world championship and accolade I have ever won… all a distant second to being your dad. Even if, at times, I’ve been an absent and deficient one.
Hailey, you are my princess, my sweets, my way-too-smart-for-her-own-good miracle. Getting the chance to raise you, to be there for all the doctor’s appointments and daddy-daughter dances has been a blessing I never imagined I’d be so fortunate to see.
There are days I still wonder if I’m too old, If I have this in me… but, when I come home and you scream “DAAAAAAAAAAAD”, run and jump in my arms, give me a big kiss and then lick my nose (ya weirdo), I don’t care if I’m a hundred years old. Being your dad is badass, and I can’t wait to keep watching you grow.
Hunter Dean, my bud, my champ… we don’t get to hangout as much as I’d like. That’s probably my fault and I’m sure you’ve reached the age where it’s not exactly your top priority to spend time with your old man. Even though there are days I don’t know what to say to connect with you, even when we share just a brief fist bump passing through the kitchen, know that I’m proud that you carry your Papaw’s name. He would be too.
Georgie, my pumpkin, my spitfire, my first-born… I know you hate me right now, and while I can’t say that I enjoy this fact, I am comfortable with it. You have so much potential that I want to see you capture and unleash on the world. Though you may not believe me now, understand that it shouldn’t be unleashed in the middle of a wrestling ring.
This business has given much to our family, but there’s little left that it could ever further provide; and, while we benefit financially, there’s a lot of pain and anguish you may not see that gets passed along as part of those transactions.
I want you to conquer mountains with your mind, with that wit and that charm, not with broken bones and beaten spirits. You have unlimited potential. Don’t let a set of ropes restrain you to a 20 x 20 box.
For whatever I’ve failed, I want you kiddos to know that you are the best thing to ever happen to me.
The antique floor lamp in the corner of the room cast an orange light across the walls of the office and the letters on his desk. As he stared at the pages in front of him, Matt rubbed the corners of his eyes, shuffling contacts that should have been changed weeks ago. There was still more to write. One more special soul who was molding his days, shaping the life he led, and so, he grabbed a clean piece of paper and began again.
What a whirlwind the last few weeks have been, huh buddy? You and I have hurled a helluva lot of trash-talk at each other and I guess that helps to move tickets and put those asses in all those seats, but I’m not sure how much of it is real and how much is for the theater of it all. Dig deeper, and at its core, this is genuinely out of respect.
I am forty-six years old, trending toward forty-seven and both of my knees are junk. The left one barely even qualifies as a functioning joint at this point. And so, when I talk about my spot on Mount Rushmore and as maybe the greatest to ever step foot in a PRIME ring, know that all use of the past-tense is a well earned reality, but any use of present tense is bluster and bullshit.
I was the single, most dominant force to ever rip through PRIME. A decade or so later, I am dinosaur bones… dried up remnants of a majestic beast, long passed its days ruling the earth.
Amidst the sarcasm and showmanship, much of what I’ve said over the last couple months has been true. I have the utmost respect for all that you’ve accomplished and I think it’s fair to say it would be impossible to view your run at the start of the ReVival era and not draw parallels to my PRIME debut in 2005.
With all regards to the roster at hand, current Universal Champion included, I do consider you the reigning pinnacle of our profession and that’s why I chose you upon my return. I’ve made the journey to the top of the mountain before, stood as king. I want to see if I can still breathe that rarefied air, knowing I may trip and fall. There’s no need to waste my time or the company’s… I have too much love for PRIME to drag on a dreadful slow death. Sink or swim, I’ve got to be in the water with the biggest shark. And that’s you.
Matt cracked his neck to the right, his vertebrae begging for relief from his downward gaze. As the echoing of ‘pops’ subsided, he rubbed at the bridge of his nose and pushed back his chair, sensing a break was much needed. The plastic wheels rattled across the rustic wood plank, making more noise than his neck, as he gingerly stood and exited the office.
Mary was curled up on the couch in the living room, staring at the television. By the disembodied hand that scurried across the screen, he knew she was binging Wednesday on Netflix. Her second time through the series. As his shadow cast over the couch, she turned her glance over her shoulder and offered up a quick “Hey, babe.”
“Anything different happening this time?” He nodded toward the TV.
“No Hunter?” Matt searched around the room with his eyes, as if, somehow, he had simply overlooked a sixth-grader. “He loves this show. Figured he’d be glued to your side. Think he’s got a crush on Wednesday.”
“He was tired. Went up to bed about twenty minutes ago.”
“He didn’t come say goodnight.”
“Yelled at you through the door.” Mary plucked the remote from the armrest and thought for a second about pausing the show, before opting instead to turn up the volume.
“You haven’t exactly been giving him a lot to work with lately. And you kinda just disappeared on us after dinner tonight. What’re you doin’ in there anyways?”
“First time in a decade. Little rusty.” Matt kissed his wife on the top of her head as he lumbered for the kitchen. “I know Hailey’s sleeping. What about George?”
“Said she was going over to Thea’s and probably staying the night. She packed a small bag and bolted maybe ten minutes after you went to hibernate in the office.”
“OK.” Matt opened the refrigerator door and grabbed a bottle of water. As he turned to head back for his study, he almost missed it. For just a brief second, the light from the fridge caught a piece of yellow paper, ripped from the spine of a small notebook, sitting atop the quartz countertop of the kitchen island.
He reached over and flipped a switch on the near wall, turning on the pendant light, trading one for another, as the refrigerator door closed and extinguished its glow. Matt looked down at the note and gave it a read.
His pen went back to work, moving with twice the pace it had minutes before.
I just received some upsetting news in a letter of my own, so I apologize for any shift in tone.
It’s safe to say, Brandon, that my big return hasn’t gone as planned. I didn’t expect this to be easy, still I wasn’t supposed to lose to Sage. Sponsors are already unhappy. My knee is already failing. But know that this is not the first time in my life I’ve been too old to do something. I’m the type to push on.
I’ve already heard people calling this “the Youngblood match” and as the days have worn on, it’s occurred to me that the fans… most of them will probably cheer for you. When I started in PRIME, I was an asshole, but when I dethroned Hoyt, I was the asshole who was the lesser of two evils. When I lost to Clyde and snapped, Killean weaseled in with Tyler Nelson and made me the anti-hero. Then FU showed up and I was Mr. PRIME by default. Sometimes I wonder if the fans… their adoration for me wasn’t accidental.
And lately, while I sat at home, seeping into couch cushions, you fought and battled and chiseled your way into their hearts. That’s okay. The distant husband, the missed birthdays, the asshole father crushing his daughter’s dreams… I reckon I’ve always been the heel.
The Orange. It’s poetic, but the truth of it is simply this… my clock is ticking, my frustration is mounting and I’m going to tear you to fucking pieces at Culture Shock. Respectfully, of course.
When I told Lindz back in December that I wanted a crack at you, she mentioned something about how I was going to get myself killed, which I guess would make this a goodbye letter.
So be it.
Matt paused for a brief moment, his eyes tracing the flowing blue lines, veins carrying life across the page. Stacking the last sheet on top of the others, he scribbled his signature across the bottom, and as the final letter of his name trailed off, the ink ran dry.