The Path Less Taken to Penance
Posted on 06/20/22 at 11:42am by The Anglo Luchador
The Anglo Luchador
The engine revved on Timo Bolamba’s black Trans Am as he moved up in the queue at the Taco Bell drive-thru to the pickup window. Such horsepower might feel wasted on such a menial trip. The Samoan Silencer needed the comfort of his favorite baby. The interminable wait to see his therapist, the delicate dance not to overplay his hand or smother his relationship with Ria Nightshade, and, of course, the utterly infuriating behavior of his new best friend The Anglo Luchador sent his brain swimming in the deepest, blackest waters. None of the other steeds in his fleet would do. It had to be the Trans Am.
“Okay, so you had the crunch… hey wait, aren’t you the ref from PRIME? You know the guy that did that promotional stuff with us for that TV thing?” The drive-thru attendant grew a smile on his face at the celebrity in his midst. “But why didn’t you order the Bolambadore Crunchwrap?”
Timo’s brow furrowed. “That was just for the pilot. I didn’t…”
The attendant interrupted, “No, they added it full-time. Your buddy made sure of it.”
Timo’s eyebrows and forehead wrinkled even further, adding the appearance of at least ten more years of age to his face.
The attendant continued, “Yeah, he’s a VIP member. He’s actually, like, one of the first ones to attain that level. We kinda let them do what they want. He said, and I quote, ‘Timo would love this. You gotta put it on the menu.’ Limited time run. It’s selling like HOTCAKES here in Vegas. Don’t know about anywhere else.”
That strange, exasperating luchador, Timo thought to himself before asking aloud. “Is it too late to change my order?”
July 1, 2002, Osaka Metropolitan University Hospital
Suntory hangovers were always more brutal than other whiskeys. The bright lights of the hospital hallways shot daggers through his bloodshot eyes as he struggled to hold upright the flowers he brought for his tag team partner as if they were the world and he was Atlas. He stopped short at the entrance of Room 209, hesitating entrance to rub his eyes one last time. As he pulled his hand away from his forehead and temples, he came face-to-face with the woman whose eye he tried to destroy the night before.
“Oh, hey, uh…” he awkwardly tried to make conversation.
“Hey…” Shoko Nabigata responded curtly, putting her head down and plowing through an invisible crowd to get as far away from the room as possible.
Pom Shinjoku turned her head from rest on her left side. The gauze pressed on her left eye showed minimal seepage. The doctors were pleased with how her recovery was progressing, but the look in her other eye reflected a deep melancholy. She’d be fine physically only.
“Did she come to apologize?” he said, presenting flowers to Pom.
She chuckled a bit. “A bit more than that. She actually has been here quite a bit. It’s more than remorse.”
“Oh,” he said before realizing what she meant. “OH!”
Pom giggled again with a humor belying the deep chill frosting over her soul. “We go way back anyway. She didn’t have to apologize. I knew she didn’t mean to go for the eye.”
The color drained from his face.
“The question is,” she continued, “do you know?”
The two-second pause before his answer felt like an eternity in the moment. “Well, I do now.”
Pom scooched up in her hospital bed, putting one of the pillows she’d been resting her weary head upon behind her back.
“You know, I’m not all that angry with you because I know you tried to do what you tried to do for my honor. That’s very sweet. But I’m not sure Shoko sees it like that. Had it not been for Dragon, things could’ve gotten a lot worse.”
His shoulders slumped. He fell back into the chair in front of her bed with all the chaotic kinetic energy of a sack of potatoes falling off the counter onto the kitchen floor.
“I just wanna forget those feelings. The unbridled vitriol. I don’t want to feel that anymore, but…”
“Oh, I know,” she interrupted. “I know we’re all close-knit here, but that’s what makes what you see so insulting, even if you didn’t see the whole thing.”
“Then I’ll just have to try to forget it, right?”
She shrugged and reluctantly nodded. “It’s hard though.”
The dull thud in his sinuses and lingering queasiness in the pit of his stomach gave him his answer.
“Oh, I know a way.”
It felt good, for the record. The piece of pressure-treated lumber wrapped in barbed wire felt good in his hands at ReVival 10. Larry Tact was a tackling dummy to him, but the violence shot adrenaline through the channels under his skin, into his muscles, that made him feel two decades younger. He gazed at the bag he bought from Rezin a week prior, still a few hits left before he would run out. He closed his eyes, at peace, Tact’s blood still under his fingernails. A familiar voice interrupted his bliss, however.
“This isn’t the penance we agreed upon, hermano.”
The old luchador opened his eyes to see his reflection was talking to him again.
“I thought you were going to make an effort to be a better friend and to stop using people for your personal gain.”
He laughed smugly. “Isn’t that what I’m doing? I’m giving Ria a chance to bleed me like a stuck pig.”
“That’s not your real endgame, and you know it,” the mirror’s reflection curtly replied. “Tell me, what’s so redemptive about claiming someone’s eye?”
“C’mon, you know I see through you.” The man in the mirror could. I, the narrator, will leave it up to you whether he’s really a supernatural being or if he’s a creation of some badly damaged recess of The Anglo Luchador’s brain. Either way, he can see through the corporeal being sitting on the bed, reveling in his basest desires.
“I changed the terms of my penance.”
The reflection grew agitated. “You grew up Catholic. You know that’s not how any of this works.”
“I’m not a Catholic anymore.”
“The principles are the same though, muchacho.”
The brow on the reflection grew furrowed. He had to think of a way to break through the ice of his corporeal tether’s thick mentally glaciated mind.
“For some reason, you think the right thing to do is take the eye of a vulnerable woman you wronged. But what about the Time Lord? The guy in Witness Protection?”
“Collateral damage. I didn’t ask for them to be put in the match. I am not responsible for what happens to them.”
“Unbelievable,” the reflection gasped. “All those years reading Trotsky, and it gets unlearned with hallucinogens and bloodlust.”
The reflection looked on the table. The bottle of mezcal the old luchador started drinking after ReVival 9 was still there with a sip left in the bottom.
“Why don’t you finish your liquor, amigo?”
Before the old luchador could respond, there was a loud rapping on his suite door.
“Who is it? I told you never to call me on this wall. It’s an unlisted wall.”
“Cut the shit, Tom.”
Timo Bolamba had finally made it up to the old luchador’s suite. The old luchador got up from the bow-legged yoga pose on his bed and ambled over to the door. He opened it slowly to find the head referee of PRIME with a cross look on his face.
The Samoan Silencer showed his friend, up close, that old PCW finisher, The Fist of the Heavens.
“I deserved that.”
“Yeah, you did,” the referee replied. “I don’t get you. The cold shoulder. The insane messages on Jabber.”
The old luchador looked as if he was about to say something incredibly craven, but Timo interrupted him.
“But then I rolled up to Taco Bell, and you got the Bolambadore Crunchwrap on the menu?”
“Nationwide, good brother. Just like you wanted.”
Timo shook his head in disbelief like he was hearing it for the first time. “Your brother told me you sent him a case of protein shakes. Then I read in Tillinghast’s newsletter that Pom Shinjoku is going to be in attendance at Great American Nightmare. I don’t suppose you had anything to do with that?”
“She’s my friend,” he muttered, holding his jaw. “I wanted to show her around Vegas. Or Philly. Or wherever she wanted to go after the show.”
Now it was Timo’s turn to furrow his brow. “I don’t get you. At all. Do you think these empty gestures are what we want?”
The old luchador pressed his lips together, let out a forced exhale, and chuckled, shaking his head tentatively before going into a nod. He whimsically stumbled back and flopped onto his bed letting out a laugh that almost had Timo scared that he might ask to borrow some facepaint.
Timo changed directions ever so slightly. “What is it you want?”
He let out a snort, eyes rolling back into his head.
“I want to spill blood. If you knew what I did while you were knocked out you’d have disqualified me.”
“I don’t think that’s what you want.” Timo no-sold his friend’s casually glib admission. “I see a therapist, but I’m not one. I can’t divine what it is you want. But somehow, I don’t think you’re the kind who has an insatiable bloodlust, especially for someone that I know for a fact you deeply care about.”
“How do you know that?” The old luchador sat up in his bed. “How do you know anything? We’ve known each other for six months and…”
“One of the things I know about you,” Timo interjected, “In such a relatively short time is that one of your defining traits is you let people into your heart very easily. You’re an open book. I remember you talking Calico Rose’s ear off at Whiskey Down after ReV 7 about the time you had your appendix out.”
The old luchador fell back onto supine position on the bed.
“I don’t know what possesses you to do half the things you do,” Timo continued. “But you have a good heart. Always have in the time I’ve known you. Mikey says the same things. I don’t know what you’re planning on doing at the Nightmare. But whatever it is, I know it’ll be the right thing.”
“That makes one of us.”
Timo rolled his eyes and turned towards the door.
Timo accidentally slammed the door behind him. All his intentional rage manifested in the fist that connected with the old luchador’s jaw. The shock soundwave still jarred the old luchador into an upright position. The man in the mirror came to life once again now that Tom was alone.
“You really, really want Pom to see you finish the job you tried to pull on her girlfriend?”
“Low blow, asshole.” The old luchador thought about throwing a shoe at the mirror, but given that he was talking to a reflection in said mirror, he thought better of tempting seven years bad luck. “For one, they weren’t dating yet.”
“I’m sure she’ll really care seeing the worst moment of her life replay live and in lurid detail.”
“Hey, hers was an accident. She didn’t see me swinging for the fences.”
“Not live. I’m sure she’s watched it. And can you really count on Mortimer or Daniels to play Dragon Matsumoto’s role?”
“I don’t want them to.”
The reflection shook his head. “I’m not so sure that’s the case.”
July 1, 2006, Unnamed Bar in the Roppongi District, Tokyo, Japan
J-Pop is much less saccharine when you’re full of alcohol. It’s as true today as it was in 2006. Roppongi’s neon-washed artificial daytime rivaled Vegas’ with just as much to drink. Pachinko replaced traditional gambling. Tom and Tamara were not nightclub people. Tom would brave most anything to see his oldest rival and friend, and Tamara just wanted to visit Japan for the first time. She didn’t really join him on any of his post-deathmatch tours. This one was for pleasure.
“Babe, you said they’d be here early.” Tam was just a little anxious.
“I’m surprised too,” Tom replied to his fiancée. “Pom is nothing if not on time. Maybe she and Shoko are stuck in traffic?”
Not one minute after the words left his lips, a diminutive figure aggressively sat down next to the unmasked luchador, nearly knocking him into the wall abutting the booth. Her eyepatch signaled a clear identity to the bubbly blonde sitting across from them.
“You must be Pom!” Tamara reached out her hand across the table, “I’m Tamara, Tom’s fiancée.”
“Oh, how lovely,” replied Pom, grinning ear to ear as she smushed her former rival and tag partner against the wall playfully. “Tom always speaks so lovingly about you. I have been waiting for this for a few years.”
“Oh he has?” she replied with a playful tinge to her voice. “Glad to see I don’t need to be jealous.”
Pom giggled. “He’s not my type anyway.”
“Speaking of which,” the luchador interjected, “I thought Shoko was coming too.”
The color slightly drained from Pom’s face, but she kept up enough of a poker face to dissuade any suspicion.
“Oh, she just has a bit of a stomach bug. No worries!”
Tamara looked at both figures sitting across from her. “You know what, let me go get another round. Pom, what’s your poison?”
“Suntory, on the rocks, gotta get started right before I move onto more girly stuff,” she said with a giggle.
Tam skipped away from the table. Tom turned towards his friend.
“So why is she really not here?”
Pom’s smile melted from her face.
“You still haven’t apologized to her yet, have you?”
The luchador looked uncomfortable in his own skin. His eyes widened as he looked down at his own lap, exhaling deeply through his nose.
“I know it’s been four years,” Pom continued, “but the hurt is still there, Thomas-san.”
“I just don’t know how,” he replied. “Every time I try to remember that day, I just get so angry, so lustful for blood that I can’t deal. And there’s always a bottle nearby to help push it down.”
“This might be the first time I’ve ever heard of someone describing their alcoholism as virtuous,” Pom replied with a wry dryness.
“That jab hurt more than any bat-shot you ever gave me in BJGA.”
He got his desired reaction. Pom chuckled and smiled.
“I just don’t want to feel like I felt that day anymore,” he continued. “Not for you, not for my girl, not for Shoko either. I just don’t…”
His voice trailed off.
“You’re one of the toughest assholes I’ve ever wrestled, Tom.” She never called him Tom unless it was serious. It was always “Thomas-san” otherwise. “I know you can find the toughness in you to do the right thing. Don’t do it for me. Don’t do it for anyone but yourself and for her.”
The luchador took his vodka tonic and threw it back.
“You can’t find penance in the bottom of a bottle,” she continued. “You have to find it inside you.”
The luchador looked over. There wasn’t enough alcohol in the world that was going to let him tell Pom “no” in that moment.
She continued again. “You have a lot of honor, Tom. I just wish you’d let it take control instead of the fear inside of you.”
At that instant, Tam showed up with a Suntory on the rocks for Pom, another vodka tonic for her beau, and another sex on the beach for her.
“I miss any good conversation?”
“Yes,” said Pom. “No,” said Tom. These answers were simultaneous, almost comedically.
“I won’t pry then,” Tam said, smiling curiously as she sat back down.
“You have to find penance inside you,” he muttered to himself while on the bed. He looked over to the mirror, but all he found was himself looking back. The sentience was gone. All that was left in the room was a tired, old luchador at the end of a hallucinogenic trip. On one side of his desk in the suite sat a bottle of mezcal, mostly empty save one sip. On the other, a baggie half-full with psilocybin mushrooms. He stared intently at the two juxtaposed as if they were paths in front of him, as if he were a weary traveler. In some ways, his tenure in PRIME had been an epic journey. It started with social media, and social media dominated his choices. Whether it was tilting at a monster and his handler like they were proverbial windmills or defending his perceived honor against a sassy trans woman just trying to find her place in the world, he spent way too much time looking at various apps on his phone. The mileage Jabber put on his brain was enough to make one weary for a lifetime.
The room around him took the tenor of a yellow wood, much like the one described by Robert Frost. As a youngster, Tom had to read “The Road Not Taken” in high school. The lesson didn’t sink into his horny teenage brain then. Age, even age with brain damage, made him more amenable to the lessons learned in literature, ones he might’ve been better served learning in his youth. He looked at the shrooms, then at the liquor. He tried to discern which one was the one less traveled by. Each path looked awfully similar. Both paths were trampled by footprints. Wanton, destructive, needless violence and avoidance of responsibility through chemical means. He’d been down both roads before. Several times. Maybe they were the only paths available to him.
Or maybe he’d just not looked around hard enough.
Coming down from his trip, the activity awaiting him in his brain was cacophonous. He had to sleep on it, as perilous as that proposition had been for him ever since Culture Shock. Surprisingly, his rest was dreamless, at least as far as he could remember. For the first time, he didn’t awake with harrowing memories of what his brain was replaying him during slumber. In that moment, he had an epiphany, clarity that had not been there since the day he saw someone besmirching him on Twitter and causing him to call Lindsay Troy in the first place.
He rose to his feet, disrobed, and then grabbed the bag of shrooms. Shuttling into the bathroom, he dumped the shrooms down the toilet and flushed them. Somewhere in the distance, Rezin jolted into an upright position almost psychically at the prospect of someone getting rid of drugs without the impetus of the feds breaking down their door. The old luchador hopped in the shower, steam filling the bathroom in a therapeutic fog. Refreshed, he slinked out of the shower and shimmied back over to the desk. Taking one long look at the bottle, he gasped and lifted it.
“Goodbye, old friend,” he said, taking one last slug and throwing it into the wastebasket. By the luck of Chicomecóatl, the bottle didn’t shatter before landing with a thud at the bottom of the bin. He pulled out his phone and sent a jab to the roster. Afterwards, he closed the app, pressed his finger on it again to get it shaking, and then dragged it to the trash bin. ADIDAS track pants, a PRIME hoodie, and beat-up dad sneakers. He was ready to get at it. He as ready to find his penance within him. He thought of Mort, the guy also running from his own past. He thought of Anna, the one also (ones?) running headlong into their own megalomaniacal psychosis. He most thought of Ria. He’d wronged Ria. He didn’t care about the other two as much. It was because of Ria that he most needed to find the penance for his actions.
Luckily for him, the deathmatch arena was filled with those who would give and receive with equal measures of happiness. No priest or supernatural being had sway there. The blood-soaked canvas and her weapons of war, that location was where he had to look. The question in his head was, could he find the road not traveled there? Or would he retreat to familiarity.
As he grabbed the baseball bat he’d crudely entwined in barbed wire beforehand from the foyer of his suite, a rush of feelings washed over him, conflicting feelings. He didn’t know where it would take him. Each stream took turns dominating his brain. The future’s status of being unwritten was never more oppressive than it was in that moment.
But by the gods, he had to see it out to the end. To his penance.