"It used to be easier..."
I thought as I worked my way up the aisle. I stopped to look down at the faces who held in wonder at the caricature I had become. Ten years ago, this wouldn't have entered my mind, I wouldn't be here, in this role, working to keep it all together, to keep from falling apart. The roar of the crowd, the “boos”, and being showered from everything from beer to popcorn, I swore I would never sink this low again.
I remember why I’m doing this, and suddenly the sounds and faces fade away. There stands a pillar of light in a corner I made my way towards. It taunts me saying “I told you, you’d be back!” and I wince inside as if something had kicked me square in the stomach. The voices and faces come back in a rush, just before I can come up those stairs like a condemned man to his execution.
In a moment, I would cross the stage to the platform, and pull out and become a number of horrific stereotypes making my skin crawl. I would become my worst nightmare, I would have nothing left, except my love for her. For her I would suffer more than this, she would never know the lengths of depravity I would sink towards, all for her.
A year ago, I sat across from her and watched her face sink into sadness as the doctor talked about time and options. Neither of which we had. I made a modest living doing odd jobs, and pulling just a meager living to escape the pit I had no intentions of crawling back into….until now.
The only thing I was ever good at was being a heel. I thrived on the emotions and energy from the stands. I loved being the bad guy. I loved it so much I would have done anything to stay there, and I did. I performed in the roadshows and the tours, I never questioned what I was and what I did to get and stay there. I really believed that’s who I was, and fell into the part.
When my youth and strength faded, I turned to drugs, alcohol, and even steroids to keep my edge. When I lost myself onstage in the monster I had become, I hurt someone. I heard the snap, I felt the body go limp in my arms, and then I sank and fell. At first, I don’t think anyone knew if it was him or me that was hurt as we both fell to the mat.
The next day, when I came to my senses, I realized what I had done. I went to the hospital to visit my “friend”, but he refused to see me. My manager came out and assured me that everyone thought this was accidental. I knew it wasn’t. I wanted to hurt him, and I felt that rage and loss of control and thrived on the beast inside me. But it was gone now.
I had worn so many faces I had forgotten who I was now. I let the beast inside tell me who I was, and I didn’t like who I had become. I made my way back to the room to tell Andy I was done, and I was sorry for what I had done to Mike. I saw his family outside the room, and I began to walk towards them. They turned to look my way, and I saw the look of his son and the boy’s mother lookup with hurt eyes and sadness. It turned to anger and hate, and I couldn’t hate myself worse than what they were throwing my way now. The shame overwhelmed me, and I walked away. Andy called me on my way out of there. I told him it was over, I told him I was done.
That was ten years ago. I flashed back to now, staring into the void where the figures waited in the tunnel. I knew he was there. He wanted me here. He had wanted this for the last ten years. But that isn’t me anymore. I’m not that person, I don’t even belong to this sport, or this era any longer. I’m a holdover, an insult to anything that exists today. It took me a year to be able to look the part again. Without the drugs, it was hard, but I looked the part. The mask and makeup hid the wear and age well enough, and it could be anybody under this mask. Anybody at all. But Mike knew it was me. It was always me. I heard the jeers and taunts from the crowd, I was never the favorite, I was the heel. I had fans, but maybe not the ones that you would really want to have. They relished in the man I used to be. They had no idea my wife was dying, that we couldn’t have the family we wanted so much. Those choices were taken away from us. This was no redemption, no triumph, no swan song, this was desperation. This was months of unanswered questions and the bills that piled up without hope of recovery. This was me swallowing the last bit of pride I had left, a “comeback” match to answer the ultimate grudge. I had reached out for appearances, and the small amounts they offered. The people came, and I went anywhere that would accept me. Andy presented the deal for me. One night, for the chance to settle all the debts, all the scores. My wife needed me. She never knew this side of my life, that man wasn’t her husband, and I was afraid of becoming that man again.
The lights and music began to play as I watched the figures come out of the tunnel. There was Mike, but it wasn’t him. I saw the fire and determination in his eyes. I knew how this was going to end, and I knew I would be answering for my role in his fall. Mike spent a long time healing and fighting for his return. He had been all over the ring, he had played all the parts, had overcome all his opponents, except me. I had walked away before he got the chance to make amends for this slight. I stood in the way of his ending.
I didn’t care, none of this mattered except for her. For her, I will suffer humiliation and defeat and give back the right I had wronged through the arrogance and bad decisions of my youth.
As Mike crossed into the ring, he disappeared and became the legend I remembered. I realized then at that moment this wasn’t my comeback, it was his. As we got closer to the referee, I couldn’t help but think...
”It used to be easier…”