Everyone else shares the grandfatherâ<80><99>s excitement, all old enough to be the boyâ<80><99>s father, and with pregnant bellies like his unclesâ<80><99>. Although they share the usual hallmarks of age, they smile with naivety. Which must be difficult, the boy thinks to himself with teenage cynicism, considering theyâ<80><99>re sitting in the dank sweathumidity of his schoolâ<80><99>s gym, on foldable seats (most of which are empty), watching people not unlike themselves fumble a wrestling ring together, waiting for the same men to continue fumbling with even less on.
The boy finds far more entertainment in the Rubikâ<80><99>s cube, a half of the white side almost done.
An empty applause rattles under the empty feedback of an AC/DC song. The grandfather stands involuntarily. The boy finds something strange in the speed, or perhaps the agility that his octogenarian grandpa leapt up with. Surely it must be something mindblowing, he didnâ<80><99>t even groan, like he does as he sits down and when he struggles out of the clench of the armchair with his imprint.
Disappointingly, it was a pale guy in bike shorts, throwing his arms about, high fiving the paws of the uncles on the front rail. Sigh, back to the cube.
The same happens again, the grandfather flies with the new CD playback over the PA. Another pasty guy, the body to equal the most dedicated of accountants and actuarians, his gut holding the drawstrings of his speedo.
Soon the white side was complete, and he began on the blue.
In between cheers, his grandfather elbowed him with his sharp worn bones, and finally, to minimize the bruising, the boy watches. Arms folded, eyes mid-roll.
At the end of the match (a well earned submission), the boy beat his grandfather to his feet.
Four years later, in the same gymnasium, the boy (well on his way to a man), wipes a sheet of sweat from his forehead and steps out into the thick air, the sounds of AC/DC metallic and monotonal on the P.A. He is now the pasty guy in tight black trunks, getting the cheers he remembers ridiculing. On his way to the ring he snatches a glimpse of his grandfather, wobbly on his feet, whistling and throwing his hands and clapping wildly. Forgetting his arthritis. Smiling with borrowed teeth.
Thatâ<80><99>s how I remember getting into this business, skeptical first, fanatical second. And looking back at it like that, itâ<80><99>s dispels some of the mystery and most of the hype. Whoâ<80><99>d have known that from that first match, where I busted my nose, broke the other guys arm, and lost a good chunk of dignity permanently, that Iâ<80><99>d become superstar. Not my words, theirs.
Remember those first painful matches, (for both of us). Even the most seasoned fans found it difficult to sit through those five minute wonders of missed spots, and rest holds. I almost feel like apologizing retrospectively. But one weekend, in the same half empty gym, something clicked. It was that submission match with Rick, and from the entrance to the exit, I honestly felt burdened by a stadium of gazes, rather than the usual twenty or so. No spots were missed, one after the other, everything moved seamlessly, rhythmically. Iâ<80><99>d finally learnt to walk without stumbling. I lost, but after, for the first time, my grandfather wasnâ<80><99>t the only person standing.
Word spread, and the accidental epic feud that I had with Rick became the talk of the town. Small as it was, word spread slowly, or as slow as Doris or the postman could walk. But for whatever reason, people loved what we were doing. The school gymnasium sold out, and we moved shop to the town hall. When our shows were being held, the streets were empty and still like a Monday midnight. Soon I was endorsing car dealerships, fast food, road safety, sports stores, abstinence, pies, socks, investment funds, and keychains. Every small business in the vicinity of that town hall had a giant cutout of my smiling face and patented â<80><9c>thumbs upâ<80>. I was the local superstar; whatever life I had outside the ropes was immediately elevated to suburban royalty. That smiling became a permanent fixture.
Now youâ<80><99>re probably wondering why Iâ<80><99>m talking in past tense, considering that the fever hasnâ<80><99>t diminished in the two years since it began. Even, probably approaching the peak. But the past tense is because as of this letter, it is past. Iâ<80><99>m giving up.
Now I imagine youâ<80><99>re either white or red, most likely red, in which case I wonâ<80><99>t even attempt to somehow concoct a turn of phrase that says Iâ<80><99>m â<80>~retiringâ<80><99> but not giving up, because if youâ<80><99>ve taught me anything is that you never quit wrestling, you are just finally defeated by it. And currently it has its foot on my throat.
Itâ<80><99>s not drugs, itâ<80><99>s not pain, and itâ<80><99>s not ego, like the rest of them. Itâ<80><99>s a guilty conscience. I never trained to be famous, like Rick, I trained to step through the fourth wall and become involved, rather than outvolved. But the accidental whirlwind that I stood in the eye of gave me no choice but to help please others, in between pleasing myself. And because of it, Iâ<80><99>ve lost my true motivation, I donâ<80><99>t enjoy being involved, I much preferred sitting on sweaty seats watching others make the money and mistakes.
For at least the last half year, wrestling has become a 9 to 5 with too much overtime. They enjoy the same emotionless matches I put on each week, and to see billboard sized faces of me only reminds me how they see me. Up. Above. Big. Theirs. And without egotism, the town (who are generally my only fans), own that me, because they single-handedly created it, I simply turned up on the day.
The same face that encourages to rent from Philâ<80><99>s or eat their greens reminds me how Iâ<80><99>m lying to these people, giving them what they want to see and hear while in reality itâ<80><99>s a task just arriving. They think that I live for wrestling, I used to when I was in the crowd, but now wrestling keeps me existing. Itâ<80><99>s my purpose. And so thatâ<80><99>s what makes it so difficult to surrender and say…
I canâ<80><99>t do it anymore.
Sure I can, and I have been, but I canâ<80><99>t continue the stage show.
Why waste everyoneâ<80><99>s time when my hearts in the stands, and their young, fresher-faced, more enthusiastic ankle biters, changing religions to somehow get mat time. I canâ<80><99>t keep the thumbs up when there are others doing a lifetimes work to get halfway to where I got without any.
Itâ<80><99>s more difficult because I wonâ<80><99>t ever truly be able to escape the people, I have no intention of leaving the town, because I doubt anyone of them would recognise me doing mundane things among them. People have a strange talent of not recognising people when they arenâ<80><99>t looking at them. But I know that I have no choice but to somehow be involved in the wrestling, because as clichÃ©d as it sounds, it provided the same answers religion does. Meaning.
And reading back those two words, the thousands of time that I have, it sounds pretty ungrateful. You, and the other guys who train, punish and level the youngsters, are volunteer sculptors of artworks that have no guarantee of turning out worth showing. The same guys who commentate, fund, build, maintain, promote, sell tickets, sell popcorn, all of them, are volunteering (and often spending money) to keep a three legged horse racing. And me, leaving because Iâ<80><99>ve lost my smile.
And in some way Iâ<80><99>m ashamed for that, but you have to understand that I have to stop wasting their time and their hope, on someone whoâ<80><99>s mailing it in.
But let it be known that I, and for that matter any other local superstar that has been produced, appreciate the hell out of you (and Iâ<80><99>d love to name people individually, but most of them are named Frank anyway) and they just donâ<80><99>t know it just yet. Once you have given up before youâ<80><99>ve quit, you see the effort others put into something you canâ<80><99>t see as anything but futile and childish.
But in reality, Iâ<80><99>m the fool for thinking that. Because like with grandpa, when I see these futile efforts of old men, I see smiles, smiles of children, and I canâ<80><99>t help but join their wall of grins. Wives leave or die, children lie and leave, work happens like clockwork, and retirement is boring. But for a few hours a week, these balding guys with their asses hanging out are experiencing bliss.
I want to experience their bliss.
And I thought Iâ<80><99>d find it in the ring, when in reality it was sitting in the empty seat next to my grandpa. So if youâ<80><99>re ever looking for me, Iâ<80><99>ll be the one standing next to the old man, with smiles half our age.
Thanks for everything and more.