“I’m sorry, did nobody reach out?”
“I think Margo has been trying to get a hold of you for a while, but we all know what she’s like with phone numbers.”
“Did you check your messages? When I tried to call, your mailbox was full.”
There’s probably five-hundred other comments Jody ends up making, but these are the only ones I remember.
No wonder she had a look of distraught across her face. It had nothing to do with me, it was about what took place two weeks ago.
I feel vomit traveling up my esophagus. Surprised I don’t end up spewing it all over her table but somehow I swallow it down. I think I’ve been standing here for fifteen minutes, in a trance, because now there’s more than Jody’s face in front of me.
Ruth. Richard. Louie. Tina. Margo. Eva. Others in the DLC. Faces I’ve never seen before and… holy fuck, is that Rebecca? She was the reason I was placed here to begin with. The manager who allowed me to stay, despite not meeting the age requirements or being retired with pension. I haven’t seen her in almost three exact years.
Each one of them is concerned for my well being.
How did this happen? When did he die? Was his health deteriorating beforehand? Questions I want to ask but I guess that’s the reason why I haven’t puked everywhere. I’ve kept my mouth shut.
“We feel terrible,” Rebecca says with a tear in her eye. “Everyone knows how close you two were.”
I left. Walked away from the only place that accepted me. And for what? Some silly reason? This pull on my arm. This belief I needed to “grow up” and change everything about me.
“Please, Conor, take a seat.”
I don’t know who said that, or who has taken my arm and led me to the sofa in the lobby. I collapse and sink forward, head into my palms, trying to keep strong but it’s too late.
“I’m sorry…” I mumble. “I’m so, so, sorry…”
Let it out, Conor. You’re amongst friends. There’s no other place where it would be acceptable to do this. They won’t understand. High Octane, that is. The locker room only knew I hung out here. Very few people would realize the relationships I made. They were real. Not filled with politics, nobody was trying to surpass me. They’ve already lived their lives. It was time to empower someone else to live theirs. No backstabbing. Minimal brutality. It was the opposite from the wrestling industry, a place where I could be me. I wouldn’t have to be fake for someone else.
Walter. I took his health for granted. He always looked like he was doing well. Late nineties and could still get around. Sharp as a whip. No signs of dementia. It’s more than I can say for everyone else.
I never saw this coming.
It was supposed to be “goodbye for now”, not “goodbye forever”.
My eyes look past the group who are concerned and deep into the hall of the DLC. I had the last room on the left. Walter, the last room on the right. I can’t see the doors from here, it’s far too long of a hallway. It’s probably for the best.
“Goodbye,” I let a soft whimper squeak out of my voice. “And thank you.”
— — — — —
November 1, 2021
Fresh off my loss to Mike. And I mean FRESH off because it is the night after.
I took the redeye home, back to the Dearness Living Community. My goal was to get the fuck outta here as fast as I possibly could. It’s just where, ya know, where I live. So I’d need to collect my belongings… some belongings. Whatever I deemed most important and could fit inside my duffle bag. Then GTFO quickly, without creating a stir. No idea where I’m gonna go but apparently ICONIC is in London. I hate the British.
I’ll have a long hill to climb. No rematch. No second chances. Not that I want one. I was humbled.
I gather my shit. Three Adidas track pants, five gamer shirts, two wrestling tights, one pair of boots, and of course my 3DS XL. Probably throw in my vintage Game Boy Pocket, as well. I wanna leave in a flash but I have to be thorough. I won’t be coming back until after the new year’s begun.
Door locked. Roommates out of sight. The plan is to flee. I have failed Mike. I have failed Dearness. I have failed myself.
And I’ll tell you what. Something I definitely DON’T want is Walter Newport in my face, providing stupid old man advice that would get me laughed out of a High Octane promo in a millisecond. It’s why my door is locked and I am carefully sneaking around. Grab the essentials, then jump out of the fifth floor window. It’s do-able. There’s a tree I can latch onto, helping break the jump into two smaller distances. Besides, I’m nimble as shit.
Hearing my name startles the living piss outta me, because it’s definitely not my alter ego, New-Age Conor. This voice was not my own.
Oh… it’s him.
“Walter, for fuck sakes man,” I say, snapping around and finding him resting in my gaming chair. “How the living hell did you get in!?”
I pause. I run through how long I’ve been in my room for. I estimate twenty minutes.
“You’ve been there the entire time?”
He nods, slowly.
“Well get the fuck out, dude! Can’t you see I’m upset and I’m trying to leave like A-S-A-P?”
Pretty sure he knows, Conor.
“Son,” he says softly. God, I’m sick of it already. This is specifically why I slithered into my room on stealth mode and how I intended on jumping out the window when I’m finished. I don’t want to hear it. I’m in no place to hear it. Soooooooo easy to say shit from the other side of the room. Walter didn’t lose the World Championship. This fucking guy can barely stand for ten minutes on his own two feet. It’s not my fault he didn’t make a name for himself when he was younger. His time is done, my time was supposed to be now……… but I lost. I can feel the rage flowing through my veins. It was sadness, might’ve been depression. Now it’s manifested as anger.
This is exactly why I don’t want to be around anyone else, for fear of blowing up. I don’t wanna say something I’ll regret. I’m already running through a lot of bullshit in my head that’s not particularly fair. Walter didn’t ask to be a wrestler. He never accepted the match against Mike. He did not sign a contract. None of my disposition should be placed upon him.
“Shut up, Walt!”
And then we’re in silence as I slowly piece together the whirlwind twenty-four hours I’ve been through.
“I’m… I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, son.”
His reply is immediately after I apologize. Wise beyond his years but that’s not something I need to be spoon fed at the moment.
“Let me be pissed, okay?” I say out loud. “Or let me be sad. Frustrated. Scared. Whatever. I blew the match. Fucking tossed away the only opportunity I’ll ever have at making a name for myself. A real name, not a passing one, you know? A legacy. Something I can leave behind. Years from now, when I’m your age, I want people walking up to me and say how much I inspired them. I took on the bully. The biggest bully in the fucking world and I showed him. I stunned him. Stunned the world! Influenced the next little Conor Fuse to rise up from his gaming chair, drop his controller and make a commitment towards greatness, to be more than what they said he could. To shove it in all the naysayers’ faces.”
What the fuck am I saying?
I slouch and ultimately collapse on my bed, staring across the way at Walter, who’s completely engulfed by darkness. No wonder I didn’t notice him. Also, how the hell does the old man breathe so quietly?
“Sorry,” I mumble, falling back and laying on my bed, now looking into the ceiling. “I’m all over the place.”
“It’s okay to be all over the place,” he replies. “You can be whatever you need to. Angry. Sad. Both. Most emotions are not singular, they’re a mix of different feelings.”
This guy, I tell ya. My own personal, bullshit counsellor.
I needed to check myself; thought I might have said that one out loud. Guess I didn’t, since Walter wasn’t sharp on a reply.
“Man, I…” my voice trails. I can’t stop thinking about the loss. I went for a knee, trying to Weapon Get Mike Best’s finisher. I missed. Completely missed. And then he pumped me with his own.
DOA, Conor Fuse.
World Title is his.
I swear. Mark my fucking words if I ever end up landing that knee against his face, I’ll make it count.
“There will be other opportunities, Conor,” Walter adds, probably knowing I’m deep within these thoughts. “Don’t let Mike or anyone else tell you otherwise. Everyone loses. Some days you’re ahead, others you’re behind. Never confuse a single defeat for a final defeat.”
Jesus… get bent. I really liked that last sentence. Might use it moving forward.
“Yeah, well, this was a final defeat.”
I hold my hands in the air. Trickles of blood fall down my palms. Only twenty-four hours ago I was nailed to a cross, so no wonder why it’s taking me so long to pack and GTF outta here.
“Right now it feels like a final defeat, Conor,” he chimes in, “because you’re not thinking clearly. You wear your heart on your sleeve. I’d have more questions for you if this loss didn’t destroy you. It’s because you care. You’re passionate, you want to make a difference and as you told me earlier… you didn’t want to let Mike down.”
Ah, fuck letting him down. I let myself down.
“Listen,” he says, once again in a soft and nonjudgmental manner. I hear my gaming chair squeak, so I pop my head and see the old man is trying to lift himself upright. Gotta admit, it’s a tough chair to stand up from. I’ve worked that bitch in for a while now, and I’ve only had it for five months.
“What do you need from me?” He asks. “I’ll get out of your way and I do apologize for surprising you like this. But I was worried, Conor. We all are.”
Whatever. Though I will admit, he has lightened the mood.
“I need to be gone for a while,” I say in a factual manner, like there’s no convincing me otherwise. “I failed everyone and I’m really pissed off. I need space for myself. I can’t deal with half you muppets… no offense.”
More silence, at least in conversation. I hear Walter’s finally able to lift himself from the gaming chair. He stands and slowly shuffles his ninety-four-year-old ass to the front of my unit doorway.
“What else do you need?” He inquires.
“I… I… uh.” Racking my brain is a difficult task at the best of times, let alone now. “I can’t say goodbye to everybody. I don’t have it in me. How about I write a note, leave it on my bed and then you can discover it later. Tell everyone else I’ve left for a while, okay?”
Walter nods. “Okay.”
“Great,” I reply. “Once I have the energy and, errrr, the ability to handwrite a few words after receiving fucking nails in my palms, I’ll lift myself off the bed, write something quick and throw it over my pillow. Give me an hour or two, I ain’t moving so fast.”
He lets out a light hearted chuckle. “I know the feeling.”
I pop my head back up and see a blur in the darkness walk towards the front of my door. It reach for the handle.
“Oh, and Wally?”
“Thanks. Sorry I was a dick.”
“You’re welcome and it’s no problem.”
I hear the door open with a creak and see a sliver of blinding light enter my room.
“What are ‘bullshit counsellors’ for, anyway?” He lets out another tiny chuckle before I hear the door close behind him and the blinding light has vanished.
Guess I did say that one out loud.
— — — — —
Suddenly, my match doesn’t seem so important.
What’s the point?
In all of this.
Edge of my bed, back in my bachelor pad, there’s no reason as to why I’d bother staying at Dearness since receiving the news. The receptionist helped sit me down. It was there where I spent additional time running through the loss in my head and I realized all the questions I had, like how did he die? Was he aware? Painless? In his sleep? A million different questions but if and when they are answered, it still doesn’t change what happened. Walter, my friend, is dead.
And what was I to him? Not a particularly good friend at times, if I’m honest. I’m young, passionate, prone to mistakes. I have a big heart, I wear it on my sleeve and I always, above all else, give 100% in every important aspect of my life. At least that’s what he’s told me.
To think I walked into the Dearness Living Community as a mockery to Jatt Starr. If Jatt never locked himself into a bunker and ate Cheetos while playing video games, I would have never repaid the favour by befriending a retirement home, posing as someone who wanted to move my grandfather in (nudge, nudge, it was Jatt) and then actually deciding I was going to live there myself. What first began as a superficial friendship… actually turned into something real.
I took Walter’s life lessons and I implemented them. I listened, even if I didn’t want to. I tuned into what he had to say and more often than not… he provided some solid advice.
I’ve learned advice is hard to come by. A mere wander through the DLC hallways would find me various others who couldn’t provide any solid insight or guidance whatsoever. Need I remind anyone of the time kangaroo court was on full display and Conor Fuse was “HeLd aCCoUnTabLe” for his actions, re: not drafting David Noble.
There was no good advice on display during that period. Hell, the only man in my corner the entire time was Walter.
And now, out of my own free will, I made the dumbest decision. It wasn’t to implement Mike’s knee against him, it wasn’t to dream up some stupid sequence where I wandered through a desert and wasted away the incredible smack talk I threw in Mike’s face a few days earlier. No, this was the most ignorant decision ever. That I had to go through this period of time alone. Push away the last remaining weeks of Walter’s time on earth.
I wasn’t there when he needed me. But he sure was there when I needed him.
Locked myself into a prison in the basement of the DLC. Every day the man would bring me three square meals. Being in that prison gave me the passion needed to unleash another mode. I ended Stronk’s life. I took back the World Title for a 3rd time.
“I’m sorry, dear friend,” I say out loud to nobody in particular. I don’t believe in the afterlife. I think I made this clear by talking about Mantle, DiMaggio and Ruth and how they don’t exist anymore.
I stare at the World Championship across from me, sitting on the table. Is it off-center or in the middle of the unit?
Perhaps it really will be Mike’s once again. I’m leaning into a situation I was barely ready for at 100%. Walter’s death has dragged my passion down to 10% or lower. May need a miracle. May need GOD.
Although if Mike wins or I win, it all doesn’t matter. Sure, the match will be incredible. I will feel alive after the bell sounds. For the 60+ minutes we wrestle, I’ll use the knowledge Walter gave me. I’ll dig into my history with Mike. I won’t try getting cute, I’ll simply aim to throw merciless punches.
But eventually, the war will end and I will be left either staring into the rafters or blinded by the thousands of flickering cameras capturing the moment. Either way, the moment will pass. Then I’m left with nothing.
I told Mike I failed him. I apologized. But maybe this is the wrong way to look at it.
Perhaps it is about a legacy. Because time does pass. The match will be over in the blink of an eye. How can you live for a moment when you know that moment will definitely leave?
It will last forever.
I was wrong. Mike was right.
Sensing a theme here. Wouldn’t be the first time. Likely won’t be the last.
“Rest in peace, Walter,” I say, raising my hand to the title and then collapsing on my bed. Bring on the main event of God’s House. It can only go up from here.
— — — — —
It’s okay; we’re okay. I get your an addict, I don’t look at it like a bad thing. In some ways I’m an addict, too.
There are differences between us, of course there are. But there are also a lot of similarities pulling us together. These similarities have made this rivalry. I can only imagine the pay-per-view buys incoming. This isn’t a boring, throwaway contest. This is a struggle. A struggle between the man who has done it all and the one who so desperately wants to.
I’m addicted to wrestling. I downright admit it. Was addicted to gaming, too, but only one of those won out.
I understand you’re a snake and I know you can’t be trusted. You’re not a closed book, bro. I mean you’re not transparent, either, but I know you’ve killed. I know you’ve done unspeakable harm to brothers, sisters, friends and family. They’re all on record. I could tell it was Tyler under the EHB mask before he took it off.
Just didn’t want to spoil his story.
I am well aware of what I’m getting myself into. I am a grownup, I swear. I may say and do things that suggest otherwise but I’d like to think after navigating the High Octane ocean for three and a half years now, and swimming back with three different World Championships, I’m fucking doing something right.
I never quit.
Always keep going.
I may not have the sharp mental whip you throw out on display, or the ability to inflict such wicked and uncompromising punishment. But I have the perfect response to your skillset. I can absorb more offense than anyone gives me credit for. I have a threshold of pain that’s off the charts. Christopher America dislocated my shoulder twice in the same match but I merely popped it back into place and kept on going. You… you nailed me to a cross. That’s not a figure of speech. You literally did this. And a day later I’m using my hands, didn’t even get a required tetanus shot.
I can go on offense, I can throw punches. I can land most of them flush against the side of your face. I only like to play the village idiot, it helps me get through the day. But when it’s time to legitimately take the gloves off, I do. When it’s time to get serious, I can. And when it’s time to carry a company on my back, I god damn fucking will.
I’d like to think we compliment each other. And the similarities, they’re around. The most important one… the biggest one there is…
You and I both love High Octane Wrestling.
We may love it for different reasons, we may use it for different needs but the bottomline, Mike, I know you never want to let this place down.
You are this place.
Is High Octane big enough for the both of us?
I’d like to think so.
I’ve said it a million times. It’s all I’ve ever wanted. When I first joined HOW I saw Mike vs. Max, over and over. Then I saw Mike vs. Jiles. I dreamt of being in either of their places. Wrestling 101. Rivalries. Feuds. You can have solid match quality, or an amazing promo, but if you’re doing it against a broomstick or into thin air… what kinda fun is that?
I have a lot to live up to. We know you’re going to deliver. It was a ton of weight on my shoulders after I beat Sutler but I’d like to think I proved I’m worth the investment.
Back to you. I understand your comments and I appreciate the prenuptial apology for what you’re about to do to me. A part of me wants to scream at you, tell you to fuck off, because I can make my own decisions.
I KNOW what I’m getting into. I am choosing to wrestle you. I know damn well what kind of path you and Max went down. I’m fully aware how it ended. I understand, as terrifying as it may be, the aftermath between you two. That one day this outcome might be staring me in the face.
I know what I’m doing, I know who you are and you, in turn, know who I am.
…Or do you?
‘Cause I’m starting to doubt it.
I’m the guy who accepts he isn’t quite as good. The guy who knows he still needs to grow. The guy who’s made mistakes and will definitely make more in the future.
But I’m also the guy who motherfucking wants it.
Unlike any of your other opponents.
It drives me to achieve. Proof? Still here. World Champ. The only thing standing between me and calling myself #97 is the fact that I WON’T run from my failures, that I REFUSE to back down. That I will never flee to another company because I couldn’t get it done in this very ring.
Mike. Fucking. Best.
I can beat you.
I will beat you.
I don’t think you know who I am anymore. Because I am not the wrestler I was in 2021, nor am I the man you fought two months ago. I have added scars, damage and passion.
It is possible to pin you. You are a man. You act like a god but we both know that actually isn’t true.
I have lost so much, as this match has cost me everything even before the bell rings. And I have news for you… if I do happen to lose this weekend, I have nothing left for you to take. I’ve crowned you the current World Champion, my best friend is fucking dead and I’ve castrated myself from every single one of my friends.
No, Mike. Not this time. You don’t get to win because you can’t take shit from me. You’ve already taken it all.
Be very weary of the man who has nothing left to lose.
…And absolutely, positively, everything to gain.