“This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.”
Hollow Men – T.S. Elliott
I’m sure you’re expecting me to gloat now.
Some part of me thought I’d feel that way too. Like, maybe once this mountain was climbed, there would be some feeling of accomplishment, some feeling of satisfaction accompanying the moment; maybe it would push some of the emptiness aside and offer some clarity.
There is none.
No more than there was before.
I’ve been considering all of this for some time now. The deep groaning thing inside that has swollen up and taken control is still something of a mystery to me, at once terrible and yet at times comforting. But alongside it is a nagging ringing in my head, threatening my sanity and offering me nothing but an endless internal clawing at my own ego, a study of my own self that hasn’t produced much fruit.
So what would gloating do, exactly? Foolish braying at the other sheep who shuffle along placing all value in things and people as if anything external really matters in the long run. And yet, the inconsistencies in my own head stab me in the back. They betray me.
I’m the ICON Champion now. Again.
And I wanted it. I wanted it more than anything else in the world. It is a symbol, and I hate that I wanted it so badly, but I wanted it. I still want it, and I will guard it more jealously than a lover. Does that image concern you? Do you giggle at the metaphor as you write down your stupid little jokes and insults? How hard do you laugh though in the end?
The two sides in my head continue their tirade in each direction, and I feel them both pulling at me. I’m like a child sat between two angry parents, trying to please them both, but making neither truly happy.
I ended an entire family recently. It’s a recent hobby I’ve taken up. With a little practice, you find nothing in the moment, and that’s the dichotomy of me. No one’s better. No one’s happy. What’s the use in trying? This is futile. Might as well kill them both. Would anyone notice, after all? None of it is helping. It’s getting worse.
The ringing in my head is getting louder.
I can’t make it stop. Don’t even know how to begin to try.
Perhaps embracing this was a mistake. It’s too late to turn back. The hole has been dug too deeply. I’m stuck wandering here, in a wilderness of mirrors from which I cannot escape. There’s no hope of returning. The knife has been plunged too deeply. The old man is gone.
The ringing surrounds me; I have to find it, find a way to subdue it, control it, or at least direct it somehow. My heart races, my eyes shut. Energy floods through my mind and then… it stops suddenly.
It’s dark here, but there’s a glow from under the door.
The ringing is gone. The silence might be worse.
A pale shadowy gray color fills the sky. Leaves, freshly turned from green to the first stages of an Autumn yellow, flutter to the ground from large old trees overhead. These have started to make small piles all over the backyard of Dan Ryan’s Chicago residence, and little ripples are forming on the lake from the wind blowing through in occasional gusts.
Several plastic tubs are placed around the yard, and Cecilia Ryan is there, digging through them, looking for something. She tosses aside a wreath. It’s decorated, not for Christmas, but for fall, with strings of hay and small gourds glued on in an artistic pattern. Giving up on this tub, she moves to another, and her face lights up as she finds what she’s looking for, a large wooden stake, formed into a cross pattern.
Dan Ryan stands at the door watching his only daughter. She smiles, whistling as she produces from another tub a large scarecrow, and attaches it to the stake, fluffing it up in a few spots where the straw inside had sagged, and steps back, admiring her work.
A side-eye turns in her father’s direction and she smiles again.
“I love the Fall.”
He doesn’t answer. His eyes go from her to the scarecrow, then to the other decorations scattered around the property; a stack of pumpkins near the porch, a small antique wagon carrying orange and yellow foliage, some windchimes hanging next to the nearly crumpled shed with little pumpkins at the end of each, orange Edison bulb string lights throughout the lower tree branches over the firepit.
More lights are strung along the gutters on the back of the house, dangling and twinkling in yellow and orange alternately.
She watches him as he looks around, the thin veneer of her smile undermined by an absent-minded blinking of her eyelids over an empty stare. As he looks back at her, the smile deepens, just slightly, and she turns away again, going back to her task.
“Mommy hated the Fall.”
She looks back at him again, eyes staring somewhere in the middle of his chest. They dart up to meet his own eyes, and she smiles again, then turns and leans over a tub of small garden stakes, rummaging through little plastic headpieces of jack o’lanterns, golden apples and horns of plenty.
Dan approaches slowly.
He looks down at her as he passes, approaching the short path toward the lakefront. His eyes focus on the large oak on the lakefront; its long thick branches stretch out over the water, and the old rope still hangs down from its midpoint. The large gashes beaten from it’s trunk are starting to grow over, but the scars are still evident.
As he approaches, his look holds on a thicker item about six feet up on the lake side of the tree. From the appearance as he sees the profile, it appears to be a much more complex scarecrow figure lashed to the wood with thick brown ropes. The entire figure is covered in burlap, thick, nearly six feet in length from head to toe.
Dan Ryan lets his eyes slowly travel from bottom to top. The figure is slanted slightly, bent at a forty-five degree angle near the waist up to the head, and as he looks at the face, his eyes stop. He holds a stare there, where, if he were almost anyone else, his blood most certainly would have run cold. His face doesn’t move, his eyes locked in place, and he stays there, until another arm slips through his own next to him.
He looks down where the smiling face of his daughter looks up at him.
“This is my favorite one, too.”
He looks back up, then his eyes catch a brief glint to the side of the scarecrow. Looking down the arm at the end, five dark brown burlap fingers protrude, and on one of them, a ring; Alaina Troy- Ryan’s wedding ring. He looks down at his daughter again.
“I’ll have to leave in a few hours. I won’t be gone long.”
She doesn’t answer — just keeps looking up, proud.
Her grip on his arm loosened, Dan pulls away and starts the walk back through the yard, past the tubs of decorations, leaves falling around him.
“Do you think mommy will like it?”
The voice comes from behind him, soft and sweet, and he turns his head just enough to see her slightly over his right shoulder.
“I’m sure she will.”
Dan Ryan turns away, and the leaves fall.
Jiles, you almost never lose singles matches.
Did you know that?
A friend said that to me. I think he was trying to make me feel better after you got the win over me in our last encounter. I know it was something of a pyrrhic victory for you. You didn’t get much of a chance to celebrate, and I know you boys are specifically the celebrating sort.
Truth be told…
I’m celebrating your win over me right now for you.
Your win over me at Refueled XXXII was the beginning of something. You didn’t know it yet, but it was the beginning of a new era for me; a reimagining if you will. It prompted a rededication to myself, a journey to discover again who I really am, who I’m meant to be. You opened a door for me, Jiles, and I walked through.
My newer friends tried to make me feel better.
Leave it to an old friend to make me feel alive.
You don’t know how important you are yet, do you? This process I’m going through, this road I’m on, it’s still all so early, you see. Even I don’t know for sure what’s about to happen. All I know is that when I heard we would be doing this in the Best Arena this week, in a hardcore match of all things, I felt nothing but an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I think that of all the people in all the world, no one is so justifiably deserving of everything that has been happening to you lately.
Look at you.
You dethroned the undefeatable Hall of Famer Cecilworth Farthington. You did what no one else had been able to do for over a year.
You are a man who deserves praise, my friend. You deserve to be talked about among the greats of the sport. You deserve respect.
I want to give you that respect this week, Jiles. I want to show you just how much you mean to me. I want to show you how very important you are and the level of esteem with which I hold you. I am the man I am today partially because of you. You were the impetus, the spark, and everything I’ve done since is the result of that one night. All roads lead to you, my friend. The destruction of my old self, the end of a wrestling family dynasty, another ICON Championship. All of this I owe to you to some degree, because you were there to open my eyes.
This next night will be important too, because it represents a chance to relive that momentous evening, and Lee Best has gifted us with the proper rules to take it up a notch. We don’t have to worry about disqualifications, about count outs or rope breaks. It’s just you and me, and whatever we can find at hand.
I want you to know that I look at this moment with great reverence and respect, and I take this very, very seriously. No championships are on the line. We are free, absolutely free to do what we will, to walk to a ring and bathe it in each other’s blood if we can. We can paint the entire building #97red if we like, and no one will stop us. Fists, knees, elbows, weapons, chairs, concrete, steel.
Just you and me.
It must seem to you like you’re stepping into a ring with an animal, some beast to be conquered; but I’m not the beast. The beast is what we’ll be fighting together. You and I will be partners in a great struggle to defeat it, to offer up enough of a sacrifice to appease it. There is no greater brotherhood than that forged in blood, and believe me, brotherhood or not, there will be blood, and plenty of it. Won’t that be cool, Cancer Jiles?
We’re stepping into a larger world together, you and I, whether you like it or not. We are inextricably linked from now on. You are linked to my fate now and forever, and people will remember our first match in HOW as the one that resulted in whatever becomes of me. I don’t even know what that is, and that’s what makes it all the more exciting. I only know that it feels right, and it feels like stepping in a ring with you and trying to hurt you is the right thing to do, because it’s the only way I can honor what you’ve done for me properly.
I know how coolly you’ll approach this. It’s who you are, isn’t it? We bring such diverse approaches to the table, you and I. You the relaxed nonchalant excellence, and sunglasses. Me the weekly attempted murder, and sunglasses. But I’m turning over a new leaf. No more sunglasses. Murder yes, sunglasses no. And I think, if I’m to be honest, you’d do well to lose yours as well.
But who am I to give you advice, right, my friend? What do I know?
You almost never lose singles matches.
The window dressing hardly matters anymore. It’s just a decoration for the season, and you remain steady no matter the colors; you consistently waltz through and maintain your place as the most seriously talented Bandit. You get the best of both worlds. You get to ride under the radar of expectations by enjoying the improvisational skills of your friends. There’s no losing when losing doesn’t matter. Winning is the bonus, your casual nature, the bait.
I admire it, Jiles. Cowardice and bravery are both overrated principles in the end. People who cling to their virtues are fooling themselves as I always have, unwilling to tell their truth, the only truth that actually matters ultimately. In my head, my truth feels like crashing my elbow down onto your head over and over until your brain tissue spills out like a punctured haggis. In my heart, I know this is the only way to make sure you understand what you mean to me. I know that when we’re through, you’ll see things my way. I know that when you look back on this, you’ll look back and smile.
This night is for you, my dear old friend, and all of my attention is yours.
I can think of no better way to show my appreciation.
Dan walks through the door and across the hall where the pale glowing light is coming from. Turning his head into and through the doorway he sees Cecilia there sitting in a small wooden chair in front of an old television sitting on a small dresser.
A dark hoodie is pulled up and over her head so that only her face is showing. The light shone on her face and everything else in the room, frozen as it was on a still frame of Lindsay Troy.
A small hand rises, a remote control in it, and the video goes in reverse, then plays.
“I’ve done lots of things I shouldn’t have done in my career, lots of things I shouldn’t have been able to do, and what I’m not gonna do is refuse to face Dan Ryan for the ICON Title at Rumble at the Rock. You think Dan would turn this opportunity away if the shoe was on the other foot? Fuck no. He is more dangerous than ever. He isn’t the same man I’ve tagged with for sixteen years. And despite that, I still will not back down from this fight.”
It rewinds again. Then plays again. Once more. And again.
Dan stares at her, his eyes squinting in the darkness.
“So… you’ve heard.”
Her back stays toward him, and she stares, eyes wide into the static on the screen. Dan moves slowly, positioning himself next to the television and looking at her face. The light from the TV dances on her features, and her eyes twinkle with the reflection of the images on the screen.
“She should not be fighting you.”
Her voice is shaky, a forced firmness fighting to maintain control.
He studies her face, watches the twitching in the corners of her eyes, the quivering on one side of her mouth as she strains to keep her emotions in check.
“Your aunt is an adult. She makes her own decisions. I don’t tell her what to do. She chooses her own battles to fight, and if this is one she has chosen, she’ll get to fight it.”
Cecilia’s face snaps up in her father’s direction.
“She should not be fighting you, daddy.”
Their eyes lock, and he returns her stare.
“Perhaps not. But if she has something to prove and she thinks this is what she needs to do to prove it, then that’s how it has to be. We all must be who we are. In time, the truth always comes out. No sense in covering it up.”
Cecilia’s head tilts slightly.
“She’ll get hurt.”
Dan’s face rises a bit, but he continues to look down at her.
“Most likely. Does that concern you?”
Dan watches as she looks back at the television, her eyes seeming to study the image on the screen. Lindsay Troy’s determined stare at the camera looks back at her, and Cecilia Ryan’s expression moves from blank to angry, her eyebrows deepening and her lip raising slightly on each side.
“She chose it. That’s the only part of it that concerns me.”
Dan nods and he turns to leave.
“I have a match with Cancer Jiles tomorrow night. I have some business to attend to, then I’ll be back on Sunday.”
As he reached the door, she called out.
“Don’t worry. I’ll clean up after myself.”
He paused just enough to listen, then left, turning right and heading toward the front room. A few steps into the walk, he heard a loud crashing and a low guttural scream as metal and electronic components seemed to smash against wooden floors and drywall. It continued as he turned and went through the front door to the outside, and left.