The office is exactly the way you’d expect it to look: mahogany furniture everywhere. Shelves lined with books. MJ Flair paces as she usually does, noting some of the familiar volumes.
Beyond Good and Evil. Moby Dick. Oliver Twist. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The World According to Garp. She keeps meaning to ask to borrow some of these. Maybe this time.
There’s also a heavy set of privacy curtains over the pair of windows on the wall, and tasteful, indirect lighting that keeps things well lit but easy enough to relax and fall asleep if needed. This really is a perfect study.
“Sit down please, Mariella?”
It’s almost a perfect study.
Sitting in an overstuffed armchair is a fiftysomething woman in a smart pantsuit. Her perfectly coiffed hair and reading glasses on the edge of her nose give her an air of dignity, but make her look exactly her age.
MJF: I’ve been here.
The former LSD Champion points at a framed photograph of the doctor with a number of similarly – aged men and women (we assume they’re colleagues or peers) in the typical Grand Canyon photo-op.
Dr. Leslie Talalay removes her glasses and stares at her young patient. She sits and waits for MJ to turn and face her, and they lock eyes.
There’s a moment where they stare in a nonverbal challenge, but MJ drops hers first and sits on the leather upholstered couch.
“It’s fine, Mariella. Remember, this is your time, and I want to make sure you have as much of it as you can.”
MJ shifts uncomfortably, her legs crossed at the ankles, her hands folded in her lap.
MJF: I mean, yeah. But I didn’t think we needed these sessions anymore.
The doctor laughs.
“I tell you, you’ve made a lot of progress, but you’re not there yet.”
MJ shakes her head.
MJF: No way, I’m there. I’m there, right?
MJF: Found my way back to the ring, yeah?
The doctor uncrosses and re-crosses her legs.
“Well, let’s explore that, Mariella. You came to see me because you were on the verge of a nervous breakdown after losing your wrestling championship without being actually beaten for it, and your business manager cut you off from the sport for a minute.”
MJF: And I’m good now, right?
The doctor inhales sharply and flips back in her notepad.
“If I may, Mariella? My notes after our first session, which we’ve talked about – you were blaming Jack Harmen for losing your championship. My notes around the holidays were mainly referencing resentment you felt towards all three of your partners for the fact that they were getting opportunities that you didn’t, and that they didn’t appreciate them.”
Flip of the page.
“And when you made your comeback to professional wrestling, your first match, you get pinned for the first time by Jack Harmen.”
Close the book, the library is closed.
“Ms. Flurstein. Do you really want to sit there and tell me we don’t have anything to talk about?”
MJ takes a deep breath. She holds it for a moment, but twists her body around and lands, lying face up on the couch.
“Please get your dirty boots off my couch.”
MJF: Yes ma’am.
She does so.
MJF: Well, what d’ya want me to say, man? Dane brings in Mr. Ryan to be the bruiser, LT to be the star, me to be the future, and Harmen to be the veteran, and when war games shakes out I’m literally the only one of us that does anything’a note? Dane gets himself fired, Ryan somehow ends up with shot after shot after shot at Fartypants and somehow only gets a consolation prize? Meanwhile I’m workin’ my ass off to defend against Scootywood before getting jammed into tag matches until Harmen loses my LSD title for me?
MJF: And then I go out and can’t even beat fuckin’ Jack Harmen? Am I s’posed’ta be okay with that?
MJF: I’m fine, man. Really.
“You can lie to me, Mariella. You can’t lie to yourself.”
She drops her head.
MJF: Dude. No. I’m not lying to myself.
The doctor doesn’t reply; she just watches.
MJF: Whaddaya want me to say, man? That’ I’m pissed off? Fine. I’m pissed. At myself, because my parents, my mom and dad, my aunt – everyone was like, hey man, you need to back the fuck up because your head’s not in it anymore. So I listen, and I do it. I relax and take some time for myself, right?
She looks down into her lap.
MJF: And while I’m gone, my partners are given every opportunity under the sun and come up short, but they still get the opportunities.
“Have you talked to them about this? It’s going to be a problem if you–”
MJ shakes her head quickly.
MJF: I can’t, man. I can’t.
“We’ve been through this. Your relationship nearly came to an end because you couldn’t talk about how you were feeling. Lack of communication breeds isolation, which can breed resentment. How’s that been going, anyway?”
Finally, a smile.
MJF: Much better, thanks. I’m getting why my parents’ failed relationships all went bad and why they ended up working. Someone in the life gets the life, yeah? I dunno if I told you but when I was like one year old I didn’t see my dad for almost a year.
“No, you didn’t.”
She starts to pull her legs up to sit on them on the couch, but thinks better of it and unzips them first, taking them off, before sitting cross – legged.
MJF: So this was back when us pro wrestlers actually worked, like, all the time. Daddy was on the road something like twenty days a month or whatever. So he’s criss – crossing the states while Mommy and the rest of the band buzzed through Australia and New Zealand, and Asia, all the way back through Europe.
“That must’ve been tough for them, and for you.”
MJF: I really don’t remember it. It made sense for me to go with my mom, though – my dad and my aunt were traveling light from stop to stop while necessity put the Garden on a bus with a driver and a tech that could watch me during the performance. Don’t know if my dad had anyone that he trusted that much.
The doctor writes some notes, but does not respond.
MJF: Anyways, they got it, ya know? This is the job, this is what it requires. I didn’t think the boy understood, but I didn’t really give him a chance to, ya know? I sorta froze him out when I went on sabbatical, but he just wanted to hear about what I was doing.
“And did you keep your partners as well informed?”
MJF: …Naaa, not really. I hooked back up with Ryan and LT around the holidays but we didn’t talk much about work.
“Didn’t they deserve to have the talk as well, so they knew what was up with you?”
MJ pulls her hair out of its ponytail and reapplies the hair tie.
MJF: Maybe? I dunno, they were dealing with their own ish, like losing the tag belts and losing a world title opportunity.
The doctor chuckles, which makes MJ bristle.
MJF: I mean–
“Do you have any idea what they were going through while all this was going on, outside what was actually on the schedule?”
“Turn it around, Mariella. You expressed resentment at being ‘the only one to get anything done.’ Maybe that’s true, maybe not. It’s not for me to say. But turn it around. If you were one of their aces, and one day you were just gone… don’t you think they’d have a right to some resentment on their end as well?”
She looks up, but her eyes go right.
MJF: I… yeah I wasn’t thinking about them.
And her head moves to her hands.
“No. No, Mariella. Don’t do that. Don’t forget, you’ve got, what, three years experience in your sport? Largely stop-and-start? Dan Ryan and Jack Harmen have two decades easily, and Ms. Troy is maybe just a few years behind. They have experience with the stress of your sport that they’ve built up over time that you simply haven’t had the chance to cultivate. Positions reversed, it’s far more likely they’d simply want to talk it over instead of beating themselves up like you’ve been doing.”
It doesn’t help; MJ’s face remains buried.
MJF: It’s not fair, man.
“Life’s not always fair.”
And now she looks up.
MJF: Yeah, I know. And a lotta this is just the pendulum swingin’ the other way, right? Like, we came in with Dane as five big swingin’ dicks…
MJ stifles a laugh.
MJF: Pardon my french. But you get me, right? Those four, they’ve held more World Titles than probably the entire High Octane Roster in total, and even I’ve got two ta my credit. And they’ve done everything possible against the others except get their hands raised, and even Ryan’s put the first crack in the wall by taking one of Farty’s titles. Maybe if I’m here I add to it, and they don’t lose the tag belts. Maybe I’m in the match at Iconic and between me and Harmen, Max loses the LSD. Maybe I get a match with Fartypants instead of Ryan. But none’a that’s set in stone, yeah? None’a that is guaranteed.
More notes taken.
MJF: I’m sorry, I’m rambling.
“It’s fine, Mariella. This is your time, remember – you can talk about whatever you wish.”
MJF: I take after my mom, she can get on a subject and talk for hours about something totally different. What was I saying?
“We were talking about the resentment you felt towards your partners for moving on without you, and the fact that they might possibly have the same towards you for dropping out without any notice.”
MJF: Right, right. Ya know, Mike Best might’ve done me a favor.
She adjusted her posture, leaning forward with her elbows on her knees and her right hand up, pontificating with her index finger.
MJF: If I’ve got all these lingering feelings towards Harmen, Ryan, and LT, bangin’ this all out in three straight matches is the best way to work it out, yeah? In a weird way I actually felt okay with getting pinned by Jack in the abstract. Frustrated and disappointed with myself for losing a match at all, but how’d’ya get mad at that? LT? I think that one’ll be good for both;a us.
“You think she’s harboring some ill will?”
MJF: I unno, man. Once, I talked about this old school chick, Karina Wolfenden, being my favorite old school wrestler because of the doors she broke down as a woman in a man’s world, and I think I migh’ve hurt her feelings.
MJF: K-Wolf was balls to the wall, but at the end of the day she had severe anger issues and is mainly remembered for the headaches she caused promoters. While she was finding work wherever she could, LT was winning World Titles in national promotions and actually breaking down doors for people like me. I dunno if she wants to hit me but she deserves the chance.
The doctor laughs, and MJ joins her.
“Full contact theraputic rehabilitation. Maybe I should suggest it to all my patients.”
“Are you wrestling Ms. Troy this week?”
MJ shakes her head.
MJF: Naah, that’s the grand finale. I’ve got the bruiser this week and the daddy’s boy next.
“How do you feel about Dan Ryan?”
MJF: Well… I mean, it’s gonna be uphill. I was giving up like seventy pounds to Harmen, and now that number’s closin’ in on about two hundred. He’s bigger’n me, taller’n me, and stronger’n me. ‘N he doesn’t care about any’a this stuff.
She gestures around the room.
MJF: All’a this stuff. Am I disappointed in the fact that he had chance after chance ta beat Fartypants and couldn’t do it, that the three’a them lost the tag team titles? He doesn’t care. Did I leave the group in a lurch because I left the company with no notice? He doesn’t care. Am I his next opponent? Yeah, that’s what he cares about. I’m a stop on the tour, man, and that’s all.
MJF: And that’s cool. Kinda the way it’s supposed’ta be. Ya don’t need the hatred’n the animosity, ya just need a ring and a goal – beat the other. I respect that ish.
“Do you think you can win?”
MJF: I dunno. It’ll be a fight, no doubt. And it’s not like he’s unbeatable. Fartypants has beaten him a few times. My friend Knox – Randall Knox, I’ve mentioned him I think.
MJF: He’s beaten him before, and the two’a them are about the same size, and they’re barely bigger than me. It’s doable.
MJF: …he hits me once, it’s gonna hurt, tho. A lot.
They both laugh.
“So make sure he doesn’t hit you.”
MJ snaps her fingers and points at the doctor.
MJF: That’s the ticket.
“Has it been the same, coming back in to professional wrestling as it was this time last year?”
MJ shakes her head.
MJF: Naaah, doc. It’s not there yet. Last summer was all-new and all-exciting and I was mainly looked at as an unknown quality. Am I any good? Am I overrated? Am I the second coming? Yeah, you can probably make the case for any’a the above. I don’t think anyone expected me ta be the sole survivor’a my team at War Games, let alone part’a the final three seconds. Past that, I dunno if it was general incompetence or deliberate sabotage on Best’s part that dumped me in tag matches for most’a the fall, cuttin’ off any progress at the knees that I was makin’ with my championship. It is what it is, but it is frustrating.
“Would he – would anyone really sabotage their business like that?”
MJ smiles, and quietly laughs to herself, shaking her head.
MJF: Doc, you’re cool. And you’re smart. But everything ya know about the wrestling business is the stuff I’ve told you, yeah? It’s really rare, but it does happen.
MJF: Right? Anyways… what was I saying?
“Cutting you off at the knees?”
MJF: Right. Thanks. So yeah, I kick some major ass last go – round, and now I’m back and it’s uphill both ways. Classic sophomore album jitters, man. The debut album, nobody’s sure what to expect, so it gets very little criticism when there’s signs’a greatness in it.
MJF: That reaction at Iconic, I’ve made the guy love me. It’s to their advantage ta keep me around and in the game, but I’m in a unique situation – if I don’t love the game, I can step off without a second thought. That’s a rare position ta be in in this sport. The guy loves me, but do I love the guy back? I expect this – this LBI in particular and this second run in general – ta be an uphill battle with all the eyes on me.
“With your group being called…”
The doctor flips through some pages.
“… the ‘Group of Death,’ wouldn’t all eyes be on all of you?”
MJF: You’re not wrong, doc. But that’s mainly gon’ be everyone getting a crack at Mike Best. The other four – Best, Harmen, Ryan, LT – they’ve been around forever. Nobody bats an eye when they lose because they’ve all lost a ton in their careers. But by the same token, nobody’s surprised when they win, no matter who they beat. Cause they can beat anyone and they’ve proven it.
MJ shrugs yet again, and points both thumbs at herself.
MJF: Not there yet.Not quite. But for Ryan, let’s say. This week, win or lose, for him it’s just another day at the office. I lose, that’s what’s s’posed’ta happen. I win?
And she points, accusingly, downward.
MJF: That’s significant. That means something.
MJ puts her feet on the ground and crosses her legs. She leans back, leaning both arms on the back of the couch.
“And what if you go zero – and – four?”
Her head tilts back to join her shoulders, and she stares at the ceiling.
MJF: Buzzkill, doc. Major buzzkill.
“I’m here to make you reflect on yourself, Mariella.”
She says it seriously, but the deadpan is evident on her face.
MJF: Fair, dude, fair.
And now, MJ stands up and starts to pace again.
MJF: I lose ‘em all, doc? Nothing happens. I go down in history as a flash in the pan with one moment’a true greatness. Prove some people right, ‘n make some others sad. The world keeps on spinnin’ and the best wrestler in the LBI wins the LBI.
She stops behind the couch and leans forward again, her hands leaning on the top.
MJF: I can’t change the past, doc. All I can do is fuck with the present to map the future.
There’s silence for a few seconds, before a buzzer sounds.
“That’s our thirty minutes.”
MJ looks at the clock on the wall.
MJF: Damn. Sneaks up on us.
“You did wander around for a while reading the bookshelves like you do. Always finding a way to shorten the gap.”
MJF: Do I need to stay after class?
“Unfortunately, I have another appointment now. But I think this was a productive session, Mariella. Will see you in two weeks.”
MJ sits back on the couch and pulls her boots back on.
MJF: Do I still need to be here?
MJ looks down, in mock – exasperation.
MJF: Fine, doc. Two weeks, I’ll be here. But, one other thing?
She zips up the sides and looks the doctor in the eye.
MJF: Like I’ve said, man. Call me MJ.
The doctor laughs.
“Fair enough, MJ. Good luck.”
MJF: Won’t let you down.
“Do better than that.”
The young woman raises an eyebrow as the doctor points a finger at her.
“Don’t let you down.”
She smiles, and MJ returns the grin.