Have you ever been afraid?
Don’t pretend like you don’t know who the fuck I’m talking to. I’m talking to you. I’ll ask you the question again. Have you ever been afraid? Have you ever let fear run through your veins like the poison that it is? Seeping into every little crevice, every crack of your false bravado?
You know what I’m talking about.
When it seeps into the nooks and crannies, every joint in the facade that you leave outwardly exposed to the world? Have you truly been infected, have you felt the anxiety in your chest? Clawing and scraping at your ribs, trying to get out? Begging for the rest of the world to see the scared little bitch you are?
These aren’t all rhetorical, you need to answer the question.
What made it happen, what was the root cause? Are you brave enough to analyze the situation from beginning to end, to truly understand your fears and your anxieties? Are you brave enough to confront the child inside of yourself, the part of you that cries out for your mother, the part of you that cries out for acceptance, the part of you that cries out for forgiveness? The part of you that wants to be wrapped in a warm blanket and have your hair stroked by your mother?
When’s the last time you sat down and had a full conversation with that person? When’s the last time you acknowledged their existence?
I haven’t spoken to mine in a long time. Instead, I’ve spent time focusing on my anger, focused on the effects of my situations instead of the cause. I’ve felt sorry for myself, wallowed in my self pity. What was I afraid of? What was I afraid to confront in the depths of my own subconscious? I experienced fear because that little boy, deep down inside of me, would be disgusted by the man he had become. He would be disgusted about what I was, the monster I had let myself be. He would be abhorred by the actions that I had let myself take, time and time again.
He would be angry.
So fucking angry, at what my life is, about my inability to deal with my own problems, at the way I treated my friends, at the way I treated my family.
I could ask that young man at my core for forgiveness, to let me repent. I could tell him I would show him how I’d do it. I need his acceptance, crave his acknowledgement. It’s the only way I can become me again, the only way I can put myself back together. That little boy at my core, his principles gave him strength. His knowledge of right and wrong would turn that little boy, who never had a mother, into a fucking colossus inside of me. What was there to be afraid of though?
I had betrayed that little boy’s trust, and he wouldn’t forget, wouldn’t forgive. I had changed him, betrayed the fundamental core of our relationship, all for personal gain time and time again, to get ahead, to satiate my selfish desires.
I had looked over the one thing that was the most important to appease the little boy that the man had grown into.
What was there to be afraid of from a conversation?
They had driven straight through the day. Clay reclined in the passenger seat while Alek handled the driving, the check points, and the general insanity of a war torn country. The truth was, they didn’t have much of a choice. It wasn’t like the country was operating like normal, most of the large hotels were closed. A shortage of workers caused by the fleeing refugee crisis.
As they approached the towns closer to Kyiv, the damage of the invasion became more apparent. The faces of buildings were strewn across roadways. Trees, completely uprooted from the ground or torched down to the stump, littered the scenery. Clay tried to keep his eyes closed and focus on anything besides what was outside, but it was impossible with the carnage. All of the pain, all of the loss, watching the chaos from the comfort of the climate controlled box.
It was shocking.
“Can we go see it?” Clay asked, his arms sat crossed across his massive chest. There was nowhere else to put them in the small Checkoslavakian sedan. As he glanced out of the corner of his eye, he could only see Alek’s face briefly between the passing headlights. The confused expression told him that he needed to clarify.
“The war, can we go see it?” he sat up, pulling the lever on the side of the cloth seat. Alek grimaced; he was charged with getting The Behemoth of High Octane into Kyiv safely, and making sure he stayed safe until War Games. The idea of a field trip into Donetesk was out of the question.
“You think that’s a good idea Mr. Byrd?” Alek asked back. He knew the big man wasn’t going to listen to his objections. But he was pretty sure Clay could crush his skull between his hands, and a bullet would be a more pleasant way to go.
“No, it’s prolly not…” For a moment the big man thought better of it, but as they rounded a bend, he saw another scene of destruction. A building reduced to its foundation, the rubble around it enormous. “… But I need to.”
“They probably won’t let us into the war zone, but maybe a field hospital or something…?” Alek sighed. He had to mitigate this as best he could. Showing up with a dead Clay Byrd would make part of Lee Best happy, but it would probably also mean that guy with the fifty inch shoulders would rip him in half and use him as a baseball bat to hit his steroid pinata.
“That works, whatever ya think they’ll let us do. I’m not a big fan of being restrained,” The Behemoth grimaced. He rubbed his cuffed wrists. He’d been restrained against his will more than once recently; the match against The Board, and, most recently, in a refugee camp.
“I’ll make some calls, let people know we’re coming this time,” the thick Polish accent didn’t hide his uneasiness, but it was enough to humor Clay. “I’ll keep driving, you go back to sleep before you send me all the way to Russia.”
“I’d choke Putin with my hands if he was close enough,” Clay smirked.
Alek said the only thing he could think of before Clay had any more ideas. “I know.”
I looked at him, his steel blue eyes looking into mine. He couldn’t have been much more than eleven at that point. I knew he was shocked by the crows feet that had formed on his own face, the years of wear and tear astonishing him. His tiny hand ran down my bearded face, grabbing at it and pulling it up almost into a ball.
“Hey, that hurts,” I said. The young man smiled and shrugged his shoulders. He had the same long blonde hair as his Dad. It only went down to his shoulders, the kids at school teased him for it. He didn’t care; he wanted to look like his Dad. It’s why he wore cowboy boots every chance he could, why he wore flannel shirts even when it was 90 degrees in the summer.
“You hurt me a lot too,” his little voice dug into Clay’s emotions. His small hands worked their way down to Clay’s. He held the cinder block sized mitt up to his own and smiled.
“They look like Dad’s,” I couldn’t help it. I started to tear up. He was right, they did look like my father’s hands. Well I guess our father’s hands. He punched me in the collarbone and tested my base, like my Dad would have.
“Strong,” He walked around, looking me over. I stood up, towering over him. “And big.”
“Puberty is a weird time,” he smiled at me. He already knew, I don’t know why I bothered talking. The eleven year old was clearly in control here.
“You’ve done a lot of bad things,” he knew how to cut to the core. He pulled the blonde hair back out of his face and looked me in the eyes.
“I did them for us.” I said, knowing it was a lie. He knew just as well as I did. He looked down at the plain white ground. The room, whatever this was, was stark white. There were no smells, I couldn’t taste anything. There was nothing in the room but the two of us.
“No, you did them for you.” He kept his eyes glued to the floor, I heard a sniffle come from underneath his blonde mop. “We were supposed to be a good guy.” It came out as a whimper.
I tried to put my arms around him but he stepped back away from my outreached arms. He looked up at me again, tears streaming from his eyes. “I’m a good guy now,” the words struggled to come out, but I was able to croak them out through my own tears. He shook his head emphatically. I knew that he knew I was lying.
“Good guys don’t burn down buildings, they don’t try to kill people, they aren’t… they aren’t us. They aren’t what we are. Whatever it is that we are.”
“Dad said sometimes good guys have to do bad things,” I said to him. We remembered the moment in the living room like it was yesterday. The tube television showing the invasion of Kuwait and Iraq. Operation Desert Storm. There were explosions on television, missiles shooting off from boats. I had asked him why, why was all of this happening.
“You thought that was bull crap then,” he said, looking down. He was right; I did. My young brain was unable to comprehend that some people couldn’t be reasoned with, that sometimes, the people in power were so corrupt, so evil, that to help everyone else, we had to inflict pain on an entire nation.
“You don’t understand, kid, this isn’t a place for a hero,” I said to the younger version of myself.
His head stayed pointed down towards the ground but he walked closer again. “Then why are we here?” He asked, and he was right. I had renewed that contract for purely selfish reasons. I believed that someone could change the place, believed someone could take Michael Lee Best to his knees, make him grovel and beg.
“Because we’re supposed to be,” That’s the only reason I could rationalize why I had done it. Why I had put my name on that sheet of paper last December. My arm in a cast, unsure if I could compete at Iconic 2021. I had to try to stop all of it, the nonsense, the corruption, the evil. People couldn’t get hurt like I had been. “… Someone has to stop it.”
“Do you think you can?” There was a long pause, every attempt I had made at trying to stop the machine, the gears just kept grinding away. They ground away at me, just like last year, the newest version of The Best Alliance hiding under another moniker promised riches and rewards to whoever helped them suppress the revolt. The cycle struggled forward. I took a deep breath and swallowed hard. There was no lying in this room. There was no getting away from the truth.
“I do. But I’ll have to do some very bad things because this is a very bad place…” I reached out and he pulled away again. Keeping me at a distance. Almost like he didn’t trust me, and to be fair, I don’t know how much I trusted myself.
“How do you know?” His hopefulness, my hopefulness, it was still in there. It may be broken, it may be buried, but it was still there.
“Sometimes bad things are the only things bad people understand,” I said, hoping to make some sense. Mike Best, Lee Best, all of them. They didn’t understand tough conversations, didn’t understand anything they didn’t want to hear. They never had, and they never would. I pointed to my arm, hoping he would understand what I meant. “That’s just the start of it. That’s just what they did to me. They hurt my friend Jatt, hurt his wife, took his family away. This is what they do to people. This is why, and I need to know, I HAVE to know, what I’m doing is right.”
“Okay.” He walked closer, I kneeled down, shocked.
“Okay?” I asked him again, to make sure.
“You said it’s a bad place. Dad said good people have to do bad things sometimes so good people can live good lives.” He walked up to me, within arms reach. I didn’t dare reach out to him, not yet.
“Am I a good person?” I asked him, I needed something. I don’t know why I needed some form of absolution from my younger self, but in that moment I ached for it. The tears running down my face pleaded with him.
“We’ll find out.” He hugged me, and then he was gone, and I woke up with the sun coming through the passenger side window of the car. I thrashed awake, my arm flying, my guide recoiling in the driver’s seat. The white room was gone, the hellscape of war having returned outside of the window.
“Glad you’re up. You were talking in your sleep,” Alek said with a smile. He looked over at me, the dark circles under his eyes showed me how exhausted he was. “You asked me if you were a good person?”
“Don’t ever talk about that again.”
“Or what?” I heard a little voice somewhere deep down inside. I whispered to it in my own thoughts.
Nothing. I would do nothing.
The Tag Team Championship, a belt with a history. It’s not the #97RED, it’s not the Icon title, it’s not the LSD championship. But it’s a championship with a pedigree. It’s been held by some of the best in the entire world, but you can’t hold onto it by yourself. You can’t hold the Tag Team Championship as a solo act. It’s impossible. You need to band together with a friend, with a brother, and hold on for the ride.
The ups and downs, the struggles as a team, you have to watch your friend go through pain and cheer them on, plead with them to give that little bit extra. You have to be as good of a cheerleader as you are a wrestler. You have to be able to make someone believe in themselves so that the two of you can overcome anything that’s put in front of you.
At least that’s what I always thought it meant. Teams with belief held onto the titles, teams that believed in each other more than the other team believed in themselves. Men who were willing to push themselves and each other through a physical test beyond what singles competition is. That’s what I wanted that moment to be for Steve and I, that’s what I wanted my first title reign to be in High Octane Wrestling. I wanted to be in a contest with my brother against two men we’d be proud to say we had beaten. Two men we could truly test our resolve against. I wanted that conflict, I wanted that fight. I needed that fight.
I needed to hear Steve cheering me on, I needed to cheer him on, I needed to fight against two warriors at once to help him. I needed him to be willing to do that for me. We needed to bleed together again in search of a greater purpose. In search of some kind of meaning. We had to set a positive example for little Scotty because lord knows his father wasn’t going to.
You took all of that away from us.
You selfish fucks couldn’t let us have our moment. You knew Arthur Pleasant and Roberts couldn’t get the job done in the middle of that ring. You knew that Steve Solex and Clay Byrd were going to bring hell to that ring like The Devil’s Dickheads had never witnessed, and you knew that we were going to walk out of that arena with the titles slung over our shoulders. The Highwaymen were going to claim victory that night, and pluck another title away from The Board’s iron grip.
You pricks couldn’t let us have that. You couldn’t let us have that feeling of victory, you couldn’t let us walk out of Philadelphia with that momentum. You couldn’t let us have that belief. Another mind game from The Board. Another opportunity to rob us of something we deserved. We deserved to celebrate that night, we deserved to look at each other and realized we had really achieved something special.
Who did I beat in my first title win in High Octane Wrestling? Some guy who isn’t on the roster beat the fuck out of some other guy who isn’t on the roster anymore, and rolled him into the ring. I didn’t even want to take it, I didn’t even fucking want these stupid titles. It was just reflexes, it was confusion that I even pinned Arthur. I never wanted this. I don’t want your fucking hand out. I don’t want your fucking title. Not until I earn it, not until we earn it.
You all fucking ruined that, from Michael Lee Best all the way down. Any of you fucks who sat in the back with him that day, any of you dickheads who laughed about it. Jace Parker Davidson probably giggled to himself about it while he sat there with his thumb implanted in Mike Best’s ass. America probably had a laugh over Solex’s first title win being that way. STRONK was probably still trying to figure out how to lace his boots and you guys ruined it while Scottywood was trying to get Carey’s dick out of his ass fast enough so he didn’t shit himself when he laughed. You pompous fucks. You jealous little pricks.
You’re all going to pay.