“Mostly it is loss which teaches us about the worth of things” – Arthur Schopenhauer
Early evening, around dinner time, which is to say around 7:30pm.
Dan Ryan was still at the warehouse by Belleau Lake, hours after Mike Best left, exhausted, but still pushing through a workout solo with the equipment at the other end of the warehouse. Sweat poured down over his heavily muscled frame as he picked up a large hundred-pound medicine ball and launched it into a padded wall, where it then thudded to the ground.
“You gonna come up for air?”
The familiar voice of Lindsay Troy had her trademark snark, but Dan didn’t turn to look at her. He took a deep breath though, and picked the medicine ball up one more time, and launched it at another wall.
“Don’t worry.” He glanced up, just slightly. “I’ve been breathing.”
Dan Ryan was a known workaholic, but this was extreme, even for him. He’d spent hours preparing for matches before, obviously. Lindsay looked at the Apple watch on her wrist.
“Have you taken a break at all since we started earlier this afternoon?”
He paused. “Do you consider walking from the ring over there to the stuff over here to be a break?”
“No.” She looked back at the ring momentarily, then back to where he stood.
His expression stayed the same, other than perhaps an eye blink or two.
“I haven’t taken a break, then.”
“How many times are we gonna go through this?” She sat down on a nearby weight bench, crossed one leg over the other. “We’re both workaholics, I get it. But you’ve always taken it to an extreme and it hasn’t exactly gotten us a whole lotta anywhere here.”
He didn’t really react to the sentiment but paused just enough to look at her and then back down at the ground, his hands on his hips.
“I’m not even sure this is about preparation, to be honest. I just…”
This piqued her interest. “You just what?”
He shook his head, as if shaking off a thought or some fleeting feeling, and turned around. He approached a metal bar across the opening on one of the large rolling doors at this end of the warehouse and jumped up, grabbing the bar and pulling himself up.
In rapid succession he completed a few dozen chin-ups, then dropped back down, rolling his shoulders and stretching out his arms a bit.
Troy sat, patiently, her expression making it clear she was expecting an answer to her query.
“I uh… “ He grabbed a towel from another rack strategically placed on the wall and wiped his eyes with it, slowly making his way over to her. “I was talking to Mike this morning about setting up the training session today and he just… well, something he said… I dunno, something about it’s been gnawing at me ever since. I’m not really sure why.”
“If it was something insightful, that would be a first,” she smirked.
He didn’t chuckle, didn’t smile. He had a look on his face that seemed almost like he didn’t even register the emotion in her voice, like he was already somewhere else, only present on the surface, instead of really hearing what she was saying.
“Nothing like that. It was just some story about when he was a teenager or something. I dunno, he was hesitant to tell it. I’m not really sure what’s bothering me about it. All I know is, I came here, we trained, and then I trained with Mike, then you both left, and I couldn’t stop. I came over here, and I’ve been here doing this ever since.”
He looked her dead in the face as if seeing her there for the first time.
“And I feel like I have to keep doing it. I don’t know why.”
“Alright,” she said, standing up for the moment. “Our offspring are outside because I thought I could get us all out for dinner but you’re in no state for the public. I’m sending them out for food.”
Lindsay jogged over to the door and disappeared outside. Dan took her seat on the bench and waited. He eyeballed a stack of plates. He thought it might stack them on the sled and pull them across the building a couple of times. He thought he might grab one for some core work. He thought he might do anything but sit here and stare at nothing. His mind was buzzing, like an insect flying too close to his ear, then flying away, only to return and return until he went insane.
He heard the sound of a car engine starting and tires crunching under gravel. After a couple of minutes, Lindsay returned. “Alright.” She stopped in front of him and, naturally, her hands went to her hips. “Nothing ever eats at you like this, Dan. Spill it, and don’t give me your usual deflection bullshit.”
He closed his eyes, and sighed, deeply. This is usually where he’d push away, but he didn’t even know why he would push, didn’t understand any of it at all.
“I told you. I don’t even know what’s bothering me. I just know I haven’t been able to shake it.”
She sat back down. “You can start by telling me what Mike said.”
He waved dismissively. “I mean, it was nothing really. I guess, apparently, he came to a show in Jersey back in ‘04 while I was CSWA champ, he saw me beat Hornet and he waited outside to see me. I stopped and said hello, gave him some advice… he wouldn’t say what it was… and that’s it. He said it’s the reason he became a wrestler.”
She was taken aback, legitimately.
“Mike said that?”
“Yeah.” He looked off a bit, then closed his eyes. There was a shot of pain through his knee, but he pushed it away. “He wasn’t comfortable with it, but I guess… I don’t know. I guess he just wanted me to know. It’s fine. Why would that bother me?”
Lindsay’s brows furrowed, her lips upturned slightly on one side. Classic thinking face. A few seconds ticked by and her eyes went wide. Hands covered her mouth. “Oh my God,” she managed to muffle, then looked at Dan. Her left hand grabbed his bicep. “Danielle.”
He snapped out of whatever his mind was doing to him in an instant, and the noise in his head snapped to nothing like he was suddenly in a vacuum, and he zeroed in on that one name.
“What did you say?”
“2004,” Lindsay replied and sensed her voice softening. “You’d just gone back on the road with the belt after she died.”
Like that, emotions came rushing in. It was there, with the mentioning of one name, that a door opened in his mind, and memories he wished would stay buried came rushing to the surface. Drunk driver. Blown red light. The post-show phone call…
His eyes closed again, out of habit, a nervous habit he’d developed when he tried to shovel dirt over the top of her memory, like the day he had to watch them shovel dirt on…
He blew his breath out, opened his eyes slowly.
The rush in his mind started to calm. The walls, so carefully built over the years, rose to meet their purpose. They held back the flood, as it were.
“I guess it makes sense. You know, Mike asked me when I was leaving his office this morning… he said, ‘why did you stop and talk to me?’… he said he’d never stop and bother to give advice to a fan. I didn’t remember why…. But now I do. I remember… I had reverted back to my instincts. I put my head down, I worked. I plowed ahead. It’s all I knew how to do.”
He looked down, shaking his head slightly.
“But instincts aren’t there to help you be happy. They’re there to help you survive. I decided to change the way I did things. I made a conscious effort to be better, to be defined by more, to not let the loss of a child, not let her memory be defined by what it had done to me. Anyway… I started respecting the sport more. Respecting the people killing themselves around me every night more. I don’t know if it actually made me a better person. I’m not sure it made me any less of an asshole.”
He gave her a wry smile, one she returned.
“But, I decided to try being a little less selfish. Thinking of others…. It’s not my strong point.”
She let a little chuckle out. “You don’t say.”
He turned his head and looked at her, and smiled slightly.
“Anyway. It all happened around that time. Loosening up my schedule, taking fewer bookings. I opened Empire because I wanted to help, wanted to give back to the business. I started to do things I would’ve never dreamed of doing six months earlier.”
She nodded. “Like stopping to talk to a fan after a show?”
“Yes.” He smiled. “Like stopping to talk to a fan after a show.”
Moments passed, and they let the silence hang there for a bit.
“So…wait,” Lindsay finally said, the proverbial lightbulb having finally gone off. “We have you to blame for Mike Best?”
“Depends on who you ask.” He responded, unconvincingly. “Some might say we have me to thank for Mike Best.”
“Somehow,” she placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder, “I knew you’d find a way to make Mike Best Appreciation Month all about you.”
“As I said,” he shrugged with a smirk. “…only a little less selfish.”
“Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form.” – Rumi
Do you know why I just stare back at people like a bump on a log when they try to give me shit after a loss?
Probably not, for most of you.
Most of you have never thought more deeply than would fill a child’s inflatable pool.
If that seems condescending, it’s because it’s meant to be. I’m looking down on pretty much all of you.
Was our loss at March to Glory meant to send me reeling, to send me ranting and raving, wondering what oh Lord oh heavens me will I ever do, Beauregard?? Mah caree-uh is simpl-eh in tatt-uhs!
I’ve won an awful lot in my career. I’ve won an awful lot in my life in general. But I’ve suffered loss, too. Wide-eyed children grasp onto daddy’s leg for comfort when things get tough. They cling like chittering little birds hiding under a protective wing hoping to keep the drops of rain at bay.
I’ve been through the storms. I’ve been through them, walked with my head held high and came out the other side. I’ve stood in the middle of the ring with my hand held up in victory far more often than not, so forgive me if I grit my teeth and get back to work now.
This business — I watch people get into it, they work hard, they put in their time and pay their dues, and still, it spits them out. People think that hard work brings rewards.
Hard work is the bare minimum.
Hard work gets you in the door. A hard soul prepares you to stay inside.
Loss will bring change, whether you believe it so or not. Circumstances change, sure, but the human mind turns immediately to self-study if it is a mind worth having, and you build upon those losses the foundation that begets the next chapter in your career if you are worth your mettle to begin with.
Opportunities come and go.
Listen in any hall in the back of any arena where men and women like us compete on any night of the year and it won’t take long to head the whining, the sniveling, the poor woe is me mutterings of ne’er-do-wells complaining about their lack of opportunity, crying to anyone who will listen about how they aren’t getting a fair shake. They point at their betters and accuse them of calling in favors and leaning on friends, while they stay in the comfortable shadow of better men too cowardly to do anything about it themselves. Give me what I deserve, they say.
Take what they won’t give you, I say.
It’s so easy — so easy to point and smirk at men who have seen what they want and then done whatever is necessary to get it. It’s so convenient for you all to tell your little tales, your fables, to put on your designer suits and wear your cufflinks, and talk about what you think you should have, but lack the balls to take.
The mass of you are walking, talking billboards for mediocrity, yet you deign to show respect to those who truly deserve it.
But I don’t blame you. Blaming most of you would be like blaming a pig for not knowing how to do calculus, or blaming Perfection for not understanding nuance, or blaming Scott Stevens for not winning a match.
Some things in life you let slide to keep yourself sane.
And sometimes you just plow forward, because you realize that no matter what you say, no matter what you do and no matter how many times you do it, there will still be mouth breathing, witless cowards to wait for you to fail, only for you to continue forward again and shove it down their useless fucking throats.
We all make choices in life. We all face our crossroads, but this isn’t mine. I faced mine years ago. That choice… came years ago. I made my choice. I’m good with that. I’m at peace with it.
So I’m sorry, but this week is living proof of everything I believe in. Grieve for nothing. Anything you lose comes round in another form. If your name gets pulled and I’m standing across the ring from you, be afraid.
Or be stupid. Write me off. Go ahead. I dare you. Pull your numbers and take your shot.
Pray, and then you’ll sleep.
“The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.” – Molière
A dusty shelf in the back of the closet held a small row of trunks, the kind you might expect to find in an old movie, where a wide-eyed adventurer was packing to go off on some epic journey.
They were black, sturdy, and by the looks of the thin layer of dust on each one, hadn’t been touched in some time.
He opened the first, glanced at the others, but with this one he knew instantly what he would find inside, and he smiled.
The latch opened easily with a light click, and the lid swung open gently as he looked down, his eyes and mind beholden to memories, startling though they were the day before, which made him smile today.
His hand grasped the first thing on top, a photograph, of his only daughter at the time, and flipped it over, where he saw in a child’s scrawled handwriting, “Danielle, 5 Years Old.”
She was so proud of that photo, one she had taken at school as part of a parade to show off art the children had drawn. She had insisted on writing on the back herself.
He set it aside and saw a small stack of hand-drawn Father’s Day cards, each with a representation of ‘family’ in some form or another drawn on the front, or what the blind imagination of a little girl thought a family should be.
His mind started to rush again, and again he closed his eyes, tightly, and gripped the sides of the trunk so tightly that the material made a cracking noise under the strain. He pushed down in his mind, but it changed. It was different this time, and instead of burying it as deeply as he could, he let it surface. He didn’t fear it.
And he smiled.
The most difficult days of his life had come and gone long ago. They had tested him, almost broken him, sent him mentally and emotionally to depths he had never imagined.
But he had overcome, and he would overcome again. Compared to where he’d been, where he was going held nothing to inspire fear in him ever again.
He would face it head-on —