The house is suspiciously quiet.
She walked through the front door and was met with absolute silence, not the ticking of a clock, not the whirring of the air conditioning, not the low buzz of appliances, or anything else.
Phyllis stepped in and her heels clicked against the oak floors as she walked forward. Time and time again she had managed his emotions after a tough match, a tough loss. Things were infinitely different this time.
She didn’t know how he would react anymore.
She watched as his mind descended deeply into something she couldn’t understand, but she was in this far too deep. No turning back now. Almost two decades of her life had been dedicated to his care. Technically, to his business affairs, but in truth much, much more. She had done her best to navigate the circumstances. She walked into rooms and heard him talking to no one. She found trinkets and baubles from the past with no rhyme or reason. She saw him sitting at tables or desks and scrawling out some scribbled child-like drawing or note.
And, all of this happened with a World Championship match on the horizon.
The office was pissed off, of course, and not just Lee Best. Dan had been nowhere to be found for the entire month plus before the match against Mike at ICONIC, no promotion, no speeches, nothing to prime the audience for an inevitable clash of titans. Just complete, desolate silence. Mike had been silent, too, but even if he hadn’t been, it wouldn’t have made any difference. And, it was for the best. He wasn’t at home resting. She had tried in vain to explain the lack of appearances for him, to try and keep things peaceful. But telling them about inpatient psychiatric treatment was out of the question.
This wasn’t a bad day. This wasn’t just some minor mental health checkup. Other things had begun to emerge, other personalities, personas created somewhere deep in his mind from trauma, or circumstance, or, in a scarier proposition, from genetics. Maybe it was there all along waiting to be triggered. After all, it had happened before, just not like this.
Walking toward the main hall, she trained her eyes on the huge wooden door at the end of the corridor, and the faint smell of something similar to a sort of sweet tobacco, a sickly sweet aroma, reached her nostrils. Approaching the door and placing her hand on the doorknob, she collected herself, then opened it.
She was wholly unprepared for what she saw, and she froze in place.
Behind his desk, in the huge custom-made leather chair there, Dan Ryan was sitting comfortably. He was leaned back casually, one leg crossed over the other, and he was staring straight at Phyllis. She watched him for a moment, then let her eyes move around the room. She was looking for, well, she wasn’t sure what she was looking for. Something out of place maybe, something to give her some indication of what she was walking into. Nothing was amiss, however. No strange carvings on the wall. No words were hastily written on anything. He was just sitting there, a determined, serious scowl on his face, unmoving.
She finished her visual tour of the room, cautiously taking slow steps to traverse the large space between the door and desk.
Stopping maybe three or so feet from the leading edge, she tested the waters a bit.
“I see you’re on another collision course with Michael.”
If he moved, she couldn’t perceive it, but his voice came anyway.
“Cancer Jiles first.”
Phyllis nodded slightly. “So I’ve heard. And if you win this match, another main event.”
“Yes”, he responded, still unmoving.
She looked down just a bit, then raised her head and allowed her gaze to absent-mindedly glimpse the view through the ceiling-to-floor windows. It was a cool February morning, and the scenery looked as quiet and serene as the house had seemed.
“How have you been feeling? You didn’t say two words after the last match with Michael, and then you did nothing but curse and insult people for the first four rounds of this… tournament.”
“I’m feeling fine, Phyllis.” He snarled but otherwise continued to stare a hole right through the middle of her forehead. “And why shouldn’t I be, after all? I’m destined to do this forever most likely. I will fight, and talk shit, fall down and get back up, and keep coming until I’m in the grave. I’m feeling as well as I can feel.”
Her eyes softened just a bit, and she closed them, sighing, before opening them again and asking the question.
“And have you had any… visitors come by lately?”
“What do you mean? Who would visit who wouldn’t subsequently have their brains splattered on my wall?”
She ignored the graphic nature of his response and pushed on.
“I was wondering if…. Well, I was wondering if you’d spoken to Cecilia recently.”
A look of confusion came over his face. “What do you mean?”
Phyllis winced. Treading the line of this topic was dangerous.
“Has she come by to see you?” She tilted her head slightly, quizzically.
She watched a rather sly, creepy grin started to spread across his face.
“I’m sorry. Cecilia Ryan isn’t able to take your call right now. Please leave a message and I’ll call you right back.”
Phyllis’ mouth stood agape, and she wanted to reply but was cut off.
“I’m sorry. Cecilia Ryan isn’t able to take your call right now. Please leave a message and I’ll call you right back.”
He repeated the words, a blank, emptiness in his expression. Phyllis slowly started backward, and jumped when he suddenly rose to his feet and screamed in a thundering voice…
“I’M……… SORRY……. CECILIA RYAN……. ISN’T ABLE……TO TAKE YOUR CALL RIGHT NOW……PLEASE……LEAVE A MESSAGE…..AND I’LL CALL YOU…… RIGHT……. BACK……. PHY-LLIS.”
She froze, and he stood there, hands forward as he leaned on the desk, a disgusted rage in his eyes. They flashed something especially dark just then, and he slowly started tilting his head forward and down. Phyllis composed herself and hurriedly retreated.
Backing through the door, she watched him as he slowly, methodically, lowered himself back down into his chair, crossed one leg over the other, and stared.
Are you sure, Jiles?
Are you sure I can’t beat you?
I’ve forever not thought very much of your aloof mannerisms and dumb smile, but most of all right now, I’m feeling a deep existential dread over fighting you again, and certainly not because I “can’t win”.
I’m dreading this because I already did win. We had our rematch, and I won it. You fought hard, you were tough, then I elbowed you in the face and you almost died. You laid there on the mat after the three count for a solid five minutes straight. I caught you pretty good, so maybe you legitimately don’t remember that loss. I don’t really know. But what I do know is that I’m just not as amped up about this match as I would be if I hadn’t already beat you, buddy. Yeah I don’t like you, and yeah you’re in the midst of another of your famous ‘I suddenly give a shit about my job’ stretches, but Refueled XXXVIII happened, so I’ve already seen this movie, and I already know how it’s gonna end.
I’d probably wanna forget that if I were you, too, but Pepperidge Farm remembers.
No matter what happens between you and me, you’re going to go to March to Glory, and you’re going to give us all the big underdog performance of the year against Mike. You might even get some super-duper close-call pin attempts on him. But ultimately, in the end, as he always does, Mike will find the right time, fire a knee into your temple, and put you out of your misery. Then, you’ll spend the next six months spinning your wheels, jotting down new egg puns to use, taking a pottery class, or whatever the hell you do when you go through your next disrespectful “insulting the business through lazy work” phase, again. It’s a pretty regular cycle for you really, and it goes back years and years. Your trip down memory lane through the Best Arena was super inspiring and all, but I have no reason to believe you’re any different now.
You’re the Simple Jack of the wrestling world, Jiles. A bit of a savant, but a sure bet to eventually fall flat on your face into a pile of shit. You want everyone to think you’ve got this all under control like you’ve got it figured out, but next to me, you’re like one of those sign language gorillas that can ask for grapes.
You’ve never been one of my favorite people, anyway. For years I’ve regarded your very existence as a monument to all the rancid genes and broken chromosomes that corrupt the possibilities of this sport. You’ve become a foul caricature of yourself, a man with no soul, no inner convictions, with the integrity of a malefactor and the style of a poison toad.
I am fairly unrepentant about the things I have done and the things I will do in the future, and I feel absolutely nothing for your goals and ambitions, as I find them to be a shallow representation that acts as a facade of courage and talent that is easily swept away when your interest wanes, or you’re distracted because the McRib is back.
I’d love to take you up on, or even entertain your ‘options’ for me, but unfortunately, I have recently become allergic to pointless bullshit, and everything about you right now is giving me a fucking sneezing fit.
I’m sure you thought it was worth your time to try and reason with me, to try and convince me to ignore everything about you, and despite being close friends with Mike Best, choose to let you walk away this weekend without so much as a limp to remember me by. Maybe it’s not as deep as all that and you just needed a time filler. I don’t know. I do know that it suits my own interests more if I were to beat you this weekend, then let you and Mike battle it out to start March to Glory, and take on what’s left of Mike in the cage. Intriguing, really. Of course, if I lose again, I lose to a weakened World Champion (saying this because you’re definitely not winning), and that would be embarrassing.
Truth is, I’m in a weird position here, Jiles. I fucking hate losing. I hate it more than I hate anything else. I hate it more than Bobby Dean hates pilates. I hate it more than MJ Flair loves jazz. I hate it more than Lee Best hates his children. I hate it more than Rah loves the sun. And the truth is, I’ve come to a point here in my journey where I have beaten everyone who has been put in my path, on my second try occasionally sure, but beaten them nonetheless — all except for Mike Best.
In fact, I’ll take this one step further than that.
He’s the only person in my entire twenty-five-year career who has forced me to re-evaluate everything I know about this sport, to reinvent myself, to train in new ways, and wrack my brain for new strategies… to have a chance of defeating him. My loss to him in the Lee Best Invitational last year opened my eyes. It has been the biggest turning point of my wrestling career, without exaggeration.
At your absolute best, you almost beat him for the World Championship. Almost. You fired your shot, you struck a glancing blow, and now you have to try and take another shot, fire your rounds, only now he’s ready and waiting for you, and he will not underestimate you again.
I won’t underestimate you either, because while your memory fails you, I remember well when you withstood everything I had, took powerbomb after powerbomb, took a Headliner, and kicked out. The moment when you rolled me up for that three count was the second biggest turning point in my career. I will never forget it, and to tell the truth, I owe you a great debt of gratitude for it. You brought me to the lowest point, and I had to dig deep and ask myself if I really have what it takes to keep doing this.
Swinging my elbow months later and knocking your lights out was one of the most satisfying moments of my life, and for what it is, that’s what it’s come to. This is how it is. I am reborn, Jiles, and the version of me that you once beat no longer exists, any more than your chances of being World Champion exists. I am moving beyond you, beyond your trite, scatterbrained nonsense. I have no use for you, and the consequences of this match are little more than a mild inconvenience. Either way, I have to figure out how to beat Mike Best, and you do too, and neither of us has any reason to legitimately believe we can.
So save your machinations. Save your jokes and your smirk. Save it for someone who gives a fuck, Jiles.
Because I absolutely, 100%…. don’t.
It’s good to be back home.
I’m writing this again because the doctor said I should, that I must. I feel like a junior-high-aged girl, jotting down my deepest secrets and thoughts in my journal. Might as well draw some daisies on the front.
But I’m home, and I’m trying to get a better grip on things.
I got some disturbing news a few weeks ago.
Phyllis told me that Cecilia had been studying abroad for the last six months. She’s been in Paris this whole time. I have no memory of this. I have stark, vivid memories of caring for her, of her being by my side, helping me through these violent, unpredictable changes in my head. I brought her food every day, spoke to her, even fought alongside her, and yet I’m told that it never happened.
Phyllis has been invaluable to me. There’s no way that everything around me wouldn’t crumble into dust without her, and yet at the same time, I recently very much wanted to claw her face right off of her skull.
I don’t know what to make of this. None of it makes any sense. The memories are as vivid as the room around me now. It’s terrifying to think that I lost six months, that I acted without thinking, that only parts of my recollections even exist. I’ve come to know a very lonely and empty existence now — it’s painfully true. I go through the motions, I fight, I talk shit, laugh and smile, skip and dance, but behind my face, there is hollowness like a bottomless pit. The living dead, depression is a terrible illness, so is psychosis, mentally inflicted beyond cure.
I remember thinking last year, that I felt like I was on the verge of a psychotic break. Let it be said that one of the first symptoms of psychosis is that the person feels perhaps he is becoming psychotic. But what to do with this information? I don’t know. Relief seems no closer. My job lets me hide much of this. I’m supposed to be violent. I’m supposed to defeat opponents with surgical precision. That’s always been me. Or has it? I’m not sure anymore.
What has tormented me ever since this revelation was given to me is this: suppose it was not a hallucination? Suppose she was as I saw her, child-like, primal, an artificial construct, a machine, replicated from a progenitor who instilled these things in her? If that had been the case, then there was no psychosis. Instead, I have thought, again and again, it was more on the order of a vision, a glimpse of absolute reality, with the facade, stripped away. And it was so crushing, so radical an idea, that it could not mesh with my ordinary views. And the mental disturbance had come out of that. Was everybody seeing all of it and acting as though they weren’t? Or was it the other way around?
There will be time for this later. I need to win. I can’t fail. The tapestry of my psyche is held loosely together by these outcomes, and I’m afraid of what might happen if things go bad. I’m afraid now, knowing that when the moment comes, and the switch is flipped, I’ll regret nothing, fear nothing. I won’t be afraid of what might happen. I’ll just make things happen.
I envy you with your simple life.
I did the worst thing imaginable by joining up with people as fucked up as I am. We formed the fellowship of the ring when we should’ve all just gone on medication.
I wonder if being sane means disregarding the chaos that is life, pretending only an infinitesimal segment of it is reality.
I hope I didn’t do this to myself.
Nobody sane wants to disappoint himself intentionally.