I’m not proud of myself.
Ya know the only thing worse than telling your loved ones that you fell to a temptation that once held you hostage?
Not having to tell them.
Sure, he never directly mentioned it, but I saw it in his eyes. I heard it behind those first words that slipped through his once puckered lips during our post-match rendezvous with RICK.
“Fuck. That wasn’t as easy as I thought it was going to be.”
My brother in bond, and fellow co-founder of the Bandits, is typically more blatant about such matters. From there he quickly pivoted to Jack Harmen’s surprising, blast-from-the-past performance.
I know why, too. He was hoping I wouldn’t notice the way he looked at me when he said it.
But I did.
I was never supposed to climb that ladder. Not unless it was to save him from himself. And only to protect our chances of going into No Remorse in good health so we can take our tag titles back.
That was the whole plan going in.
Plan D, we called it.
Very different from Plan Z.
Like I stated last week, and reinforced with my thoughts on what the LSD title’s acronym represented, no part of me intended to win that ladder match.
Then it happened.
At first, I convinced myself that me being on that ladder with Jiles was better than Hughie or Jack. However, those perseverent pricks finally figured out that they had to work together to win. So they stood up a ladder right beside us. If it weren’t for the newest Bandit, the Three Word Warrior, we were finished. Instead Righteous RICK caught us on our way down and, with a mighty push, sent us back up and into Mr. Alcatraz and The Artist Formerly Known as High Flyer. As they crashed back down into obscurity, I should’ve jumped off our ladder and prepared to celebrate yet another in a long string of impressive victories belonging to the Nail of the Bandits.
But is that what I did?
Of course not.
I fucking relapsed.
Everything I’ve learned from Kostoff. All the lessons that changed my outlook, and for the most part, my fortune at High Octane Wrestling… all forgotten as I got high on the thought of getting another shot at Cecilworth.
I still owe him a boot in the bum from last year.
The look in Cancer’s eyes, as he waited for me to jump down, when I threw that first punch… I’ve seen that look in my dreams every night since last Saturday.
You see, I committed two crimes in that fleeting moment. I deviated from our agreed upon plan. And I betrayed a Bandit’s trust. No. Even worse, I betrayed my best friend’s trust.
That thumb in my eye and the yolk on my face were the least I deserved for my treachery. That’s the post match statement Cancer really wanted to make. And he would’ve been spot on, too.
However, I know the best cure for regret is redemption. The only way to make up for my mistake is to not make another one. Sure, I could’ve looked my pal straight in the T-shades and apologized with a tucked tail. But I know actions speak louder than words. Come No Remorse, it’ll be time to act. I’m going to make sure we don’t just bring those tag titles home. No, no no…
After I’m done with the Bruvs, they’ll think twice about challenging us to get them back.
But before that?
I’ll be Harmen a hasbeen.
And even before that? Well, you’ll see.
In a room, On a couch
The Day After
I’m laid out on one of those couches. You know the kind. I’ve made a point to make fun of any who leverage the overused, how-to-deal-with-my-feels, cliche scenario in the past.
But here I lie. Not as my opponent continues to do every day, looking into mirrors, trying to convince himself he’s better off leaving his High Flyer persona behind. Suppressing the alter ego, the same one that led him to so much success over his illustrious career, like he’s Bruce Banner. No, I lie just as he did last week.. on a velvet, red couch. I’m in my usual 97RED jumper.
I look like hell. The blood is drained from my face like a junkie after going on a bender. With elbows pointing up, and each hand grasping the blond hair on my head, I stare at the ceiling above me.
But all I see is my friend’s frenzied face.
“This is fuckin’ stupid.” Sure, it’s something I’d say, but those aren’t my words.
The biting bark of the Beast rattles inside my mired mind.
I release a long, deep sigh.
“I know.” I snap to, popping up into a seated position, and place my elbows on my knees. “You just said no more Starbucks, or painting classes, and I really needed to ta-”
“No ya don’t.” His head cocks to the side like a curious canine. “You talk too much.”
He spits a loogie of disgust at my feet. I withhold the daggers trying to jump out of my eyes at him.
“Lee sucks dick?” The look from Kostoff says it all. Add another mistake to my list. “Were you fuckin’ high or something?”
I begin to respond, but he raises an open hand to stop me.
“I mean, you know I laughed my ass off at that shit.” Just as the faintest of smirks grows out the side of his mouth, he wipes it away. “But you don’t have to fucking say it. Not you. Not yet, at least. That dickhead holds on to shit like that.” His eyes squint as he tries to decipher my demeanor. “I watched the tapes. I saw what went down when he called you in at the end of the last show.”
Kostoff’s hesitates. Time slows to a crawl as I try to remember everything else I said a week ago.
“You’re fucked more than you know.” His words feel like nails. “When he’s mad, he lets you know.” He slowly shakes his head. “But when he doesn’t even want to bitch you out…”
The Beast glances down at the floor, then back up at me. I look back, through my fingers, as I hold back my face from falling off.
“You’re just lucky I’m going to kill the fucker at No Remorse.”
A small smile forms behind my heavy hands.
“Don’t.” Kostoff points at me like a teacher reprimanding a student. “I’m not doing it for your dumb ass. I’m doing it for me.” The pointed finger retracts as his thumb extends back toward his chest.
I remove my hands and plead, “So what do I do?”
My mentor scoffs.
My eyes question him so I don’t have to.
“You do the only thing you can do.”
He pauses a moment to let my mind wander.
“You beat the fuck out of Jack Harmen this Saturday.” The words raise one of my eyebrows. “Lee said he was giving him a chance at revenge.” Kostoff puffs a lungful of air sarcastically. “That schemey motherfucker has more on this match than that.”
I lean forward, now hanging on The Beast’s every word.
“He’s putting Harmen to the test. And you’re the test.” He sucks in his teeth, not wanting to voice the next few words. “Love him or hate him, the asshole’s smart as fuck. And he’s set this match up so he can’t lose. He either gets to watch Harmen humiliate you and put you back in your place, or have you do his dirty work and prove Jack’s got no right to be here once and for all.”
Now Kostoff leans forward for emphasis.
“I know it’s the opposite of what you wanted to hear from me today, boy.”
“But you gotta win.”
After HIS TIME
I swear if there was a thermometer in this damn room it’d be off the charts from all the hot air Jiles just blew in here while verbally dismantling the LSD Champ.
Thankfully, and somewhat ironically, it’s COOLing off quickly since he left.
And now you’ve got me.
In the same jumper I wore days before. Jiles gets dry cleaning almost every night. I just sneak my shit in there with his. The moronic Maestro always pipes up about making more money than I do.
Our salaries are the same, by the way.
But as long as he wants to play make believe. I’ll let him use that extra cash to pay for my laundry.
Anyway, there’s the fern.
The 97RED loveseat has that off-putting warmth of a recently occupied toilet seat.
The screen’s on, flashing highlights from High Flyer’s career.
It’s not lost on all of us. Especially the one GOD chose for you.
Beside the tv lies the portrait of Dan Ryan getting nailed.
And beside that?
That new picture. The one my best friend had made.
On top of the ladder.
A memory that hopefully stays just that.
Then myself, The Dooze, sitting on the throne. My eyes, typically filled with fire or electricity, exude a soothing warmth instead.
“Mister Harmen.” I calmly clear my throat. “I have to admit. When I first found out Lee chose me as the Bandit for you to extract your revenge, I didn’t love it.” Slowly shaking my head, I continue. “You see, in back to back occasions, our boss booked me first in a multi-man match… then followed it up with a singles bout against one of the same individuals from the last fight.”
A quick, nonchalant spit to my side. I am for the fern every time now.
“First it was Darin and Hollywood followed by a match with just Matthews. Then it’s the ladder match with my fellow Bandit, Hughie, and you. And now you, solo.” I roll my eyes. “You know what that says to me?”
I pause to let you answer, despite not being able to hear it.
“Well to me it means that, despite the outcomes from the tag win or being the closest to the contract other than the one who grabbed it…” I scratch my chin. “The only thing it could possibly mean is that GOD thinks Cancer’s carrying ME.”
I hesitate, regretting my future.
“Look I respect the hell out of you, man.” My eyes widen in an expression of sincerity. “And I mean that. Funny enough, that the one wrestler on this roster who hasn’t forgotten about the old High Flyer is the one picked to test your mettle.”
My neck twists until it cracks.
“So, with a heavy heart, I have to extend an apology that I hope you can accept. And it’s not the one you’re expecting.”
My head slowly shakes.
“I’m sorry I didn’t do my job last week and take you out earlier. Like Jiles and I planned.” I hang my head for a moment, but pick it back up and trudge on. “See, if I hadn’t become obsessed with the thought of winning that ladder match, we wouldn’t be in this mess. There wouldn’t have been a RICK interference. Or any questions in the end. So this booking might not have happened.”
A flame ignites behind my eyes.
“And I wouldn’t have to put another tick in your loss column.”
My right index finger points to the ceiling above me.
“HOWever, I think we can find a silver lining here.” The other hand raises and both open up, palms forward. “Now hear me out.” Deep breath. “I know, just as good as any around here, how it feels to struggle. But please, as someone who’s been through it, let me tell you… trying to forget what got you here isn’t the way to deal with it.”
I take a moment to let that process.
“Sure, when you get to this place, you have to adapt. I made the stubborn mistake of convincing myself that I didn’t have to, kinda like you did.” Head nods. “And like you, I lost. And lost. And lost.”
Both hands open upward to my side.
“And, just like you, I thought I had to make a drastic change.” The nodding turns to shaking. “But I didn’t. Thankfully, I found Kostoff. And he showed me that it wasn’t me that had to change. It was just my train of thought. And what a crazy train that was…”
“Don’t let High Octane erase your history. Figure out where you fit, then build on it. You didn’t get here out of luck. Just remember what exactly it was that did get you here, then put a shot of steroids in its ass.”
A short lived smirk is followed by one final, heartfelt sigh.
“Come Saturday, Jack because I like you. No. Strike that.” I sternly snap out of that thought, catching myself. “Because I loved High Flyer, I’m going to help you on this journey.”
I stand from the loveseat.
“I’m going to beat you down so bad, all those self defense mechanisms you’ve learned from Clarissa to keep Flyer won’t have a leg to stand on.”
I bring both hands to the top of my jumper, grabbing the zipper just under my chin.
“I believe in you.. At least the part of you being locked up deep down inside your lunatic self. That’s why I have to do this. I can’t stand by and watch The Machine cold press you into the next Darin Matthews.”
The zipper descends down my torso.
“I’m going to burn you down, so you can emerge from the flames anew.”
Unzipped, I throw my jumper back off my person.
“Time for your relapse.”
Underneath is an all black t-shirt, with white and green alternating text.
SPREAD YOUR WINGS HIGH FLYER
I let the jumper flutter to the floor, and without another word, I turn toward the door and leave.
Just before the feed cuts, you see the back of the shirt, in the same font as the front.
JACK HARMEN’S FOR THE BIRDS