“You want to make GOD laugh, tell him your plans. Right?” – Barney Stinson
I’m disappointed. I’m injured. I’m broken.
My ego has been victim to an assault. My battered limb was stretched beyond its breaking point. My heart aches in a way I never thought a man would be capable of making it. The physical and mental abuse I’ve endured currently race one another, jockeying to be first in line for much needed self care.
I sit here alone, hunched over in agonizing confusion.
For starters, a woman barely out of her teen years made me…well simply put, made me her bitch out there tonight. That firecracker, who I have half a foot on and close to a hundred pounds, just outclassed, outsmarted, and outperformed me. I’d say she stole my chance to compete in the War Games main event, but you can’t steal what is rightfully yours.
MJ Flair is not an innocent lady though. Oh no. She most certainly is a thief. And she stole something from me tonight that can’t be given back: the foreseeable future. This limp limb that turns a darker shade of purple by the second was hanging on by a thread, and Mary Jane took it upon herself to snap it. She ruthlessly finished what Farthy started at March To Glory, and what other bastards like Max had targeted in the weeks that followed.
Honestly, I can’t blame her though. I’d have done the same provided the opportunity. It’s a necessary evil of our trade.
And lastly, the brotherly betrayal. The cold reality of the words scribed on the note I retrieved from the vacant locker beside mine…
Just like that. No conversation to be had. No attempt at diffusing that self destructing bomb once more. No heartfelt goodbye, or stray tear to be shed. All I’m left with is this dirty napkin scribbled on with Sharpie, pinched between the fingers of my good hand.
“Red is gone.” Grady’s voice cracks.
Looking up from the note in hand, Red’s trusted Irish businessman leans against the doorframe of the locker room. Tossing the napkin onto the floor to be swept up with the rest of this evening’s trash, all I offer is a nod.
“…and I’m leaving too.” He adds, his tone indicating my level of sadness should increase, but really, who gives a shit. If anything it lessens the blow of my childhood bestie running off into the night. Grady is a bit too much to deal with, even by my standards.
Again, I nod.
“…and those tights. I’m…I’m going to need them back…” He requests.
Tilting my head to the side, I can feel my face scrunch into the most awkward of expressions. “What?” Is all I manage to squeeze out.
“You see, they’re a pair…your’s and Red’s. I can’t return them individually…you know?”
Standing up from my chair, Grady mimics my movements, rising to his diminutive stature. Looking down at the Red and White…er…Candied Cardinal and Pearl tights, I’m reminded of what could have been. Red and Ted. High Octane Trailblazers. Looking back at Grady, that fantasy of the future disappears into thin air, a faint cloud of what ifs.
With the use of only one arm, I hook my thumb in the front waistband, yanking them down. I get as far as my cock flopping out before this unpleasant exchange is surprisingly interrupted.
“AHHEEM!” Is coughed out, loudly and with panic.
Snapping my head in the direction of the cry, a wide eyed Blaire Moise stands in utter disbelief. The cameraman positioned offcenter behind her does his best to look towards the ceiling, but I spot his wandering eye.
“Blaire Bear…when’d you get here?”
Her jaw drops, and words try to come out, but I’m met with stuttering nonsense.“I’ve been here the whole time!” She finally screams, trying to look anywhere but down south. “You requested this interview!”
“Oh yeah…my bad…”
“Put it away!”
“Ladies and gentlemen, history has been made here this evening! He once stood proudly at the peak of the mountain, only to plummet to the darkest valley. Any normal man would have accepted his fate, and called it quits. That’s not in Teddy Palmer’s DNA. He refused to toss in the towel, and has fought his way back to glory!”
On all fours, sweat beads up and drops to the canvas. My chest inflates then deflates rapidly, each deep breath accompanied with adrenaline coursing through my veins. Rocking back up onto my knees, I sink into my heels, staring out into the frenzied crowd. A hand grasps onto my wrist, and I look up at the official as he raises my hand, the crowd erupting.
“Your winner of the 2021 Lee Best Invitational, Teddy Palmer!” The outside ring announcers voice booms.
Stumbling to my feet, I stagger and fall into the ropes. Taking a moment to compose myself, I use the ropes to pull myself vertical, raising both hands high in the air, beaming with pride and validation.
What a road I travelled…
“I DID IT!” I roar. “I FUCKING DID IT!”
“Ted?…Ted.” A familiar voice calls out.
My eyes crack open slightly, everything a complete blur. I blink incessantly, searching for some clarity of my surroundings. A hand rests down on my right shoulder, prompting me to look in its direction. Slowly but surely, my vision locks in, focusing on the face staring down at me.
“Wakey wakey, eggs and bakey.” Bin says.
My left arm is bandaged, secured in a sling, and strapped tightly to my torso. My hospital gown has shimmied itself a bit high, leaving me to ponder why no one has taken it upon themself to pull it down. And lastly, disappointment sets in as there is no fucking eggs or bacon within sight or scent, Bin’s greeting turning out to be more cruel than cute.
“Surgery was a success. The Doc said there were no complications when reattaching your bicep, and encountered no additional damage to your shoulder.” He says, to little reaction on my part. “Best case scenario.”
“Best case scenario isn’t laying in this bed…” I sulk.
“Well this is the hand you’ve been dealt.” He begins. “So you can sit there and feel sorry for yourself or realize this is the moment you set your sights on a destination and begin your next journey.”
His words, slightly harsh to a man who literally just woke from major surgery, hit home and stick. It’s almost as if he was there with me in the dream world before I came crashing back to my new reality. Coincidence? When it comes to Bin, it’s hard to believe.
I can’t help but wonder…just a dream? Or quite possibly a sixth sense?
“LBI.” I mumble.
“Pardon?” Bin leans forward.
“I had a dream. It was…real.” My head sinks into my pillow. “I’m going to repeat…” I say knowing the task at hand will be much harder than simply stating it.
“Then do it. Invest every ounce of your energy going forward with that goal in mind. It’s much better than wasting it, loathing in self pity.” Bin states, encouragingly. “Besides, Sarah is excited to finally meet you and I don’t need you being a Debbie Downer.”
“Sarah?” I ask in confusion.
“Wait…you’re married?” I turn back towards Bin. “How come I’ve never heard about her before?”
“You never asked.” He says matter of factly. “It’s not like I kept it a secret, her picture is always on my nightstand at the hotel.
“That’s your wife! I thought that was just the stock photo that came with the picture frame.”
“Why…” Bin pulls his hands up to the side of his head, baffled. “Why would I possibly display a stock photo?”
“I figured you were lonely. I’ve been there. No judgement. Who am I to question your Asian ways?” I say, shrugging my useful shoulder. It’s at that moment it hits me. “Wait a minute…there’s a kid in that picture…”
“My son, Andy.”
“You have a son!?”
“Ted…when I’m not in Chicago five days out of the week…where do you think I am?”
“Honestly…a temple?…maybe a dojo…somewhere in Vietnam probably…”
“Well…that’s kind of racist.” He says, expecting no less. “First of all, I’m Korean. Secondly, I go home to my family, who again I state, are very excited to meet you.”
“When am I meeting them?” I ask, bewildered by these developments.
“When we leave the hospital, and you move in with us during your recovery. We discussed this.”
“I thought we were staying at the hotel! I didn’t know I was relocating. What mystical village in Korea am I relocating to?” I ask with concern of the unknown.
“…Nashville…” Bin says, in a tone lacking any sort of patience. “And please, don’t call me Bin around my family. They hate that nickname. Call me Richard.”
“What the fuck!” I shout, shooting up in bed only to be reminded I just had surgery when the lighting bolts of agony radiate through my arm. “This is a fuck tonne of information you’ve been holding out on me!”
“I’ve told you my name before.”
“You most certainly did not!”
“I most certainly did. Then you proceeded to pull your eyes tight, and say ‘my name is Richard’ in an offensive Asian accent. It was quite distasteful, and again, racist.”
That checks out.
“Well…Jesus Christ man. Where the fuck did Bin come from? And why have I spent the last few years calling you by a name your family hates?”
“When I was a janitor at New Hope, the doctors referred to me as ‘Trash Bin’. Eventually trash was dropped, and it became just ‘Bin’. When our new uniforms were issued, it was embroidered on my jumpsuit. I figured why fight it, steer into the skid.” He says, with little to no care, whereas most normal humans would be scarred by such bullying.
“That’s terrible!” I say, a tear in my eye. “Well, no more, you beautiful soul. Richard it is. Or maybe Rick, Richard is too formal. Wait…Dick…Dickie! You are now Lil’ Dickie!”
Eyes widened, my unconventional best friend slowly shakes his head.
“You know what? Bin is fine…”
Day Thirty Seven
“Bin! Get out of the way!” I whine.
“What are you two watching?” He asks, shuffling off to the side of the television.
“Grey’s Anatomy.” Sarah replies, her eyes zoned in on the medical drama. “Popcorn?” She asks, sliding the bowl across the couch.
“Don’t mind if I do.” I reply, sliding my fingers into butter soaked bowl. “You should really watch this show. At first I was like, ew, gross. This is stupid. But then I realized all these doctors do is hook up…”
“You think this show is steamy, wait till we jump into Private Practice.” Sarah says, peaking my interest.
“What happened to watching Refueled? What happened to studying every nuance of every competitor?”
“I have time on my side, Binner. I can’t start any serious training yet anyways.” I reply, leaning on the vast medical knowledge I’ve gained through surgery, detox and Grey’s. “Besides, I’m tired of seeing replays of my arm being torn in two…”
“You should be mentally preparing.”
“I have been.” I quip, pointing towards the corner of the garage that the Lee family has furnished as my new home.
In the direction of my index finger, a white board rests atop an easel. Bold letters across the top read ‘Teds Vision Board’. The perimeter is scribbled with crude drawings, random thoughts, and my all too early Christmas wish list. The middle though, etched in erasable red marker, is the plan for this man.
Win LBI > Main Event March To Glory > World Champion
“I see…” Bin says, unimpressed. “Well, I have a gift for you. I’ll just attach it over here on your ‘vision board’…”
His back to me, my ears perk at the mention of a gift. In his hand, I see what appears to be a photo, and I can’t help but get excited. Could it possibly be? Did that magical little bastard do the unthinkable? Did he acquire the ever elusive 8 x 10 of Lindsay Troy she once promised me but failed to follow through with?
“There…we…go…” He says, the sound of tape ripping from its roll as he secures the photo in place.
Bin turns to me, smiles, then proceeds to the garage’s man door. I shift, squint, and lean forward to get a clear look. To my shock, that ‘magical little bastard’ has proven he can be quite the little prick when he wants to be.
No, the photo is not of Ms. Troy. Oh no. Rather, the glossy print showcases MJ Flair twisting my arm into a pretzel. I look at Sarah and flash a look of ‘can you believe the nerve?’. Sarah can see my pain, and pats my knee, turning back to Bin.
“Richard…” she says, standing from the couch, quick to pursue her fleeing husband. “You know how fragile he is right now…”
“Fragile…” I scoff, disagreeing with her assessment, under my breath of course. My eyes are locked on the picture, but rather than unravel, I brush off Bin’s very rude gesture. “Whatever…” I turn away. “Hey Andy! Want to play Warzone?!”
Day Seventy Four
This is concerning…
Poking my index finger into my pectoral, I’m in utter disbelief. Concern completely overtakes me. Panic begins to set in. Months prior, my finger would crash into a fucking rock. It would bend inwards, my joints uncomfortable, yet my pride beaming. Now, no such outcome. My fingertip…it…it…sinks into the muscle. It craters, engulfing my digit.
Engulfing might be a slight exaggeration, but compared to what I’m used to, you get where I’m going.
Pacing back and forth in the Lee’s kitchen, I need to be talked off this ledge. I need an intervention, and quickly. I turn the corner, darting towards the washroom, needing nothing more than to stand in front of the mirror. Barging through the door, I happen upon Sarah, who luckily is fully clothed, her pink hair trimmer in hand.
“Jesus Ted…” She gasps, pulling her free hand up to her chest. “You scared the shit out of me.”
“Sarah…I…I…” I struggle to get the words out. “I have a serious question and need a serious answer.”
“Do I…have I…developed bitch tits?” I blurt out.
Her concern transitions to laughter. I grow even more self conscious. She shakes her head, her expression reading ‘you’re an idiot’.
“You’re an idiot.” She says, confirming her expression. “No. You don’t have bitch tits.”
“But they are…squishy…”
“I wouldn’t worry about it. Wait until you start working out again. You’ll be fine.”
“Okay…” I reply, calmer, but still slightly shaken.
Turning to walk away, Sarah shoots me a “hey”, halting my exit. She looks at me, then at her razor. She puts her free hand on her hip, and appears to have a question of her own for me.
“Did you use my razor? There’s coarse hair stuck in the blade, and it isn’t mine.”
“Uh, yeah. Sorry about that. I just needed to clean up.”
“Well next time, I’d prefer you ask.” She says, and I nod. “ And clean it up afterwards.” My nod continues, as I turn to walk away. “You did a crappy job, by the way. Your beard is still long and scraggly…”
“About that…” I say, turning back, combing my fingers through my beard.
She tilts her head to one side, pursing her lips, squinting her eyes. We make eye contact. I’m the first to break the eternity these seconds have brought. I look down, then back up. Her eyes widen, jaw drops, and face transitions through variations of the color red.
Day One Hundred Six
“YOU SICK SON OF A BITCH! I scream.
With a wooden chair turned backwards, I straddle it’s seat, my chest pressed against its backrest. I can’t look away from Bin’s vandalism of my precious vision board: the savage picture of my career’s lowest moment.
“WHAT’S YOUR GAME OLD MAN!” I cry out.
“No games are being played, Ted.”
“Then explain this filth! This torture you’ve bestowed upon me.”
“I’m not torturing you. YOU are torturing yourself.”
His asinine claim is finally enough to break my gaze. I can feel the steam escaping my ears, the tears of frustration welling.
“Do you really think I’ve needed this picture staring me in the face the past two months?”
“It’s just a reminder. A defining moment from your past.”
“Reminder? I don’t need anymore fucking reminders.” I bark. “Waking up in a sling is a reminder. The surgical scar that’s still healing is a reminder. Learning to wipe my ass with my non dominant hand is a reminder.”
“True. Every word of it.” Bin says. “The problem is you’re letting those reminders define today. And tomorrow. And the day after.”
Bin approaches the white board, another picture in hand. The glossy side is hidden, all I can see is it’s white backside. He begins taping it up in the upper right corner, opposite of the other print. I can only begin to imagine the ensuing pain that’ll accompany today’s addition…
A glamour shot of my unconscious body in Rome, perhaps?
Bin steps aside, and I couldn’t be more wrong. It’s the exact opposite. The newest 8 x10 is Max Kael, trapped in my clutches. Desperation in his eye, sheer defiance in mine.
“So how can you move forward when you’re dwelling on the past? Whether it be failure or success, to dwell on either all but guarantees today to be a failure.”
I close my eyes and take a deep breath. What Bin is saying is true, we both know it. That doesn’t take away my frustration with him. Or my frustration with myself.
“You’ve been living here for three months. Three months, Ted, and the only step forward you’ve taken is creating this ‘vision board’.” He says with mocking air finger quotes. “Do you know how many steps backwards I’ve watched you take though?”
“You think this is easy?” I snap, desperately trying to find a proverbial leg to stand on.
“No one said it would be. Was winning the LBI the first time easy?”
“…No…” I pause, reflecting on that journey. “It was the singles hardest thing I have ever experienced.”
“Harder than say, your recovery?”
Physically? Yes. That battle with Max left me a changed man, for better and worse. Emotionally? Yes. Having to put down my childhood friend in the semi finals was in many ways more difficult than the war I’d later wage. Bin, the maestro of words, has cornered me yet again.
“Don’t lose yourself to the past. Each experience is a lesson. Learn from it. Apply it. Move forward.”
Standing up, I want to hang my head in shame, but I’ve wasted every day since my surgery doing much of the same. My chin held high, I reach behind my head and undo the knot resting on my neck that supports my sling. It drifts ever so gracefully to the ground, and just as slowly, I allow my arm to extend to my side. Bin smiles.
“I don’t know where you come up with this shit…”
“My dojo, Ted. My dojo…”
“I FUCKING KNEW IT!” I proclaim, pointing victoriously in his direction.
“Ted. I’m kidding .” He says, shaking his head. “The internet…”
“There’s more to the internet than porn?” I ask.
Bin laughs, thinking I’m joking. I laugh too, not wanting him to know I’m not.
Day One Hundred Sixety Three
“Max died last night.” Andy says nonchalantly, followed by screams of “DIE YOU NOOB!” at the madness that is Call of Duty.
“Suuuuuure he did. I’ve heard that one before, buddy.” I say, skeptical of his claim, continuing with my bicep curls while watching him run amok through Verdansk.
“Seriously. I watched it online this morning. Pretty gruesome too.”
“Okay, Andy…” I say, dropping the weights to a clang on the concrete garage floor. Snatching my phone off the table, I begin to type ‘Max Kael’ into google. To my surprise, the first recommended search that populates is ‘Max Kael Dies’. I click on the first video link, still highly doubting his demise.
5 Minutes Later…
“Huh. Max Kael died.”
“Told you so…EAT IT BITCHES!” Andy screams.
Looking over at my vision board, I fixate on the picture of Max locked in my triangle choke, moments before submitting and crowning me twenty twenty’s LBI winner. Surprisingly, I’m met with mixed feelings.
On one hand, Max was a thorn in my side from the moment I stepped into a High Octane ring. He was on the celebratory end of retaining both his Tag Team Championship and LSD Championship, leaving me behind in a cloud of disappointment. On the other hand, he was instrumental in bringing out the single greatest performance of my career, leading to the single greatest moment of my career. The very moment that has me trekking on my current path…
“Do I send flowers? Maybe a card?” I ask aloud, to no one in particular, receiving no response.
Not that I was expecting one.
“Thank you…” I mumble.
Day One Hundred Ninety Eight
‘I knew the second last year’s LBI was over that I was NOT going to do that again.’
Lee Best’s written words jump off my phone screen, throwing a wrench towards everything I’ve been working towards the past sixth months. This is the type of blow that years, maybe even months prior, would have completely derailed me. The journey is over. Pack it up, turn around and go home, Ted.
Spiral, I will not. When one door closes, another opens. When one path is blocking your destination, you seek out an alternate path and fucking persevere.
‘An Open Fighting Tournament. You Will Bleed 97Red. Small Fish Meet Big Pond. Only The Best Will Survive.’
Walking over towards my trusty white board, I pick up a stray rag and feverishly wipe all its print away. Looking at the two pictures taped in opposite corners, the yin and yang of my career, the success and failure, I smirk. Yanking them off the board, I let them fall to the ground.
“You’ve served your purpose.”
Grabbing the nearest marker, I pop it’s lid off. The tip glides across the smooth surface, boldly etching the three words that now become my alternate path.
The DeNucci Cup
“If it’s a fight you want…it’s a fight you’ll get…”
Day Two Hundred Five
“I’ve never been one for surprises, but rather spoilers. Change the format, change the combat style, it really doesn’t matter. The DeNucci Cup ends the same way the LBI ended last year: Teddy Palmer standing victorious.”
Hanging up on the High Octane Media Department, I toss my cell down onto the coffee table. A huge weight has been lifted. My journey is done winding through the back roads of recovery, and I’m days away from hopping on the highway.
“Are you comfortable with your decision?” Bin asks.
“I surprised High Octane once. That’s enough for me. Anything I accomplish going forward…I want it to be an expectation.”
Turning to Bin, the man who has become an honorary father figure of mine, he looks back at me with pride. Genuine pride I haven’t seen in his eyes since singing my shitty battle cry of ‘Still Standing’ last St. Patrick’s day. This recovery wouldn’t have been possible without him, and no amount of words can express that to him.
“Thank you.” I offer, hoping those two words convey every ounce of my appreciation.
He smiles, and pats my knee like a father would. I assume at least, I wouldn’t really know.
“Say….want to watch some Grey’s Anatomy?”
“I thought you’d never ask.”
Two Hundred Five Days.
I’ve sat on the sideline. I’ve watched. I’ve disconnected. I’ve given up. I’ve pushed myself to limits I didn’t know existed.
The rollercoaster I was forced to ride, I don’t wish on anybody. It was a cold reminder that at the end of the day, our biggest critic, our toughest enemy, is the person looking back in the mirror.
Here’s the thing though: if you can defeat that enemy, there isn’t an army big enough to take you down.
This Battle Royal at Iconic isn’t a consolation prize to me. It isn’t some freebie opportunity to get my name on the year’s final pay per view card because I didn’t earn my way into another marquee match. It’s not a throwaway opportunity to close out the year.
It’s the beginning of my next chapter. It’s building on my past success, without trying to relive it. It’s learning from my failures, rather than letting them define me.
I had my heart set on doing everything in my power to repeat as the Lee Best Invitational Winner. That won’t happen. So I adjust. I move forward. I overcome the new obstacles in my path.
The first? December 19th.
I opted out of being a surprise. I have no interest in providing shock value for this company. Ironically, nearly everything about this next obstacle will be a surprise to me.
That’s fine by me. Christmas has always been my favourite season, and it looks like it’s coming early this year.
The names, they don’t matter. The numbers, they don’t matter.
All that matters is Teddy Palmer is back, and December 19th is my first step towards winning The DeNucci Cup.