March 6th, 2021
“You promised…” her delicate voice cries, refusing to look back at me.
Not answering, I stand a few feet back from the slender blonde. She’s draped in a white blouse, her legs are covered in skin tight blue jeans, and she stands barefoot on the wet concrete. Slowly, I approach the weeping woman, whose back quivers with each sob. Reaching out to place my right hand on her shoulder, she rolls it forward to avoid my well-meaning gesture.
“I trusted you!” she screams.
With an unexpected quickness, she whips herself around and her bony hands waste little time in finding my chest to shove me backwards. Her breaths are heavy, and her golden locks form a curtain in front of her face. She inhales deeply through her nose, her nostrils rattling with congestion. She slowly reaches up and parts the wild strands that hide her features, revealing her cold, icy blue eyes. They glare at me and my perceived betrayal, her hatred on full display.
“Allison…” I say, surprised.
Zeb’s loving mother stands tall, the revelation of her identity acting as a cue of sorts to the heavens above as rain begins to pour down. A chill fills the air, and each breath we release forms a small misty cloud. She begins to take slow, methodical steps towards me and instinctively I begin to back pedal.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I hold my hands out in front of me, maintaining separation.
“You had us all fooled.” Her laughter isn’t of the happy variety.
“We thought you were genuine,” she replies, her voice cracking.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about! I am! I swear!” I scramble to rebut.
“You never cared about him. You didn’t want to be his friend. You used him!”
She closes the gap between us, lunging forward with all her might. Her hands push into my chest again, this time with the force of a Left Tackle protecting the blindside. Stumbling backwards, my feet tangle with one another and I crash into a murky puddle. The Southern Belle with brute Mama strength stands over me imposingly.
“I’m not lying!” I plead. “Zeb is my friend. One of the only friends I have!” I admit not only to her, but to myself.
“Then why aren’t you helping him?” she asks, pointing over to her left, my right.
“Ted!” a muffled voice yells out. “Help me!”
My eyes are deadlocked with Allison’s, her arm outstretched, pointing, daring me to look. The pleas for help continue, but the desperation in the voice lazily fades, eventually reaching the point where it no longer exists. I don’t want to look, but Allison isn’t budging. I finally concede, turning my head towards the now silenced distress, my eyes clenched shut.
“Open them!” she demands, and I reluctantly oblige.
Some ten feet away, both men’s backs face us but their identities are no secret: John Sektor and Zeb Martin. Zeb’s body is limp, no longer fighting the dreaded Sektor Stretch. John is hellbent on proving a point and refuses to relinquish the hold, ignoring the ironic unspoken five second grace period. No one is stepping in to stop it. No one is stepping up to help him.
“Why aren’t you?” Allison asks, somehow having read my thoughts.
“I…I can’t…” I reply, turning back to face the aching mother.
“Because you never truly wanted that? Did you?” she leans in, her nose almost touching mine. “That’s what you really wanted…” she trails off, pointing back towards her lifeless son.
I turn back, but Zeb and John have disappeared. Where they were once intertwined with one another now shines the only beacon of light in this otherwise treacherous storm. Standing inside its halo, tall and proud, is an unmistakable pudgy frame dressed in his white slacks and his #97 red Hall of Fame polo. His back too faces us, but draped over his shoulder and resting on his back is the LSD Championship. Its center plate sparkles with desired prestige.
“And now you’re more than willing to go through my son to take it!”
The accusation is bold and accusing, and it rattles me. “I didn’t want it this way!” I snap my head back to face Allison, who to my surprise is no longer there.
She’s disappeared, and my ears are no longer attacked by her wailing heartache. It’s at this moment a set of hands grab onto my left arm and help guide me out of the growing pool of rain I’ve been seated in. Brushing my hands along my backside to brush away the excess water, I attempt to dry them on the front of my shirt, with little success. With a deep inhale, I look to my right and the spotlight is now gone.
“Thank you. I really…don’t…know…what’s going on right now.” I stutter, turning to greet the Good Samaritan. “…Grady?”
Grady Patrick stands before me, his shit-eating grin wider than ever. His bowler cap is tipped forward, casting a shadow over his face. His left hand rests on the handle of his cane, the right reaching into his tweed jacket.
“Looks like you could use a drink, my boy!” he says, pulling up a brown paper bag, presumably a bottle of Irish Whiskey inside. “Time to celebrate. You’re back on track.”
“No…” I decline, stepping back. “I don’t need that,” I spit out, disgusted at the thought. “And I sure as fuck don’t need you.”
“Sure you do!” he winks, and laughs. “What have you done without it? Without me?”
He pushes the bagged bottle on me. A brief struggle ensues, but with a swift upward swing, it’s sent flying into the air. A few seconds pass, and off in the distance the sound of glass shattering echoes amongst the open concrete plain. Grady shrugs his shoulders and turns his back on me, hobbling away.
“You always were a quitter, Ted…” he mutters.
As his frame becomes a silhouette on the horizon, a hand rests itself on my right shoulder. The wrist and forearm attached to it rest on my tricep, telling me it belongs to someone shorter than I am. It’s the first time I’ve felt safe as a sense of calmness wraps itself around me, all the evidence I need to identify who the reassuring touch belongs to. I smile and turn to face my small statured mentor.
“Hey Bin,” I sigh in relief.
“Good job, Teddy,” he beams. “Don’t give into your temptations. You’ve come so far.”
“You’ve gotta help me,” I plead, seeking his wisdom.
“This is your journey,” he replies, his intended motivation met with impatience on my part.
“I’m not a bad person.” I search his face, looking for reassurance.
“This is your journey,” he repeats to my annoyance.
“I’ve been fuckin’ trying!”
“This is your journey.”
“Bin! Enough with that shit!” I snap, my frustration hitting its peak. “I’m fuckin’ juggling here. I’m trying to be the best possible friend I can be. I’m trying to shoot for the fuckin’ stars and reach heights I haven’t seen before. I’m trying Bin. I’m fuckin’ trying…”
Finally Bin turns to face me. He smiles and nods at me. He slides his hand down to the side of my shoulder, and mirrors the placement with his other hand on my opposite shoulder. He leans in slightly, and begins to whisper.
“Keep moving forward.” His nodding continues rhythmically. “And don’t look back.”
“Bin come on…”
“Ted.” He cuts me off, his eyes shifting and looking over my shoulder with apparent concern. “Don’t look back…”
He releases his grip on me and takes a step back, still looking beyond me. His nod transitions to a shake, his smile vanishing. I can’t help but let my curiosity get the better of me, and turn around, ignoring Bin’s request.
As I complete my one eighty, I’m knocked on my back by an unseen force. My head is spinning, my eyes are hazy, and the rain pours harder than ever. Regaining my bearings after a few moments, I notice that beside me lies a bloody wooden baseball bat. Crimson streams follow unique paths along the wood grain, flowing down onto the flooding concrete. A grimy hand reaches down and grabs onto the grip, pulling upwards. The bat reaches a vertical position, resting on its end before elevating out of sight.
That’s when I hear it.
And then feel it.
Shooting up from the pile of springs advertised as a mattress, my heart is visibly pounding inside my chest. I quickly drop my face into my cupped hands and swipe upwards, scraping the moisture towards my drenched hairline. Reaching over to the nightstand, I yank on the aged chain to the eighties themed lamp, the bulb flickering before deciding to remain lit. It provides minimal lighting in this prison cell of a room, but enough to squash my exhausted concern: my hands are wet with sweat, not blood.
With my heart still thumping in my chest, my breathing has become erratic. I try to take control by inhaling for four seconds, holding my breath for four, then exhaling slowly over six. I repeat this process. My vision is tunneled and what I can focus on is spinning, churning my stomach as a result. I struggle to locate the flashing green numbers on the digital clock, but eventually do and learn that it’s 1:17 AM.
I’d only gone to bed an hour ago.
Focusing on my breathing is proving difficult as it feels like an invisible set of hands are wrapped around my throat. Toppling out of bed, I struggle to climb to my feet before awkwardly pacing back and forth along the stained carpet. I shake my hands aggressively, doing my best to keep feeling in the digits that have slowly begun to numb.
Why? Fuck, fuck, fuck. Enough already…
Then without warning, it stops.
Just as quickly as it all began, my symptoms begin to fade away. My breathing is subconsciously regulated. Death’s cold grip on my throat has loosened. I can feel my heartbeat with my hand pressed on my chest, but no longer is it trying to punch through it. I can see and detail everything clearly, my surroundings no longer distorted. The first thing I’m reminded of is how much of a shithole this sixty dollar a night room is.
The second, and more important, thing is that this was merely a small sample of much worse. I’m teetering on the edge of a full blown meltdown, and I can’t ignore it any longer.
“I gotta get the fuck out of here,” I mumble to myself.
It’s been about nine months since I had my last full blown panic attack. That one occurred days after I was informed my bicep was torn in two, and that I’d be taking an unwanted vacation from High Octane for the remainder of the year. The signs I was due for another had been making themselves known for a while now, but since Scottywood’s potentially career changing announcement of the Times Square Street Fight, those signs had intensified. It was no longer a question of if, but rather when.
Having suffered with them for years, it’s become much easier to rationalize my thoughts and delve into the root issues. The Hardcore Artist’s announcement wasn’t my trigger. Neither was the thought of fighting under the streetlights in Manhattan. And as disappointing as it is that Zeb and I have been rerouted from the Tag Division, I’m actually fuckin’ stoked to pursue my first singles championship. It’s long overdue. It’s no secret I’ve sputtered mightily since my last major singles triumph, last year’s Lee Best Invitational, and this is the perfect opportunity to get back on track.
No, lack of recent success ain’t my trigger either.
It’s been my personal life.
Bin not being an everyday fixture has been harder than expected. Learning to trust myself has been a task in and of itself, so Zeb trusting me to do right by him has come with its own set of challenges, not to mention the pressure of his family investing their trust in me as well. Dancing around the chemistry Lindsay and I clearly have with one another, yet keeping each other at arm’s length gets harder as each day passes. And I’m one week away from declaring myself one year sober. This is a major milestone I should be excited to reach, but I struggle every goddamn day to accept if I’m truly making progress or not.
Each issue is a bullet in the chamber, and by not addressing them I’m playing Russian Roulette. It’s a dangerous game, and it’s only a matter of time before I lose a round and eat a slug. With Woodson flipping the Times Square Hourglass, I need to get out of my own way before that last grain of sand falls and I waste another opportunity.
Snatching the crumpled heap that is my track pants off the ground, I slide the baggy grey pair on and bunny ear the drawstring. Grabbing the matching zip up hoodie, I toss it on over my damp undershirt, zipping it up to my chin, catching a few stray beard hairs in the process. Lastly, I slip on my always loosened boots, pull a black beanie over my slicked back hair, grab my phone off the charger and make a beeline for the paint chipped door.
“…gotta get some fresh air…” I puff out.
Fuck, anywhere but here will do right now.
Fifteen Minutes Later
I took off westbound on West Diversey Parkway the second my feet hit the sidewalk outside The Bellwood’s entrance. The brisk winter air tightened my lungs initially, the light drizzle and slight gusts of winds not helping much, but after a few moments of pumping my legs, I found it refreshing. I left with a destination in mind, uncertain I’d even get there, and certainly with no set timeframe for my arrival. I proceeded with an indirect route, wandering about the empty tree lined streets, the only light cast coming from the humming street lamps and the distant stars above.
Not long after, I found my way to the edge of Hamlin Park, where I’ve been at a standstill for the past few minutes. The typically boisterous playground is mostly silent, but that’s to be expected this time of night. That silence, minus the sound of rain droplets hitting the branches above or the lit end of my cigarette cackling with each inhale, isn’t absent of the childlike energy reserved for sunlight. The joy and excitement still exists during its vacancy, and in an odd way helps organize the chaos behind my eyes.
Did life become more difficult with age, or do we make it difficult. I didn’t worry as a kid, I just lived. I didn’t think, I just did. Is that where I went wrong? Is that where everyone goes wrong? We replace the doing with the thinking, and the thinking leads to doubt, and that doubt leads to you standing alone in a dark park like a fuckin’ creep instead of sleeping like a normal person.
Fuck thinking. Nike for the win.
Just Do It.
Will this Time Square Street Fight be a walk in the park? Fuck no. Will I make it my playground? Fuck yeah.
I’m removing the barrel from my temple and taking my finger off the trigger. I’m opening the cylinder, spinning that fucker and letting each bullet drop. One by one they fall, in no particular order, but with a certain grace that’s accompanied by freedom. Of course, these aren’t physical bullets I’m littering a child’s playground with, metaphorical remember. As is this gun, which I don’t need anymore. I never did. And I certainly don’t fuckin’ want it.
Bin will always be there, but it’s time to stop acting like a homesick child at summer camp. Looking to him for advice is one thing, but wanting to be spoon-fed the answers and have my hand held is a completely different monster. I thanked Bin for giving me the tools I needed to succeed and for getting this wayward son back on track. Little did I know he didn’t give me shit. He didn’t spend the last year fighting my daily battle, I did. He was what I needed most: a support system, a cheerleader, and he helped me find what I’d lost along the way.
Something those Hollywood Boyz should be in search of. The courage to dictate their own narratives and to stop falling into old habits. To pick a name and personality and stick with it. To stop bitching about what they want, what they feel they’re entitled to, or what they intend to do. To quit this whole will they/won’t they bullshit. They’re hot then they’re cold, they’re yes then they’re no. Katy Perry could probably build a solid case of copyright infringement at this point. Brian and Darin, if only they knew that nobody gives a fuck.
Is that how everyone looked at my journey this past year?
Who fuckin’ cares.
That’s been problem numero uno: putting stock in my peers’ opinions.
Here’s to having the courage to live my life on my terms.
Enough of the ‘am I truly making progress?’ self-pity. I’m a week away from being one year sober. ONE YEAR. If that’s not progress, I don’t know what the fuck is. It’s been a tough year with few peaks but oh so many valleys. So many dark days and lonely nights where I could have given in and quit. But I didn’t. I fought, I suffered, and I prevailed. Day after fuckin’ day, I clenched my jaw, ground my teeth and said “go fuck yourself” to the doubt. I proved to myself that one of my greatest qualities was more than just a physical one, but most importantly a mental one.
Something Hughie Freeman proved he’s short in. Those three months off must’ve done a real number on him. He went from a former LSD Champion and an unpredictable, some might even say feared, fighter to…well, being the number five. Not just in our dance on Broadway, but within the ranks of The Best Alliance. I wonder if he enjoys the view of the four asses walking in front of him? Bet it’s a shitty view. No doubt the sleezy fuck would probably get off on Sektor in drag, if that’s even a thing still. Way to trade in unpredictable and feared for ordinary and cowardly. Hope he likes the team jersey though…
Here’s to having the strength to take the road less travelled.
I can’t hold myself responsible for Zeb. Not in this career path. I told Allison I’d do right by her son, and I mean that. That I’d be there for him and be a genuine friend, through the good times and the bad. I went as far as travelling to Georgia in between shows to look her in the eye, and promise her as much. I tapped into a side of myself I’d locked off from the world for so long that I didn’t know it was still in there, and I realized that when dealing with not only others, but oneself, one policy is best above all.
And I didn’t lie to Allison. I knew deep down that this day would come, I just didn’t expect it to be so soon. Lining up across from Zeb isn’t wronging him, it’s the nature of the business. Our friendship will remain intact, win or lose, and we’ll move beyond this. I expect him to give me everything he has, because I know I fuckin’ will. At the end of the day, I’m here to win. I’m here to be successful. I’m here to win Championships. Times Square is the first step. Unfortunately it comes at the expense of Zeb.
Here’s to maintaining honesty, no matter its cost.
The rain begins to pour without warning. Pulling my hood up, I toss the now extinguished cigarette into the grass and bolt across the street. Sprinting up the sidewalk, the destination I was unsure I’d reach is only a football field length away.
Courage. Strength. Honesty.
The storm from my dream requires all three. The storm in my life requires all three. It’s been a constant in the background, raining during every personal and professional event. Given my destination, the sudden downpour is almost poetic.
Reaching the black rod fence, I can’t get the front gate open so I elect to hop it. The front window’s curtain is closed, but I can see the light is still on. Pulling my phone out of my hoodie pocket, the screen reads ‘1:49 AM’. My footsteps get heavier with each step I climb to the front porch, but I persist. My heart rate increases not from the hammering of another panic attack, but from excitement. Once I reach the stained oak door to the light blue house, I don’t hesitate.
The next few seconds seem like an eternity. Movement is captured through the window to the door, soon followed by her hazel eyes peering through. When she realizes who the hooded figure standing on her deck is, the lock rattles, followed by the handle twisting. She pulls the door open, taking one step forward onto the porch, crossing her arms against the wind and the chill.
“Hey, is everything okay?” Lindsay Troy gently asks, looking at me with concern and surprise that I’m at her front door this late at night.
Just Do It.
Placing my right hand on her cheek, I lean in. Hoping rejection isn’t on the horizon, I close my eyes as I get closer. Our lips meet, time stops, and my mind’s at ease.
I’m living life on my terms, taking the road less travelled, no matter its cost.
Here’s to the sunshine after the rain.