Backstage, dressing room, Tokyo Dome.
Dan Ryan uses all of his remaining strength to lift a wooden bench up and throw it through the air against the nearest wall, where it breaks apart into a pile of rubble. The force of the throw is too much for his left knee, and he crumples there, on all fours, and then into a seated position against the lockers.
He looks down at his knee, and he knows it’s not good.
He tried to kick out.
He didn’t know when it happened, but at some point, his knee gave out, and he didn’t have the strength to prevent the end from coming.
Staring down at the leg he knew it was serious. He leaned over and grabbed his duffel bag from the remaining bench and fetched from inside it a knee brace. He’d been using it outside the ring for years, and it helped to stabilize the old injury, but he had a feeling he would need it just to stand.
He fastened the brace on his knee, wrapped the straps tightly, and used his arms to crawl his way up against the lockers to a standing position. He stood there, breathing heavily. It had been a long night. And he put his left leg out in front of him, testing the waters. He eased his weight on it, and instantly it gave out again, but he was able to jab a hand out to grab the locker and prevent another fall. He tried again, and again it buckled, and he dropped to his good knee, exhausted.
He closed his eyes, shook his head, then opened them and screamed out in anger and frustration.
He threw the remaining bench with all of his strength, then plopped back down to the same seated position and looked up at the ceiling.
It’s almost over.
Don’t worry, boys. It’s almost over.
My knee is hanging on, quite literally, by a thread. I hurt it seriously once and it caused me to take four years off from the business, and this feels worse. Pain isn’t a problem. I can deal with pain. But a knee that can’t hold weight is a game-changer. And right now, my knee holds less weight than Cancer Jiles trying to shit talk me.
Cancer, I’ve known you a long, long time now. I actually don’t dislike you as much as you dislike me. In fact, I’m mostly just bored with you. You beat me once last year, I’m sure you remember. Then I beat you twice within two months. You won the World title and avoided me completely, because I guess you know what a threat I am, and now you aren’t even that anymore. You’re left as nothing more than a malcontent bitching about everything and everyone around him.
It’s terribly rude to tell people that their troubles are boring, but here you are.
Jatt Starr was boring, and for that sin, I put him in a Tokyo hospital ward.
I’ll do whatever I can to this knee to make sure I can go this week, and I promised you above all others that if I get a chance to place you in the next bed over from your boy Jatt, I will take that chance and make the most of it. It’s okay. You won’t have a single hair out of place. I just can’t make the same promise about your spine.
Conor, I’m not gonna make some flowery speech for you. This isn’t gonna be a father-son type deal where I take you under my wing and guide you to manhood. My wings are broken. Let’s just face facts. And the truth is, I scrubbed out every last semblance of humanity from my brain under extreme duress, and it’s not coming back. The ship has sailed. It’s over.
I’m fucking broken. That’s it. That’s the point. I know life is never going to get any different for me. There’s no fixing me. It’s always going to be the same monotonous depressing bullshit. Boring, sad, boring, sad, and I wonder if, deep down, I just want it to be over.
I hate to think of my own life stretching ahead of me, a long succession of days and nights that are fine – not good, not bad, not great, not lousy, not exciting, not anything.
I convict others for being boring, and I bore myself. Maybe that’s why I’m going down this path. Maybe that’s why everything is dying.
I’ve been trying to fit everything in, trying to get to the end before it’s too late, but I see now how badly I’ve deceived myself. Words do not allow such things. The closer I come to the end, the more there is to say. The end is only imaginary, a destination you invent to keep yourself going, but a point comes when you realize that you will never get there. You might have to stop, but that is only because you have run out of time. And that’s where I am, Conor. I’ve run out of time.
But I do want you to know, for what it’s worth, that whatever I have left in me, I’ll give every last ounce of it to defend the tag team titles we won at War Games. I don’t know how much there is left in the tank, but I’m ready to find out.
Steve Harrison, you tedious, bald, living embodiment of the color gray, you never shut up about wanting another shot at me. I don’t know why you wanna get hurt again, but here’s your chance, eh? And with a championship on the line, so you can pretend that repairing your fractured ego isn’t the real goal for you in this match. Here’s the thing though. I am so much more important to you than you are to me. I don’t think any more little of you than anyone else who runs their fucking mouth, then ends up flat on their back looking at the lights. You’re no better or worse than any of them. You’re just here, and that will have to do.
Sometimes you just can’t get what you want. This isn’t a Rolling Stones song. It’s just a sad fact of life. For too long I have played on the stage of lucidity, and I have lost. Now I need to accustom my eyes to the falling darkness. I need to contemplate the natural slumber of all things, which the light calls forth, yet also caused to tire. Life must begin in darkness. Its powers of germination lie hidden. Every day has its night, every light has its shadow.
I can’t be asked to accept these shadows gladly. It is enough that I accept them.
Mr. Takeuchi had followed me back to the states, and it was here, in front of the Kimpton Hotel Monaco in Pittsburgh, that I decided to prepare him for the worst.
“We just started working together again, but I’m afraid this won’t be a long-lasting partnership. I wish it were different, but it seems, at last, my choices have finally caught up with me.”
I looked at the middle-aged man, who said nothing, but whose eyes tell his understanding.
“You don’t have to say anything. But if you need to make arrangements for yourself, I’m freeing you to do so.”
At this, he allowed himself a small smile and looked at me, and with purpose, completed a bow from the waist.
I returned the gesture, then I turned away from him and went on my way, up the street, and about my business. The past was dead. The future was resignation, fatality, and could only end one way now. The present was numbness, that could feel nothing. Like Novocaine needled into your heart. What was there in all the dimensions of time for me?
I walked down the street, ignoring the people around me. It feels like someone tore away the other half of the book that I was reading. Probably, I might never get that other half again. I might spend the rest of my life trying to comprehend how this story would end. But while I hold this half, and I read it, I end up seeing a different ending every time. While some of these are worse, and some are beautiful, they all manage to leave a void, which I’ll never be able to explain with my mere words. Which makes me wish for that other half of the book even more.
Being physically tough is measured by how many fights you win, but mental toughness is measured by how you react when all the chips are stacked against you, how fast you get back on track when life kicks you in the nuts. Any fool can win a fight, but it takes a person with true grit to never give up when all seems lost.
I will go down fighting, and I’ll take as many of you down with me as I can, whoever the fuck you are.
This is it. I’m ready.