They say that ignorance is bliss. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s certainly easier.
When I say that it’s a rough life that I lead, I understand how crazy that sounds. I get it; I’m a world-renowned athlete. I’ve had success in my field beyond the wildest dreams of most others. I’ve managed to take a dream of mine, and not only turn it into a reality, but also make a considerable amount of money doing so. Most people just barely make a living, slaving at a job that they hate in the hopes that they can keep their head above water long enough to give their kids a leg-up in this world. I’ve never had that experience. I am, as the kids say, hashtag-blessed.
Privilege checking out of the way, my mind couldn’t help but be cast back to Chester Bennington this week. I remember coming up as a kid in rural Nova Scotia; it’s not a mystery that I didn’t have a good relationship with my father. He was likely doing his best as a widower, but that’s really not the point here – I was like a million other teenagers in a thousand other towns just like mine in those days; I felt isolated and out of place in a place that should have been anything but isolating – home. I had two escapes at that age – wrestling (duh), and music.
As previously mentioned, I was a melodramatic little shit with daddy issues, pursuing a sport (and later a profession) that required ruthlessness, tactfulness, and concentrated rage. The music I gravitated towards in those days was the same – ruthless, technical, rage-filled. AFI, Alexisonfire, and Billy Talent, along with some older stuff – Metallica, Ozzy, Misfits…they were all good fill-ins, but Linkin Park was it for me, man.
You move on, you grow up, your dad dies, you become a successful professional wrestler. Your tastes change, and maybe you start to look over at other millionaires with a cocked eyebrow. Maybe you start to look at those guys, the guys who you used to look up to, with a fair amount of skepticism. Those guys were supposed to be creating their art from a place of truth – their work was supposed to be an honest reflection of themselves…so how could they be so successful, and yet so miserable?
I used to think that way, but then Chester Bennington took his life, a year ago this week.
It’s a lesson that I’ve tried to remind myself of time and again. You don’t know what struggles a person is having, even when they seem to have it all.
It’s a lesson that I’ve had a hard time applying this week.
See, I don’t get it, and honestly, I’m probably not predisposed to getting it.
Caledonia, on top of her game, on top of the entire fucking world, just uproots everything and leaves the company to chase after her husband. Leaves behind the CWF title. Leaves behind her career.
I don’t get that whole Ouroboros crowd. I mean, I never quite understood them in a general sense, to be fair, but that’s really neither here nor there. Elisha – a force to be reckoned with in the squared circle, and yet that’s somehow not enough…he was so power hungry that he ended up getting himself killed or arrested or disappeared or something.
See, I don’t fucking get it. I don’t understand it because even if I consider that you can never really know another person’s pain until you walk in their shoes, and that you can never truly understand a person’s priorities until you’ve understood their pain…even if I take those lessons that Chester tragically taught me, I just cannot understand.
I cannot understand how you could be so stupid. I cannot comprehend how you could be so short-sighted. I cannot fucking get it for one simple, solitary reason: What else is there, other than wrestling?
Chaos seemed to be the order of the day when the news came through the wires, and before the news from Makhnovia had filtered through, my world was in its own state of disarray. Ian was at my apartment – why he wears a suit while he was working for me, I’ll never know – shouting into his cell phone at someone from CWF headquarters. I was icing my knee and browsing a bit on my laptop.
“I don’t really care if he’s unavailable,” Ian said, his tone matching his exasperated facial expression. “It’s your job to make him available, Trish. Get Rishel on the damn phone now.”
There was a pause. Honestly, I felt bad for Trish in this situation; any time that Ian uttered anything approaching a curse word meant that he was fired up in a way that a mere mortal receptionist would not be prepared for.
“No,” Ian said, clearly interrupting the woman on the other end of the phone. “You listen to me, Trish. My client has, once again, had a piece of his property taken away from him, and CWF management has done nothing about it. This is establishing a pattern, Trish, a pattern of neglect. When I see a pattern of neglect, my spidey senses start tingling.”
Ian walked over to his computer, which sat atop a sprawling mess of papers, forms and documents on the dining table behind my couch. “I might not be actively practicing law right now, Trish,” he continued while tapping away at an open tab in Chrome, “but it’s only been a couple of months. I’ve hardly forgotten the law. I’ve scarcely lost the capability to file the appropriate forms with the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania to seek damages, Trish. And let me tell you something, Trish – when I win, and believe me, I’m a very good lawyer, I’ll win and win big – and when I take ownership of the CWF, I will have no problems firing the imbecile who lead me down the path towards owning the company solely because she refused to put me on the phone with the CWF Owner! Now get me Rishel, Trish!”
There was another pregnant pause. Ian paced the room like a caged animal as he loosened his tie.
“What?” he said after a moment. “What the hell do you mean, ‘Jarvis should check his bookings?’ I’m done screwing around Tri—hello?” Ian looked down at his phone, incredulously. “She hung up on me!”
“You’re not a civil attorney, Ian,” I said. “You handle wills and stuff, right?”
“Yeah,” he said, taking a seat as he grabbed a bottle of sparkling water that he had been working on while he was waiting on hold to speak with Trish. “I can still litigate, though. Nothing stopping me.”
“Yeah, except that you’re not a member of the Pennsylvanian Bar,” I said, side-eying my younger brother. “And even if you were, I don’t think that you’d be able to sue for enough money to buy out the company.”
“Details,” he said, taking a sip and waving his hand in a dismissive nature. I couldn’t help but laugh. Having Ian working as my agent had its…challenges, to put it politely, but I had to admit, it was nice to be a bit more in sync with him lately.
“Are you calling back,” I asked?
“No,” he replied, swallowing. “It took me the better part of an hour to get through. Lines are so full at this point that all I’d get is a busy signal.”
My phone, plugged in next to Ian’s computer behind me, was buzzing so much that it was practically threatening to vibrate itself off of the table. “The fuck?” I said, closing my laptop to go investigate.
Needless to say, I wasn’t really prepared for what I saw.
“Jesus Tapdancing Christ!” I said upon viewing the ten-thousand, and rising, notifications from Twitter. Ian turned around, raising an inquisitive eyebrow. “Something’s going on,” I said. “I don’t think that Rishel’s just dodging your calls, Ian.”
I fumbled through the notifications, but they were coming in faster than I could make sense of them.
@burgerbear BIG NEWS OUT OF THE CWF, and an even BIGGER match for my man @JarvisKing!!
@somethingsnide05 Opportunity knocks for @JarvisKing this week on #Evolution, but no way is that a fair fight! #KingvsForesaken #CWF
@DebbieCates1333 So wait, if Rish and the fam are M.I.A, who booked #Evolution? Ataxia? Hardly fair that @JarvisKing has to compete against him and his cronies!
@WilliamWhy Hey, it’s only two more matches till @JarvisKing is back atop the CWF throne! #BowDown #ChampionsBall
“Oh man,” Ian said, scrolling through his own phone. “You’re right Jarvis…listen to this: ‘Chaos ensues within the hallowed halls of the CWF! The 26th episode of the regularly scheduled Evolution wrestling event has been postponed due to some unforeseen circumstances as the global wrestling pioneer, Championship Wrestling Federation, experiences a brief period of tumult…’”
Ian kept on reading, but I stopped listening. I was scrolling through the thousands upon thousands of messages, trying to make sense of them. One, however, stuck out and left me in stunned silence.
@SportsNewsNet #BREAKING - wrestling company in turmoil as World Champion steps down and CWF boss J. Rish is no where to be found following the news in #Makhnovia. @CathyDaniels will sit down with former NewsNet contributor and current Paramount Champion @JarvisKing this week in Uniondale!
Bad memories have a funny way of sneaking up on you, don’t they? It’s so rarely those moments that we’re most proud of that surprise us; it’s the times when we’re the worst versions of ourselves that seem to have an uncanny way of waging guerilla warfare on our psyches.
“Jarvis!” Ian exclaimed, wresting me from my thoughts. “You’ve got a match – fatal four way against…oof, The Shadow, Mia Rayne and Ataxia.” He scrolled through his phone a bit more. “Opportunity to compete for the World Title at Summer Games on the line. End Games.”
“Yep,” I said, my eyes drifting back to the tweet, still front and center on my phone. “And I’ve got a media date to talk about everything. With Cathy.”
When the CWF was on hiatus after my initial run in the company, my life lacked any sort of direction. Sure, I was financially secure – the old timers that trained me in the ring taught me money smarts outside of it for a reason – but I was still in my early 20s. I was far too young to rest on my laurels, but I had no idea what to do with myself. I tried getting into teaching, but that honestly just made me miss competing. I made a few shots at some indies, but even those opportunities didn’t satisfy the itch that I needed scratched.
Eventually, I ended up doing what a lot of out-of-work performers do – it wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t glamorous, but it wasn’t a 9 to 5 pencil pushing gig either. It felt worse. It felt like the bottom of the barrel. It felt like the last line of my obituary.
I hit the meet-and-greet convention circuit.
You know what, forget what I said earlier – Ian pacing my living room, yelling at a receptionist? That was nothing like a caged lion. That was like an angry attorney, flexing his superior intellect to try to get what he needed for his client. A caged lion isn’t an angry, ravenous beast…it’s a sad, once proud animal, slowly withering and dying, dominated by a foe that shouldn’t be able to dominate him.
That’s what a caged lion is, and I was like a caged lion.
I was like a caged lion, frittering away my best years. I was like a caged lion, selling autographs for $20.00, signed posed photos for $25.00. I was like a caged lion, sitting two tables down from old-timers in their sixties who had little better than a cup of coffee in the big time. I was like a caged lion, shuttling myself from Lake Geneva, to Woodstock, to Poughkeepsie to see the same tired faces on my side of the tables. I was like a caged lion, terrified that I was becoming one and the same as them.
It was a frigid December afternoon in the middle of an east coast loop when I found myself in Uniondale. To be honest, this particular grip-and-grin should’ve been called off, as the entire area was in the midst of a massive snowstorm. Despite this, the shyster who was promoting the event refused to cancel, citing the fact that we had our booking fees, so we were contractually obliged to attend. Now, truth be told, the “fee” that you get for attending one of these, loosely organized, “events” is rarely anything more than a paltry pittance; to try and presume that it’s anything more than an honorarium is laughable. Nevertheless, I was brought up in this business with a pretty simple ethos – you make your fuckin’ dates, no matter how shit the pay is.
And shit it was, by the way. Like I said, the day of the event, close to 40 centimeters (almost a foot and a half, America. It’s literally you, Liberia and the artist formerly known as Burma who are on the Imperial system. Catch the fuck up) of snow got dumped on the Uniondale area, which meant that transportation around the city was nigh-on impossible, or at the very least, unadvisable. Given that you only make a token sum for actually appearing, the way that you earn your living at one of these events is through selling – pictures, posters, DVDs, and autographs. The only way that you sell things is that you have people there, willing to buy.
Alcoholics, it’s said, have a moment of clarity when they reach out for help. Before that moment of clarity, there’s rock bottom. This was rock bottom.
It wasn’t the first time I had been to one of these things and seen a sparse crowd. That seemed to happen fairly frequently, to be honest. That said, the crowds that did arrive were usually enthusiastic and eager to spend enough money to make the day, at least financially, worthwhile. This, however, was the first time that I knew that I was effectively paying money to appear. There was no way that I was going to break even on that day, let alone make a profit.
The day seemed to trickle by even slower than the handful of fans that made their way through the storm. Even when the snow stopped, the crowd refused to pick up. I was experiencing a deep sense of ennui, a feeling of existential dread that I hadn’t experienced since my mother died.
“And this is where the mighty Jarvis King goes out,” I muttered to myself as I turned to start to pack up my things. “Not with a bang, but with a whimper.” I honestly didn’t give a damn about the whole exercise in futility any longer. ‘Fuck it,’ I thought. ‘I’ll pay back the booking fee and try to get a flight home.’
“Jesus Tapdancing Christ!” came a voice, echoing across the nearly empty civic center. “Jarvis Fucking King!”
I sighed but steeled myself and tried to put on a face that belied my inner monologue. The one and only upside to these dark days was the fans. They were the only thing that made it worthwhile, and anyone who was excited to see me didn’t deserve anything less than the full Jarvis J. King experience.
Alcoholics, it’s said, have a moment of clarity after they’ve hit rock bottom. This was my epiphany. She was my moment of clarity.
My game face failed, and my mouth laid agape. She giggled and ran her fingers through her medium-length, bubble-gum pink hair. It’s amazing how a person’s personality can make them seem a hundred feet tall. Cathy had that in spades; she was probably only 5’1”, but if you had asked me on that day, I’d have told you that we would stand eye-to-eye.
“Hi,” I eventually managed to spit out.
“Hello, Jarvis King,” she said, a hint of mischievousness in her eye. There might have been someone with her, but I’ll be honest – if there was, I don’t remember them. All I remember was the way that she looked at me.
“Alright, Jarvis,” said the stagehand as I was getting the last of my makeup applied. Ian hadn’t come with me to Uniondale – he had some matters to tie up at his former practice – so I was riding solo as I made my way to the SportsNewsNet studios. “You know the drill pretty well, I’d imagine. What we’re filming today will go up on the net in full after an edited version is shown during the normal broadcast. You don’t have to worry about self-censoring; we’ll hit the bleep whenever necessary in edit. What’s important is…”
“…that I’m authentic,” I said, finishing the kid’s sentence. He grinned and flashed a thumbs-up, and, after a last application of makeup, he showed me to my chair. I sat on the guest’s side of the desk and fiddled with a pen.
“Cathy’ll be along any minute, Jarvis, and then we can get started.”
No one warned me that Cathy was coming before; she just arrived in my life, equal measures disruptor and saviour.
We sat and chatted for most of that cold December afternoon. The afternoon turned into dinner, which turned into drinks. The chatting turned into flirting, which turned into…something more. That’s the thing about falling in love with another person – you never actually know that you’re falling in love until it’s already happened. You can only really pin-point key moments after they’ve already happened. There’s no opportunity to sit back and acknowledge that a moment is happening as it happens; you can only experience it.
“So,” I said in the quiet dive in which we were sharing a beer – I always loved that she could drink a beer, “what do you do for a living, Cathy Daniels?”
She killed the last of her bottle of PBR. “I am a reporter,” she said. Her cheeks were rosy from the beer, and her speech was ever-so-slightly slurred.
“A reporter?” I said in mock surprise. “And here I thought we were having a nice date.” I finished my beer and gestured for the bored bartender to supply us with another round.
“Oh, we are,” she said, smiling devilishly. She had this way of smiling that seemed to start with her emerald green eyes, and then spread downward to her cheeks and then to her lips. She bit her bottom lip a bit. “And besides, I’m not an on-air reporter…yet.”
“Chaos has gripped the landscape of the Championship Wrestling Federation following events surrounding the group known as Ouroboros. Here’s what we know for certain – a joint task-force has invaded and neutralized the Ouroboros stronghold in Makhnovia. CWF Champion Caledonia Summers-Highlander has stepped away from the company, vacating the title, in hopes of finding her husband, former CWF wrestler Dan Highlander. Amidst all of this, the CWF’s top brass is nowhere to be found, but the show must go on.”
Don’t get me wrong, Cathy was no less beautiful. She had let her hair go back to its natural blond state, but still wore it in the effortlessly chic way that she had that day we met. This wasn’t the change I noticed, though.
She was cold.
“My next guest,” she continued, “is competing this week for a chance to be the next CWF World Champion.” She turned to me. “He is the current CWF Paramount Champion and competes against all of other the current CWF champions in a fatal four-way this week on Evolution. Jarvis King, it’s good to see you,” she lied.
“Glad to be here,” I replied, lying in kind.
“First of all,” she said, “conspicuous by its absence is your title belt. As I understand it, Jace Valentine, an old rival of yours, has returned and has possession of your property. What’s your comment?”
I shook my head, snorting a laugh as I did so. “It’s the damnedest thing, Cathy…I’ve had the Paramount title – my title – for about three months now. In that time, I’ve had the title for – what – three weeks? If you want my honest opinion, it’s a matter of lesser competitors not being able to come to terms with a very simple truth – they’re not good enough to take this belt from me legitimately. Donovan couldn’t do it. STARR couldn’t do it. Sunset, Eclipse, Partially Sunny with a chance of showers…whatever his name was – he couldn’t do it. Jace Valentine hasn’t even tried. That said, I’m pretty fucking sick of this shit. I want my title back, and I will have it back soon.”
“Very well,” she said, an undertone of annoyance in her voice. “But that’s not really why we have you here. This week, you face off against Mia Rayne, The Shadow, and current CWF commissioner Ataxia – all three members of The Forsaken – for your chance to compete at Summer Games for the now vacant CWF World Championship.”
“You know,” I said, interrupting Cathy. I have to admit, the twinge of irritation that crossed her face as I did so brought a bit of warmth to my heart. “Speaking of shit that I’m fucking sick of, I honestly thought that I was done with the gimmick infringers when I last faced Christian STARR…but lo and behold, we have The Forsaken! The New Coke to The Cyndicate’s Classic formula.”
“Of course, the difference here, Cathy, is that the Cyndicate really isn’t a Classic Coke. It’s more a classic pile of crap. So, we’ve got a shittier version of a shitty product. But, I get what you’re asking me – am I concerned about the dynamics entering into that match?”
“Do I even need to be here?” she asked, sarcastically.
“Not really,” I said, not missing a beat. “And the answer is, yeah. I am. This could turn into what is essentially a three-on-one handicap match. Four-on-one if you count Amelia. Or possibly five. I’m not 100% sure what’s going on with…them. Then again, that’s kind of Mia’s…let’s call it charm.”
“So,” Cathy said, the irritation in her voice palpable. “With that in mind, what hope do you have of going on to Summer Games to compete for the CWF’s top prize? Do you stand a chance?”
“Yes,” I said, plainly.
“Well, care to elaborate? What’s your game plan, Jarvis?”
“Well,” I said, chuckling. “It certainly doesn’t begin with broadcasting my plans on a national television program…but seriously, if you want a hint, you need look no further than The Forsaken themselves. This is not a group where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, Cathy, and the sum of its parts doesn’t account for much.”
“Take The Shadow, for example. Here’s a guy who looks like he’s cosplaying as a background character in a My Chemical Romance music video, and his career has looked about as bright as his eyeliner. Shadow – take it from me, buddy – the whole emo-goth thing ended about a decade ago. You should have left it behind when your father took you into the city to see a marching band.”
“You’ve got your little ‘soul search’ going, which sounds less like a driving emotional journey and more like a really shitty American Idol knockoff reality TV show, but that’s neither here nor there…seems to me that you and your little band of merry druidic men should call off the search, Shadow. Seems to me that the real soul search…was inside of you all along. Not unlike at least half of your druids, but that’s beside the point.”
“Classy as always,” Cathy muttered.
“Well, you wanna talk classy, Cath – you must be talking about ole Mia. Or is it Amelia? Or is it Sybil Dorsett?”
“Whatever; people need to read a fucking book now and again. Anyhow, somehow our tag champions are composed of two people where the more stable of the two is a Robert Smith-wannabe.”
“It’s a weird thing – and I know, I could be saying literally anything about Mia and start it with those words – but it’s strange that little miss ‘semi-colon, right parenthesis’ thinks that she’s the first element of chaos that’s ever strolled into the CWF. She thinks that she’s unique in her crazy; that there’s no possible way that I could ever see her particular brand of wackiness coming.”
“Here’s the thing, Mia – and I hope you’re paying close attention – your schtick is tired. You’re crazy? Congratulations – we all chose this irrational carnival lifestyle as our means of making a living. You’re violent? One of my former best friends tried to gouge my eye out with a fork because I didn’t send him a Christmas card. You’re deranged? Have you seen the shit that me and that rhyming numbskull Chaolin Sahn used to do to each other back in the day?”
“You want so badly to be something unique, Mia, and hey – I understand. Here’s the thing you’re gonna have to come to grips with, though: you’re boring. You’re ordinary in an extraordinary world, Mia, and as badly as you want to pretend otherwise, you’re nothing more than a watered-down dilution of something truly seminal.”
“So,” said Cathy, jumping in as I took a sip of water. “That leaves Ataxia.”
“Yep,” I said. “Burlap Bob himself. The reason that we’re having this little Champions Jamboree.”
“You believe that Ataxia booked this match himself?”
“Oh come on, Cath, don’t be naïve. Of course he did. That having been said, there’s gotta be some company bylaw he’s violating…I mean, I know that Rishel’s off in hiding or missing or whatever, but surely some sort of corporate officer must be kicking around somewhere in the CWF HQ that feels it’s not kosher for the Commissioner to book a match where two of his opponents are allies, and if he wins he gets a title shot, right?”
“Weren’t you once an active competitor while being CWF commissioner, Jarvis?”
“Well yeah, but I never booked myself into a title shot…and at least I had the common decency to wear a –”
“You were gonna say wear a mask, weren’t you?”
“Yeah, I was in trouble like three words into that sentence.”
Cathy laughed. Was she…enjoying herself? Even I had to admit, it was nice to see her again.
“Anyhow,” I said after taking a moment to compose myself, “Ataxia is the only person in this match that I’ve had an actual encounter with before…so he knows what I’m capable of, first hand. This could’ve been a one-on-one, Paramount Champion vs. Impact Champion encounter. Ataxia’s smarter than that though. He knows that Jarvis King on his own is too big of a risk. That’s why he’s brought in the lesser version of The Crow and Lady Tyler Durden. That’s why it’s a fatal four-way. He wanted to give himself a chance.”
“Taxi, I hope you’re telling your polyamorous-partner-in-a-single-body and Edward Scissorhands’ less interesting brother exactly what they’re up against. I think it’s only fair that they know what you know.”
“Because they don’t seem to. They seem to think that this is somehow Jarvis King’s last hurrah.” I smirked, found the camera, and stared directly into the lens. “This isn’t the reunion tour; this is a renaissance. This isn’t the greatest hits; this is the next top ten hit. This isn’t the epilogue; this is chapter two. This is the opportunity – my opportunity – to get my first ever WrestleFest main event. And I will get that opportunity. Because I’m Jarvis J. King. I’m the Internet Icon. I’m East Coast Excellence. And all those who stand in my way will Bow Down.”
The light on my camera went out, and the one focussed on Cathy illuminated. “A bullish Jarvis King has been my guest. Back to the studio.”
“Well, Jarvis,” said Cathy as the recording stopped. “I have to say…that was actually kind of nice.”
I was a million miles away; or rather, I was a few days away. I was already in that ring. I was already hearing that bell ring. I wasn’t really hearing Cathy; I was hearing the roar of the crowd. I was feeling not her eyes, but the eyes of the capacity crowd. This was always our problem. It was always going to be our problem.
“Yeah,” I said, vacantly.
Cathy stopped, and laughed a bit to herself. “You really are still the same asshole you were two years ago, aren’t you?”
“What?” I said, snapping back to reality.
“The first real thing that we say to each other in all this time, and that’s all you have to say to me?”
“I’m sorry,” I said, still somewhat in a daze.
She shook her head. “Come on, Jarvis. You never were sorry. You were always who you were.”
“Well, I’m sorry that wasn’t who you needed,” I said. She ran her hand through her hair in the exact same way she always had. The only difference was this time, her eyes did not smile. Her lips were pursed. It was like living that night in Philly all over again.
She started to walk away, but hesitated before turning to face me again. “Tell me,” she said. “Don’t you ever wonder what could’ve happened if things…well,” she said, searching for the words. “If things were different?”
I sat stunned. “They say that ignorance is bliss,” I eventually said. “I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s certainly easier.”
She slapped me, hard. All I could see for a moment was white, and all I could hear was a faint ringing in my ears. As my vision’s blurriness subsided, I could see her silhouette, walking away. Leaving me alone with my thoughts. Leaving me alone with my match. Leaving me alone with wrestling.
But that was OK. It was OK when she did it two years prior. Because, really… What else is there, other than wrestling?