Drip. Drop. Drip. Drop.
There’s a certain madness that sets in while you’re sitting in a quiet room, anxious about getting news that may or may not be bad.
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
You sort of sit there, looking for anything at all to distract yourself. A leaky faucet could do it, but the drip-dropping of the water ends up being too arrhythmic for you to listen to. So, you start paying attention to a ticking clock. That, ironically, is too metronomic, and with every passing second, it sends you further down a spiral.
It’s over before it even began, really.
Your big comeback, ruined.
Ruined by a freak accident.
A freak accident, and a referee a bit too eager to make the quote-un-quote “right” call, it should be said.
Fuck listening to the clock; fuck this thought spiral. You whip out your phone, hoping to find some solace in the mindless distraction it offers the masses. An entire industry, you think to yourself, built on keeping its user base distracted long enough to develop the next distraction device. You think that, and think that it’s a particularly banal observation for a non-baby boomer to make, while you open up an email from your brother - things have gotten a bit easier between you in the past few months - and rock forward to ease the tension on your swollen knee.
You adjust the ice packet on your patella and sigh as you read the email. Seems that your brother’s firm wrapped up probate on your uncle’s estate. Looks like the last few bits of Uncle Jack’s worldly possessions are ready to be disbursed, and, lo and behold, he left some of his stuff to you. You need to come to pick them up soon.
There’s nothing left to do on your phone but make a move in your Words With Friends game with your mother’s sister - the only way you stay in touch with that side of the family these days - so you make a move. Exorcize. 76 points. You try not to think about the demons that you’re trying to exorcize from your own life. You shut off your phone’s screen and return it to your jacket pocket.
Where is that doctor, anyhow?
Honestly, you’ve lost any sense of how long it’s been that you’ve been in this examination room. The bored nurse - is there any other kind? - showed you to it some indeterminate time ago, and you could swear that she muttered “past it” under her breath as you eased yourself onto the examination table and applied the ice pack to your knee. You were almost certain that she whispered “has-been” as she exited the room, shutting the door behind her, which you would have bet money had squeaked out the word “failure” as it closed.
So you sit there, unsure of the amount of time that has passed, stewing in the anxiety born out of the news that, good or bad, was coming. Eventually. Maybe.
You look for any distraction that you can possibly find - an arrhythmic dripping faucet, a metronomic clock, a device meant to do nothing but distract - but nothing seems to do the trick. You’re stuck with your thoughts, unvarnished and uninterrupted, and the increasing, oppressive dread that accompanies them. The maybes.
Maybe you’re not good enough.
That’s a particular favourite that your anxiety drives you back to, time and time again. That’s a maybe that you’ve spent your entire career fighting back against, and it’s perhaps the most ridiculous on its face. After all, you’re a multiple-time champion. You’ve reached the pinnacle of your industry on multiple occasions. You’ve been to the promised land. You’re a fucking hall of famer for Christ’s sake.
Your anxiety, though, doesn’t really care about that. Your anxiety points to the fact that it’s been years since you won the big one. Your anxiety reminds you that yeah, you were the longest running champion of 2018, but really, it was the Paramount Championship. No one was coming after you because they wanted that belt, says your anxiety, they were coming to beat you. Your anxiety is pretty confident that you, a weakened you, were the trophy.
You have these thoughts. You fight back against them, but you have them always. But that’s not the only maybe that haunts you. See, when you manage to convince yourself that you are as good as your accolades would suggest that you are, there’s a few more thoughts that interject themselves.
Maybe you should have just retired. Maybe you’re past your prime. Maybe you don’t have it anymore.
These ones cut, and deep, and your anxiety knows it. It was a nothing moment in a match that should have been a routine return to the ring. Well, routine for you, anyhow - a multiple-time champion, a person who has reached the pinnacle of your industry on multiple occasions. A man who’s been to the promised land. A fucking hall of famer, for Christ’s sake. A return, even against the likes of Mariella Flair, should have been nothing more than a simple, routine, run of the mill affair. It should have been a nothing moment in a routine match for someone like you.
So, why wasn’t it? You can try to rationalize it away - ring rust, tightness, just not quite being up to your normal sharpness - but the doubts, the disbelief, the fear...they are feelings that demand to be felt. And these thoughts, these feelings, they seep into your brain and start playing on your anxieties and insecurities with three simple suggestions.
Maybe you should have just retired.
There’s something to be said about going away quietly. The CWF is in better stead than when you left it; not because of your absence, of course, but instead because of the vision that you had, and the sorts of things that you fought for. Duce, a World champion again. The Paramount title, the championship you made relevant, still a prize worth fighting for. Why not leave, knowing that your legacy, ultimately, lives on in this way?
The hell with that, though, you think to yourself. You’ve never done a goddamn thing in your entire career quietly; if you’re going out, it’s going to be in a fucking blaze of glory. There’ll be fireworks, confetti, a career retrospective, and strippers. Okay, maybe that’s a bit much - we’ll skip the confetti.
The point is, retirement isn’t something that’s done because it’s easy. It’s a choice. It’s a decision made, not shrugged into.
But, maybe you’re past your prime.
Jesus Christ, man - your last major match was for the World Heavyweight Championship, and it was against a couple of people that you should have walked through. It’s not a bad thing, necessarily - it’s just a fact of life. Time marches inexorably onward, and there’s nothing that can actually be done about it. It was the same for legends before you; it’ll be the same after. There’s nothing wrong with knowing when the time is right and not clinging on to relevance as it slips through your fingers like sand.
Except fuck that. You’re not Kobe, playing for ego and trying to recapture a glory that you never truly grasped; you’re fucking Tiger Woods, baby. They said that you were done, but don’t call it a fucking comeback, call it muscle memory because you cannot lose greatness. Greatness is an inherent trait that lives deep inside of you. It’s part of your essence. It’s the very making of your soul.
Maybe you just don’t have it anymore.
Your last major match was a World Title match against an emo-er version of Gerard Way and a chick who makes pre-sex abuse trial-era Michael Jackson look like a well-adjusted pillar of the community. These are your ideal circumstances. Even if you weren’t at 100%, which you were, you should have been able to stand and deliver. But you didn’t. You choked, and choked hard. And now you’ve stumbled on the starting line of your comeback.
Now you’re not 100% anymore. You’re not the kid who stood toe-to-toe with Alex Cain and took his title; you’re now the man who fought him in a steel cage and came up short. You’re not the defiant champion who took on all comers; you’re the guy who couldn’t beat The Shadow and whichever version of that fucking lunatic who’s behind the commentary booth now. You’re not the guy who won more Iron Man Matches than anyone else in CWF history; now you’re the guy who can’t finish one match, because you got a little knee injury.
Maybe you don’t have it anymore. Maybe it’s just not in your body anymore.
But then the doctor does come in. He does a physical, and then after your explicit demands, does an x-ray. He finds nothing out of sorts. It was a moderate sprain that you should have no problem rehabbing in no time. He compliments your arthroscopic surgeon on the work he did a few years back when you first injured - well, really injured - your knee. He tells you that all you need is to get back to the normal run of things - the normal training that’s needed - and you should be able to get going. He tells you you’re only 34. These things happen, but it’s not the end of the world.
So then you get on the phone to the CWF booking office. You tell them that you’ve just been cleared. You tell them you’re ready for your return, version two.
And then...well, the next part, I have to be honest, I’m pretty sad about. Because when I hung up that phone call, I knew two things - One, I’m in an opening match, not a main event where I belong, and two, I’m going to have to ruin the life of some poor guy named Tom.
I feel for you Tommy, I really do, because I’ve seen this story play out a thousand times. I’ve been a participant in this sad tale before, and I promise you, it gets no easier for me. See, the CWF signs a guy like you - brimming with potential, a bit rough around the edges, but certainly there could be a diamond in the rough - and lo and behold, you have a little bit of success...I mean, it was against Autumn Rayne, but a win’s a win, right? And look at you, Tom - you’ve gone and done it twice! You’ve done it; you’re a CWF superstar! You’re undefeated! You’re on cloud fucking nine for the first time in your poor, miserable life. You’re a fucking Winner with a capital W. You’re unstoppable! You’re unbeatable! You’re the top dog, if you will.
And hey, bonus for you - you got to pretend the woman you were beating was your significant other! That must be nice for you, you gamergate creep.
See, what happens next, Tom, is that reality starts to set in. If you manage to show your face after this week’s Evolution, you’re going to realize something, and it’s going to be heartbreaking. You’re going to realize that losing to me? That’s the best you can hope for. It’s going to be the apex of your career. All your promise and all your hopes? They’re basically all for nought.
See, when it comes down to it, we’re in a dog-eat-dog business, Tom, and that’s not good for you. Now, maybe you think you’re well suited to compete in that sort of environment. The problem is, you’re a mere mutt, trying to compete with the blood of a purebred. And that’s just a level that you can’t match.
But, ultimately, I feel pretty bad for you, Tom. I do. Because you’re standing in the way of a freight train. Ask Christian Starr what happens when you get between Jarvis King and his goals. I’ve destroyed careers bigger than yours with less effort, and once you take away all the promise, all the potential, all the could-be that you have...there’s just a kid from a trailer park, facing off against a King.
And I promise, Tom...you’re going to bow down.