I had wrestled through college, even winning first place in the WCWA. A hundred people watched me win with a torn rotator cuff and when the referee held my hand up, I saw the man with the stetson hat and the horn-rimmed glasses through a film of tears.
He was a talent agent. You know what promotion he represented and under legal advice, I will not name them.
All the hours training, the bruises and sprains, the hunger pangs and the brutal, dehydrated hours spent cutting to make weight and you know why they signed me?
I was pretty.
The athletic department found me a lawyer who went along with me but the promotion had experience with young, talented athletes like me.
The compound, a cartoon temple to the male ego, a level in an old school arcade game made real.
A deal that meant I would suplex my student loans into submission.
He was the company. A body builder’s bulk tamed by a custom suit that cost more than my car. He spoke of faith, family and federation as the foundations of the company.
I simpered in the right places, working the appeal of my appearance without trying to seduce anyone. He reached a hand like a manicured catcher’s mitt and turned my head before smiling like a fairytale wolf.
Three hundred days of shows.
Pouring garbage bags of ice into motel bathtubs and slipping into the water, trading the agony of exertion for the chill of the water.
My signing bonus formed part of the nondisclosure agreement but it was large enough to pay off my loans. I earned every single cent of it, working matches on the development circuit until summoned to a hotel suite in Orlando.
Tired all the time.
Too tired for men.
Too fearful of the drugs that everyone did to keep going.
I believed I was earning my place, doing my make up in greasy mirrors with drugstore cosmetics. It was war-paint, reduced to smears before the heat and light of the crowd.
They would put me over.
A new character. Playing a face that would get a title shot in the upcoming pay-per-view.
A shot that would hit dead centre.
Against Mama Voodoo.
She was the promotion’s major draw. A thick Caribbean accent, voodoo affectations and a boa constrictor around her neck. She stuck her tongue out like Gene Simmons.
We met at the arena in Orlando. She sauntered into the dressing room, custom sweats with her logo emblazoned on the front, a skull with a snake running through it from left eye socket to the open grinning mouth.
A curt, perfect voice. Educated and melodious. She had majored in Theatre and Afro-Caribbean Studies. I tried to hide my surprise, but she raised a perfect eyebrow and smiled.
‘I know it’s blackface, but I paid for my house in cash. Name a theatre major who could do that without dealing drugs?’
I blushed and looked away. All the ambient racist sentiments of my childhood returned to my ears.
We worked through the match.
She quoted Mamet and Campbell as we worked out what we would do and to whom. We would perform a series of reversals and peaks that would leave them drained and screaming for more culminating in my victory.
Her tactile authority became the world.She would lead me around the ring with a chill confidence that made my legs weak and my nipples stiffen. She grinned and clapped me on the shoulder.
‘You will be amazing.’ she said.
I went back to the hotel and ran a hot bath. My phone rang.
‘I’ve just had a new contract come through.’ he said.
An amendment to the contract but not a favourable one.
I would be a champion on the cheap.
He talked numbers, explaining that the points on merchandising and a potential production deal for their embryonic movie studio would work out well but I would take a cut in salary and do more shows and pay per views. A dull dread reverberated in my skull and a film of nausea coated my lips and tongue with each swallow.
‘Is there any room to negotiate?’ I said.
He chuckled in a way that made me want to reach through the phone and choke him.
I made my decision. I told him. He advised me not to. I was a star on the rise and I was tough enough not to jump at the first shot across my bows. My determination would earn his respect. I never flinched.
My theme music was pure brass and strings-saturated cheese. Lots of stock footage of cornfields and flags, edited with middle distance shots of me in the ring and with my hands on my hips, chin up and grinning for the people.
The booing was terrifying. A monster made of a million voices. I roughed it out on the walk to the ring, knowing I would be their champion soon enough.
Angela’s entrance was fronts of purple smoke, low dissonant moans and stabs of synthesizer chords. She sauntered out, oiled and terrifying, her thick thighs flexing with each step. Her hair was styled into thick dreadlocks all dip dyed garish colours.
Her assistant. Ghoul, who had once played bass with a 90’s metal band before finding his true calling as a clown of a different stripe. She had her boa constrictor around her neck, listless from the tranquilizers they gave it to keep it under control. She handed the championship belt and the snake to him then looked at me. The referee pointed at us, the announcer did his thing and I prepared to lock up with her then transition into a hip toss.
She slapped me across the cheek, a stiff blow that knocked my head back and made my eyes water.
We had not rehearsed that. She charged at me, wrapping her arms around my waist and lifting me into a suplex.
I shot my legs out and lowered my hips to the mat, pressed my head to the side of hers and hissed into her ear.
‘What are you doing?’
She jabbed me in the ribs with a strength that took my breath away.
‘You should have signed.’
The world went away and my instincts took over, fuelled by my exhaustion and my scarlet, thundering betrayal towards a single aim.
Angela was a great actress, a capable athlete and an intelligent, aware woman.
She was not a wrestler.
I surrendered to my training, muscling up through her grip and sweeping around her with an ease and speed that drew howls of delight from the crowd.
My right arm wrapped around her throat and my left wrist clamped onto the other before I drove upwards from my hips. I was not seeing anything beyond the veil of rage and upset that had fallen over my face.
I saw the owner, his eyes wide as he grabbed a security guard by the arm and pushed him towards the ring. All his control and arrogance had shattered against the monolith of my pain.
The belt would never be mine.
The victory would.
She went limp, but I did not let go. It took two shots with the tazer before I fell away but she collapsed onto her face and laid still.
It stood for something in here where I will spend the rest of my life. A kind of faded celebrity and public knowledge about my crime has kept me safe from the other inmates. I put myself through drills in the courtyard and my cell, endless burpees and push ups, air squats until I could not walk.
Professional wrestling was built on the bodies of people. They were used for everything they were worth and then dumped by the side of the road.
At least I was alive when it happened.