IN LAIMAN'S TERMS: Processing.
By Al Laiman
Dec 1, 2013 - 5:44:06 PM
NOTE: This is one of those personal columns. I'm warning you now, because I don't want to take flak in the comment section. If you're not into that style from me, or me in general, just leave this post. I don't need it today.
Edit: I see this was already not observed. If you don't want to read a personal piece, don't fucking read it.
I saw her eyes in the front row.
It'd been a long day. My friend had driven us the three hours out of the goodness of his heart, and she finally got to come along to a show. I'd been wrestling about six months, and she and I had gotten closer than we'd ever been.
I'd known her for nearly seven years at that point. She sat in the backseat while I rode shotgun, but leaned up between the seats for most of the ride, commenting on the music selection, and being the general optimistic presence she always was. She was a darling to have around, and the strong feelings I had for her were finally being reciprocated.
The promoter was nice enough to reserve them two seats in the front row, right in the corner. It was going to be a hectic match; way out of control, all over the building. There were two or three spots planned, but I had no idea how long it would go. What I did know is that I wanted to impress her. What I did know is that she would be there, watching. What I hoped is that she would be proud.
She was a wrestling fan from the Attitude Era, but a casual one at best. She knew about Austin and the Undertaker, but wasn't what I would call a consistent viewer. It was fun for her to talk about on a general level though. When she found out I was going out to the area where she grew up to wrestle though, she really wanted to come out and see it. She didn't care about the show, she was there for me. That was something I didn't have much of in most of my life.
She was inconsistent, flighty, not what one would call reliable. She was a beautiful soul, but a bit of a space cadet. Several times I'd thought we were finally getting closer, and she would disappear. She would make plans but not return calls. She would say what people wanted to hear in hopes to make everyone happy. She was never sure of her place in this world.
But that night, none of that mattered. Time didn't matter, nor did the past. Everything that had ever stressed me out about her was gone, because she was finally there, with me.
I saw her concerned glances when I took a serious move. I heard her scream when I got in what little offense I did. When I stood tall with my stable at the end, I could hear her voice. "Go Al!" she yelled. That wasn't my character name, but who cares? She was there supporting me, that's what mattered to me.
I sat in the backseat with her the ride home. The driver didn't mind, as long as I stayed awake for conversation. She leaned into my shoulder and fell asleep most of the three hour trip. I didn't mind that either.
I remember that night so fondly, like a few others I shared with her, because it was the last one like that. She started being available less, and then disappeared, me later finding out that she got into some trouble with alcohol and the law. We fell out of touch for the most part, and I only saw her a few times after that. My feelings about her never changed, although I did have some closure when I visited her later and realized it was never going to be what I imagined in my younger days.
Several times, we enjoyed an intimate drive together, where we parked and would listen to instrumental score music. She appreciated it, where most people didn't get why I loved it so much. She'd never seen most of the movies from which the music was, but just liked it because it was pretty. We sat in a public park that was in the middle of nowhere well after dark and just relaxed. No one was going to bother us, and it was before we had our own places.
One time she called me, begging me to come get her. When I got there, she smelled of mace, and her eye was swollen. Her boyfriend at the time had laid one on her, and I took her to my parents' house. I knew I couldn't keep her safe forever. I knew she was in a toxic relationship, but there was only so much I could do. I couldn't keep her; I had to take her back. The boyfriend later thanked me for coming to get her that night. I never figured out why.
These are all things that flooded into my mind when I looked her up today. It had been a while since we'd talked. She found God after her serious troubles, had gotten married, had a daughter, and seemingly turned her life around. She moved out of state, and I didn't hear much from her anymore. When I did though, it was always so upbeat. When she remembered to respond, she had the kind of personality that just made you feel better talking to her, even if she didn't follow through most of the time. She was a doll who screwed up her life, but recovered.
I can't believe she's gone.
Turns out that's the reason I hadn't heard from her. She passed away in April, leaving behind a husband, an infant daughter, and an unborn child. She was 25.
What a thing to find out through a Facebook search. It's the second time it's happened that way this year, where I looked up someone I hadn't talked to in a while, only to find a memorial page for her made four years ago. I feel like a terrible friend when that happens.
Most of what I just typed has slowly entered my mind throughout this day, increasing the difficulty of maintaining normal composure. I can't talk about this to anyone in detail; most of the people we mutually knew are either too far away or didn't know about our off-and-on intimacy. It was a secret when it happened, and we never talked about it.
I knew this girl, or at least a side of her. We shared moments that no one else knows, and now they're only with me. I only have two pictures with her to look back on: One at a concert, and one of me standing in the ring while she watches on.
It's times like these where I need a distraction. The Factory of Sadness has returned in full force, so that didn't do the trick for very long. My car was playing "Gaeta's Lament" from the Battlestar Galactica soundtrack, so that didn't help much.
What helped was going through my old collection of wrestling DVDs. I popped in some matches from back in the days where we watched a few shows together. I knew what happened in these matches, but suddenly, that didn't matter anymore. The compelling stories these competitors told through their actions took my mind away from the news I'd found, and replaced it with nostalgia of a time where wrestling was a satisfying distraction from real life.
And that's the magic of professional wrestling when it's done very well, my friends. Wrestling isn't real life, and yet it is. We turn on the television or sit in a chair for a few hours to witness something that we know isn't real, and yet we pretend it is. The stories unfold before us in a choreographed, strictly planned manner, but we watch as if it were really happening. They use names that aren't theirs, and pretend to fight over a girl or a golden belt. Sometimes it gets really personal, and you take sides emotionally. You want so hard to see your favorite wrestler seek his vengeance, to hit that big move and gain that emotional victory that ends his or her quest. The troubles of your life don't matter when wrestling does that.
Wrestling has the power to take all of those who accept the suspension of disbelief and take you to a place where you can watch other people act out solving their problems inside a wrestling ring. You forget that it's fake because you want to, because there's a part of you that wishes you were in there being able to do it yourself. You live vicariously through the character more than the wrestler portraying it, because that storytelling element is as old as theatre itself. Catharsis is what the Ancient Greeks nailed in inventing theatre over 2000 years ago, and it still resides today in universal fashion without a word needing to be spoken.
I can be a bit harsh on the current product, to the point that it frustrates some of my audience. Maybe it's because I have trouble identifying like I used to, or maybe I watch from a different perspective than I once did. If there's a positive message to take out of such a terrible tragedy, it's that we should be grateful we have something that brings us together, even if we disagree about why it does, how good it is, which person we identify with, and how good we think it was. At the end of the day, we love pro wrestling, and it's something that can take us out of the harsh realities of life and make the most important thing we argue about be whether or not Daniel Bryan's push was derailed.
I'm not a religious person, but I hope she found her peace. I'm thankful on this holiday weekend that I not only have a world to which I can escape, but that I have the forum to be able to write to some strangers on the Internet about it. Thank you for taking the time to read what wrestling means to me today in such contrast to my feelings on it lately. I do have hope that they'll once again be able to compel me as they once did when I least expect it, but for now, I'm glad there was a time to which I could come back when I needed it the most.