Man, these days all my years spent tossing myself face first into a mat really come back to bite me in the ass. I mean, I can take pain, I always have. I ain't no pussy, you know. It's just the age catching up with me sometimes. You just can't outrun the lines that creep up on your ugly face, or that guy Arthur that comes and settles his home in your joints, you know the one—well if you're my age you do. The shower helped a little, and as I step out I notice a little blinking message across the screen of my cell phone that I'd laid there on the back of the toilet. I know it ain't the best place for it, and that one of these days I'm gonna knock the damn son of a bitch into the can and ruin it. Ah, well.
So I flip it open, standing there naked as the day I was born, and I laugh, a wide smile stretching across my face and making my eyes go to crinkles. I missed a call while I was under the head so it seemed, from my good pal Ric. I love him man, like a brother. I love him like a fucking blood brother.
Back in our day Ric and I were the top of the top. Out West I was the big thing, busting through, making my way from a poor scrawny mutt kid living in alleys and eating scraps, to the guy every promoter wanted to get his greasy paws on. East, there was Ric. He was the big shit out there, top cock of the walk he was, going around in his robe with that bleached hair like he did. Well, I thought I might shuffle on over to Charlotte and see what the hoopla was all about with this here Flair fellow, so I packed up my kilt, my pipes, a few other essentials, and off I went.
Ric and I had our battles, we raised hell together, we partied together, he got me in more scrapes than I care to remember but we always had each other's backs. Ric's a helluva guy. Listen, you don't understand the kind of bond us guys get between us, you just can't unless you've been there. We'd drive 250 miles one way, work 40 and 50 minute matches, trusting each other with every move, beating the shit out of one another (remember back then, when we used to bleed for you?), and tear the fucking house down. Then, we'd go out and down some drinks and pills, maybe chase some women, to take the edge off and be able to get through another night of being on the road, away from our wives, our young families, exhausted from being pushed between the ropes with barely time enough to catch our breath in between. See, we were entrenched in this part of the world that only a few understand, and even less come through unscathed on the other side. Ric and I, we've both got our share of battle scars, both in the flesh and beneath it, if you know what I mean. But damn, we're still here all these years later.
It reminds of one time specific, and as I looked down at his name blinking up at me off that phone screen, it kind of just came back to me like I was there all over again.
We'd tore each other up that night, nearly caused a riot to break loose in the arena. We were two of the last to clear the building, taking our time under the cold showers to be sure and get the stink off, and just chatting like we always did. My knuckles and lips were busted, Ric's head was gashed, his bleached white hair was soaked up in the front with it, and the red ran over his face and that big snout of his all spidery like. He didn't even see a medic for it or nothing, just glanced down to the dirty tiles a few times to watch the blood mingle with the water, swirl over his toes, and get sucked down the rusted drain. It didn't matter, it was just another day at the office. It was just how things were, a little blood and a broken finger wasn't nothing to get excited over. Hell, it took a lot to bother us tough assholes (or maybe we were just sick and stupid).
Anyhow, we got back to our hotel room, dumped our suitcases into a corner, and passed around a joint. We got lit, and sat around giggling. Some point we crawled up onto our beds, laughing about who the hell knows what. Then we crawled in bed together, and laid there making lewd jokes about each other, sharing a second joint.
"We're on top of the motherfucking world, Pipes!" Ric shouted, amongst our laughter.
"Ho, yeah we are you ugly son-of-a-bitch, on top of the fucking universe!" I stood up on the edge of the bed, and outstretched my arms as though playing up to a crowd. Ric laid back on his elbows and probably stared at my ass or some twisted shit. I hopped off the bed and ran around to him, tugging on his wrist, all the while babbling and gasping like an idiot about how on top we were, and we weren't ever coming down! Only thing we were on top of, was some good stuff.
I dragged Ric over to the window of our hotel room, and I slammed it open.
"We're tops, we're tops, brother!" I started to climb out onto the window ledge, get me a good high view of the winking city lights beneath us, see just how it looked from way up top, from this perspective we were at, so big and bad as we were. My foot started to slip, and Ric's arms curled round my waist, and dragged me back in and we both fell, me on top of him, into a hysterical fit of laughter. "I'm even on fucking top of you, ya dirty fag asshole!" I shouted between my giggles, and pounded on his chest to prove my point.
Finally, we started to wear out, and I just kind of slumped down on him. The side of my face was just plastered to Ric's chest there, and I could hear his heart thudding through the haze of our night. His hand reached for my head, and stroked my hair.
"We're the big dogs." He said quietly, petting me.
"Yup, we're up on a mountain, high up on a mountain…"
We both went all quiet, and Ric's hand stilled, just cupping the back of my head. It was as if his heart beat stopped too, and it seemed like in that moment we must have been thinking the exact thing same.
"You know," Ric said real softly. "That means we just got a long way down when we fall."
"We ain't gonna fall you stupid cooter."
"Maybe not Pipes." He said, still real quietly. "Maybe not, but we might get pushed too hard one of these days."
In that moment, there was nothing funny. Sometimes, the truth just knocks you upside the head like that, and sends you reeling, with that nauseous feeling knotting up your gut. I just turned my face into Ric's chest, and closed my eyes, and he stroked my hair, and the next morning we got up and took some pills, found a gym, drove to our next gig, tore each other up, and held out our blood stained hands for that greasy, pigged-face, promoter to pay us only half what we were due. They booked us, they dragged us from one place to the next, busting our asses six and seven days a week, watching us bleed and bruise and break, as the fans went nuts, and lobbed their beer and cigarette butts into the ring, and when we hurt, they passed around a jar of pills to right us up, so as we wouldn't let down their sold out crowds. See, we loved—love—this sport, we made it our lives, we lived for it, and many of us died for it. Those slime ball promoters with their ugly suits all knew the prices we were willing to pay and they manipulated our love, and our passion, and twisted it until it became a loaded gun, sat to the temple, ready to blow it all away. A man can only take so much, even the toughest son of a bitch--and hell if I know how some of us made it. I just know that there were a hell of a lot who didn't. Too many of my friends got splattered over the obituary page before their time, because they fell off that mountain, because they were pushed.
I used to go to all their funerals, even spoke at a few, but I can't do it anymore. There's too much pain on the faces of their family, too many 'whys' that I've seen in their sobbing faces over the years, and I don't know what the answers are. In fact, I have those same questions myself, and more.
I set the phone back on the porcelain, and swipe my hand over the steamed up mirror that hangs over the sink. I can see my reflection there. There ain't so much 'Hot' left to old Rod these days, if there was any there to begin with, other than my temper we all know and love. But now, I'm getting to be a real old man here. I trace a finger over these here lines in my face, and I wonder why. I wonder what the fuck I am that I'm still here, when so many good men have been lost, men that I'm surely no better than, and some of which I know I couldn't hold no candle to. I've been close to death so many times in my life—I've been stabbed, electrocuted, been in more car wrecks than you can shake a stick at, beat half to death, mauled by a bear, almost shot, the list goes on and on. All those times I could have ended up on the meat wagon, I got saved. I scraped through. I lived the life of a professional wrestler, one of the roughest life's there is, (especially back then) and I'm still here to tell about it. I don't understand why. I'm just a poor kid who put on a kilt, and ran my mouth like none other, and backed it up, son. What kept me from falling, like so many of them did?
I don't know. I just know that I miss too many of my brothers. I just know that sometimes I lay awake at night, and I wish Ric wouldn't have pulled me back from that ledge when my foot slipped. Maybe I'll call him back later, and ask him why.
He'll just have the same answers I got, nothing.