By: Shawn Warstein
Writing Prompt: Yes
Date: 7th Nov 2021
The sounds of wrestling boots shuffling across the mat, followed by the echoing sound of a slam. The heavy breaths taken. The shuffling gets faster. The slams louder as they grow in intensity. I snap out of my daze and lean forward on my chair. “Come on. Pick up the pace. You need to shoot for the legs, pivot and drive hard with the hips. Wrap your leg around their outside leg and take them down.“
The two wrestlers in the ring give me a quick nod and begin to spar once again. The soft touch of Kasey’s hand on my shoulder. “What are you doing here?“
“What?” Shocked or playing dumb, you decide. “Oh this. I felt like it was about time I start giving back to the industry.“
“Liar.” Kasey sits down on my lap, back to my chest, as we watch the guys continue to spar. “You don’t like people, and most of all you don’t like training people.“
“That’s not entirely true. I actually do enjoy training people, I just hate it when it falls on deaf ears and they end up doing the exact opposite.” I wrap my arms around her waist and pull her closely. “Sorry I’m a bit of a perfectionist and that’s not good for teaching.“
“Mmhmm.” Kasey and I continue to watch the sparring, until she breaks our concentration. “You know you could hop in the ring and get a few sessions in.“
“Excuse me?” My eyes widen as I am taken aback from the statement.
“I’m being honest.” An unassuming smile on her face as she turns her shoulders towards me. “We were lucky to survive Ascension the way we did. If it wasn’t for Raven we might not have won.“
“Wait….” I gently slide her off of my lap and into the chair next to us. “You’re being serious?“
“I mean…” Kasey twirls her long black hair in her finger as she sheepishly smiles.
“That’s some BS and you know it. I’ve never been more on top of my game in my life.” I responded while puffing my chest out. “Not everything….” My attention is brought to the ring yet again. “No, shoot the knees. Wrap and lift. It’s not that hard.“
“Shawn listen to me.” Kasey pulls my head back to face hers. “What’s going on?“
“Nothing.” I said abruptly.
“I know when you’re lying.”
“Do you?” I pulled my head away from her. “Then you would know that nothing is wrong.“
“Shawn just tell me what’s wrong and we can get through this together.” Her fingers intertwined with mine, as the pressure started to put me at ease.
“It’s just.” One massive sigh later. “Have you ever given thought to what comes next?“
“What do you mean?” Kasey questioned without seeming condescending.
“Like I look at where my career is right this second, and I can’t help but wonder what’s next. Like sure we are on top of the world, but you and I both know how fragile that is. One second you’re celebrating, the next the rug is pulled out from under you.” A slight head shake of derision. “I know what it looks like when I’m given even a sliver of power….“
Kasey places a hand on my back and begins rubbing in a circular motion. “I know, we all saw the Tyrant.“
A slight smile from my face. “Yeah, but you have no idea how close it was to him coming back. It was a struggle every day. Every breath I took was a battle. And finally I was starting to feel some sort of relief.” I lick my bottom lip and suck air in through it. “It was nice. Ya know? Not having to battle imaginary demons. Not having to watch people fight for their spots over overzealous management. And yet…“
“Shawn, honey, you don’t have to worry about that anymore.” The way the light hit her eyes caused me to pause for a moment. A slight tint of red from beyond her cornea.
“It just all feels eerily…” I hold up my hands and gesture vaguely. “Similar. Like we were all brought in to be built up, only for us to be put in a no win position, against management’s favorite people. Like I know people love Dickie, and Raven, and Bets, and Aiden, and you… but I can’t help the feeling that one of these days….” I mimic an explosion with my hands. “Boom. I’ve seen it happen before first hand. When the established order is thrown out of whack, the established try to grasp onto what little they have left. They are going to try and separate us, make us weaker and try to pry us apart. All in the name of what they once had.“
“Ahhhh gotcha. You’re talking about Vincent….” Kasey nods assuringly. “You got this….“
“I know I do. In a perfect world, with definable outcomes, no one can touch me. But then it harkens back to last week with Dickie.” Shaking my head. “If anyone steps in there… I’m not sure what I’m going to do, good or bad.“
“Don’t say that.“
“I just know that I’m one step away from the fire at all times. No matter how many steps back I take, it follows me.” I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. “I just don’t want anyone to get caught in the flames.“
Kasey pauses for a moment and gathers her thoughts. “Shawn, listen to me and listen good. When that fire comes. You better hold my hand and drag me through it with you. You’re better off with all of us. Besides, who is going to clean you up when you come out on the other end?“
“You’re right.” Smiling as I leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.
“And I don’t even need a hashtag.”
“That’s why I love you.”
The sparring in the ring continued as Kasey and I sat watching and throwing in our opinions and techniques. Lost in time, it felt good to give back. Watching those who looked up to us, savoring every word we said.
Reality is often disappointing.
The annoying sound of my phone buzzing against the plastic chair causes me to jump a little bit. Caught off guard, the name on the phone is one that I haven’t heard from in a while. I stand up, grabbing the phone and contemplating letting it go to voicemail. I pace back and forth for a moment before I answer the phone.
“What’s up mom?“
What she said next, changed everything. The one piece of solid ground I’ve always had. The one beacon of goodness in this world.
This was going to be the downfall of everything I had built.
“Sometimes…” A young boy no older than thirteen sits on an older couch. The sounds of the plastic covering, the pristine 1970’s era, couch hang heavy in the air. “I just want to punch him in the face.“
An older man leans back in his recliner with a small grin. “Listen to you. Get one little patch of hair on your balls and you think you could go out there find and beat up your old man.” He reaches for a glass of brandy on the side table and swirls it around. “There are some things in this world that you can’t control.“
The boy curls his lip and begins to anxiously tap his leg rapidly on the ground. “I just don’t get it. Why?” Tears flow freely down the cheek of the young boy. “Was I not enough?“
A now empty glass rattles on the side table. “Listen here Peach.”
“Grandpa, you know I can’t stand that name.” The boy snarls at the older man. “It’s a girl’s name.“
“Oh, My mistake. I’ll use the much more masculine, Peach Fuzz.”
It was my mom’s father. He was always my sounding board as I was growing up. Most of all after my father got up and left. When my mom was so strung out that I, as a child, had to check to make sure she was alive. That I had to make sure her needles were disposed of, or out of sight should the cops come to the house.
He told me many times that it wasn’t my fault. The fact that no matter the situation I was in, I always knew I could rely on Grandpa Warstein.
I never got a chance to meet my McCallum family. My dad made sure of that. I was asked not too long ago if the McCallum name wasn’t good enough for me? Was I ashamed of it? I didn’t know the answer then, but I do now.
It was never shame, I just never wanted to give credence to a man and a family that I had no ties to. My dad was nothing more than a glorified sperm donor. No, the man I wanted to become was the man who was there for me, not the one who ran away without saying a word.
“Listen Fuzzy.” If anyone ever wanted to know where the name came from, there it is. Growing up I didn’t have a lot of hair on my head and grandma said, ‘Boy he looks like a little peach with all the fuzz.’ Congratulations you’ve been let in on a deep dark secret. “I know your dad might not seem like a good man right now, but I’m sure he had his reasons.” Always trying to see the best in people. Always trying to make sense of the world around him. Not for himself, mind you, but for those around him. He knew the world was chaos but if he could make it better for just one person… he called that a small victory.
“Yeah. Probably me.” Little Shawn said while trying to rub the tears from his eyes.
“Your parents love you.” Grandpa Warstein gets up from his chair and sits down next to his youngest grandson. “If they didn’t then you wouldn’t be here right, with me, right now.” He was right. At the time I didn’t know it but it was the safest place for me.
It wasn’t but a few days after this very conversation that I would try heroin for the first time. Being around it for as long as I was, it was a matter of time. I wish I hadn’t done it. I shudder at even the thought. Even to this day, I can hear it calling to me.
It takes every ounce of will in my body to not make a singular phone call and ruin everything. I do it for those around me. To all those I’ve loved at one point or another. To my Legacy Family. To my Newfound Family in NSQ. To Kasey. To Jacob.
He wouldn’t ever leave those around him alone. He did everything in his power to make sure they were cared for and knew they were loved. Fuck a Nickname. He deserved better. Fuck the McCallum name. Nothing more than a placeholder until it changed for good.
Call Me Warstein.
“Shawnie, listen I need you to know one thing.” A grim grasp of my shoulder and a slight squeeze. “No matter what happens, you’ll always have me.” Little Shawn looked up at his grandfather and nodded. “Just know I’ll always support you, no questions asked. You need a body buried, I’ll grab a shovel. You need a place to call home, don’t look any further.“
“Why don’t they care about me?” Always a pain in the ass Shawn questions everything, even then.
“Bullshit!” Shawn shrugs his shoulder, knocking his grandfather’s hand from his shoulder. “If they did, mom wouldn’t be like she is. Dad would BE HERE! I wouldn’t constantly have to worry whether mom is coming home or if the cops are going to ring the bell.“
“I understand your plight, I really do. But You’ll see. One day.” The man nods. “You’ll see that no matter how down you get, no matter how low things may seem… you’ll have someone there for you. And one day in the future you may have many people relying on you.” Little Shawn rolls his eyes at the notion. “Don’t scoff. I was like you. Now look at me.“
Never once had I ever questioned what he had been through. Wars. Love. Loss. Family. Friends. Never once did I ever think that I would have any of those things.
Friends were always hard to come by.
Family was always something I never thought I would have.
Loss is something we all have to deal with.
Love was always something I wanted, but slipped through my grasp one too many times.
All that was nothing compared to the wars waged inside my own head.
I’ve battled demons my entire life. I stood face to face with utter blackness and didn’t blink. I walked through fire, and came out the other side unburned.
All because of one person.
One person set me on this course.
“I need you to pay attention.” Little Shawn begrudgingly lifts his head to meet his grandfather’s eyeline. “In life not everyone is going to like you. Not everyone is going to believe in you. It’s up to you at the end of the day to determine whether you care about their opinions or not. No matter what you do in this life, someone will always try to drag you down. Stay above them. Now that doesn’t mean look down on people, it means try to elevate everyone you deem worthy of your time. Trust me Shawnie, you’re going to do great things, but it’s up to you to determine what exactly those things are.“
That memory is the one that is burned in my brain. The feeling of anger, loneliness and dread all taken away from one person’s voice. And now, I’ll never hear it again.
I looked at the phone in my trembling hand as the phone call disconnected. I didn’t get a chance to respond. No words had to be said.
I tried to leave Kasey at home, but dammit she wasn’t about to let me go through this alone. We packed up and before we knew it we were in Chicago. Home sweet home. I wish I could say it was for a better time. Maybe hanging out with Sloane, or finally getting around to checking out UGWC.
Not this time. As we walked into the funeral home, the sound of somber Muzak playing lightly in the background. I see my mom sitting up front, tears steadily flowing down her cheeks. We see a few extended family members walk in and take their seats. The entire time I’m squeezing Kasey’s hand, just to make sure she’s still there. With every press, she firmly pressed back. Every time.
The pastor takes up his podium. Before long he was asking if anyone wanted to say anything. To my surprise no one stood up, that’s when it happened. Kasey had let go of my hand and without saying a word I walked up to the podium. The pastor takes a seat.
“Excuse me, but my language may or may not be appropriate.” I take a moment and sigh heavily. Wiping away a single tear that rolls down my cheek. “Dearly beloved, we are all gathered here today on the most unfortunate of circumstances. Each of us has been touched by this soul that has passed onto the great beyond. While they walked to the beat of their own drum, and made the lives of everyone around them richer; sometimes bad things happen to good people. I’m reminded of a quote my grandfather once told me.“
“He said Shawn, not everyone is going to like you. Not everyone is going to believe in you. It’s up to you at the end of the day to determine whether you care about their opinions or not.” A small smirk forms in the corner of my mouth, releasing a slight chuckle. “Little did I know that would soon become the basis of everything I’ve built my life around.“
“I’ve sat back and watched people. I’ve watched them intently. And what do I see from all of them? Weakness. I see fear brandishing out as confidence. Every time I felt as if my back was against the wall, I always knew I could rely on him.“
“When I was fifteen, and ran away from all of my problems, I was adrift and alone. I found my passion. My calling. The one thing that could make me… special.” A long shot to most people, but for someone like me, it was it. “I found wrestling. However there wasn’t a company on the planet dumb enough to hire a fifteen year old out right.”
“Well maybe just one, and even then I needed someone to sign off on everything. I wasn’t about to go to mom, who had her own issues. I couldn’t go to dad because I couldn’t and would never find him. I went to the only person I knew that would listen to me.” I smiled and nodded slightly. “I had never been so nervous to talk to him. Surely he was going to be upset with me. But he wasn’t. He said he understood. He asked me one simple question.“
“Is this what you really want?” Was it? Would it last? Would I last? “I didn’t know what to say at first, but then everything hit me like a ton of bricks. Yes this is exactly what I want to do. This is what I was built for.“
“He said fine and signed off a few days later. For the first three years of my career, every check went to him. For three years he cashed my checks. Did he spend any of that money?” Nope. I lived with the production crew. Where they went I went. I didn’t have a dime to my name, or so that’s what I thought. “Not really. He saved it and invested every cent. When I finally turned eighteen he handed everything back to me, and then some.“
“Now I know I’ve done a lot of bad things in my life, but I’ve always justified it by, if Gramps is okay with it, then I’m good. There were many times he wasn’t okay with what I did, but he at least listened.” I know that I have Kasey. I know that there are people that will listen to me, but the factor is… for how long? Kasey could simply no longer want to be with me. The others could abandon ship as well. “As of right now. I don’t know who is going to listen to me for the rest of my days. I knew this day was coming, but no one could prepare you for this. I’m looking forward to the day we meet at the pearly gates. I’ll tell him one last time that I love him, right before I’m sent down. And I know he is going to do everything in his power to get me in.“
“I just hope he knows….” I pause for a moment and take a deep breath. “This is one person you tried to save, and did, but sometimes it just isn’t enough.“
I do the mark of the cross and walk away from the podium. Under normal circumstances I would sit back down in the pews, but something told me not to. I walked right out of the parlor and into the parking lot. Kasey was a few steps behind me. “Where are you going.“
“Home.” I said while opening the rental car door. “You coming?”
“But— aren’t you going to say goodbye?” She questioned before approaching the car.
“I already did, I can’t be distracted by this. He of all people knew that my job is what makes me special. Without it…” I stop and pay the roof of the car. “I’m nothing.”
Kasey is at a loss of words, I assume. She didn’t say anything but got in the car. It was a quiet ride to the airport. Now I know what you’re thinking right now. Shawn, you forgot all about Vincent Black?
Did I? Or was my focus never lost and just came out in a different manner? I don’t know. I guess that’s for you to decide. I‘ve never been more focused than I am right now.