By: Vhodka Black
Date: 12th Oct 2021
You can have Washington, I’ll take New Jersey
You can have London but I want New York City
I should get Providence, I’ve got a job now
Los Angeles obvious that’s where you belong now
You can have Africa, Asia, Australia
As long as you keep your hands off Cafe Pamplona
We can split Germany right down the middle
You’d hate it there anyway,
Take Berlin and we’ll call it even
My birth certificate reads Francesca but my husband calls me Fran and my parents have always just called me Cricket. My ex-husband called me Frankie and a man you might know by the name of Stephen Stratford went a step further, calling me simply Frank. But you? You probably know me best as Vhodka. I’ve been so many things to so many people throughout the years that sometimes it’s hard to remember which woman I am at this moment. I guess it really doesn’t matter because this is a story about all of those women.
The first time I saw Candice Cancellieri I was in awe. You have to remember; I was a kid back in those days, only a couple of months out of my teens when we had our first encounter with one another. Here I was, this flat chested knobby kneed twenty-year-old still trying to grow out of her baby fat and into her training bra. My boots were third hand and held together by a roll of duct tape I’d swiped from the hardware store a few blocks from my apartment, my “ring gear” nothing more than an old private school uniform I picked up from a thrift store and took creative liberties with via some scissors, safety pins and an old sharpie that also conveniently doubled as eyeliner, brow pencil and nail polish. When you grow up poor you figure out quickly how to make it work and I was an expert in making due with very little by the time I entered this business. That sort of getting by with only the skin on your teeth and the hair on your back was part of what drew Vincent and myself together in the first place. But let me not get ahead of myself.
Like I said, the first time I saw the woman you know as Candice “VooDoo” Wolf it stopped me dead in my tracks. It was one of the very first times in my life that I was acutely aware of the differences in myself and the women around me though it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Candice wasn’t much older than me in age but in her physicality, in her presence when she walked in a room, we couldn’t have been further apart. She was everything that I grew up thinking that a woman should be, everything that I had aspired to become and nature saw fit that I would never attain. Where my body was a leftover Halloween skeleton sitting in a clearance bin during Easter weekend, Candice was soft in all the right places. Her skin was smooth and supple, crescendoing to peaks in interesting places and descending to valleys in spots where magazines tell us a little extra gentleness in a woman isn’t to be desired. Her hair was the color of pomegranates when they’re at their sweetest cascading down her back to dance along the swell of her ass as she moved through the room on the arm of a man that everyone knew and no one seemed to like. Candice had this expression on her face like she knew a secret everyone else in the room didn’t know but that she would tell you and only you if you’d come close enough to let her whisper it in your ear. It’s the kind of expression that makes other women suspicious but disarms men into believing that they alone are the only man in the room who has her favor.
Maybe if I’d spent more time looking behind the pleasant façade in her eyes, I would have been able to identify her production as the farce it was. Maybe then I’d have seen the way she recoiled each time Oss laid his hand over hers or the tiny wrinkle that formed between her eyes when he said something she clearly disagreed with. If only I’d have had the experience to see the signs for what they were, then maybe things could have been different. I’d have understood that she was property, an accessory for a fragile man with an even more fragile ego. But for all the ways in which I misread Candice; I had been spot on when I looked at the expressions of the men around me as they settled their eyes upon her to take in the form of the statuesque redhead across the room. Bryan Dyamond, my aforementioned ex husband, looked at all women like he was in a cheap steakhouse looking to pick out the best cut of meat from a lobby display case. Bryan was the kind of man who wanted women like some men want nice cars, something to show off and lord above the other men around him as if to say “look at what I have and you don’t”. That’s another thing about this business, the dick measuring contest between the men in the back. It starts with things like cars and houses and expensive watches but everyone can eventually earn enough to compete in that arena and that’s when it becomes about the women. For the most part, women cannot be bought – especially not women in this line of work. No, the women require something different entirely if you hope to be able to compare trophy cases and keep up. Bryan looked at Candice like something that would legitimize him in the eyes of the men around him as someone worth even the miniscule amount of attention he so desperately craved. He was a lot like Oss in that way, a stunted little man with a big ego constantly chasing the accolades that his peers came by naturally.
If Bryan looked at her like a cheap steak he was considering for dinner, then Damon had looked at her like she was a piece of artwork he wanted to wake up and look at every morning when he first opened his eyes to the world. He’s always been a romantic in that way, our Damon. Damon is sort of your stereotypical fifties’ alpha male, he’ll be the first to tell you that he’s a feminist but truthfully, I think in the back of his mind he has always sort of considered himself responsible for the women around him, like because God gave him testicles that he’s somehow obligated to be the protector of all us frail damsels. I don’t know what it was about Candice that made Damon place her into that category but from that very first encounter something in him shifted and Candice moved from the “stranger” category into the “protection” category.
Damon and I used to be very close back in those days, after all, he was the one who brought me into this business. The man who trained me up to become the woman that you see standing here before you today. It’s weird, our relationship now. You can be so close with someone, feel like they’re more your family than some blood relations and then things get messy and you start to drift and one day you wake up and you hardly know one another anymore. I guess I’m sad about that, losing that connection that we had when we were coming up in the business. I’ve tried not to think about it too hard but… no, yes, I’m sad about it. Isn’t that strange? I didn’t even realize how sad I was about the fracture in my friendship with Damon until I started telling you just then.
Yeah, I know he can be a bit much. He’s hard headed and stubborn and he has this condescending way of acting like he knows just that much more than you do and even when he agrees with you about something you still have this sneaking suspicion that he doesn’t actually agree with you he’s just saying that so you think you’ve gotten the win. It’s downright infuriating. But beyond all that, he’s one of the most loyal people in this business. He gives selflessly without asking for anything in return, the first one on the battlefield when someone he claims as his pack needs reinforcements. There are a lot of reasons why we’re at the place that we are but I’d be lying if I haven’t also laid this body at Candice’s feet and painted her the villain for the degradation of my relationship with Damon. You’d probably call it jealousy. It just felt like this was another place in my life where I came in second place to Candice, another man who picked her soft hills over my jagged valleys. He was my mentor, my friend, and then all of a sudden, he wasn’t. He was her friend; they were closer than we had ever been. When you hear him talk about the women in this business her name is always the one that comes first with me as an afterthought somewhere behind. It felt like an honor she didn’t deserve when it was what I had worked for so hard. The rational adult part of my brain understands that it’s all stupid and I need to let it go but God, like, do you understand what that’s like? To work hard and do everything right and you try and try to make the right choices and make people proud of you and then it’s all pissed away in an instant as soon as someone new walks in the room.
None of that matters anymore, though. Too much has happened to our relationship and at this point I’ve had to make my peace with it being what it is. Candice would like you to believe that she’s the victim in all of this, that her hands are clean and she’s simply reacted to the attacks that I have orchestrated against her all this time. See, that’s another thing about Candice – her weakness. She has to always be seen as the good guy, she cannot admit that her actions have influenced my own and gotten us to where we are here and now. Me? No such qualms here. I’m not trying to convince you I’m the victim or the hero of this story, on the contrary, I’m pretty fucked up. I’ve done things that were selfish and hurtful and ugly and mean. I’ve carved my name into a family that truthfully never wanted me and taken a place that I felt I was owed. After all, if they won’t give it to you of their own free will, well, might as well take it by force. I won’t be denied the things that I am owed and I certainly won’t let someone like Candice Wolf stand in my rightful place. To feel the need to appear infallible and to always place yourself above those around you with the assertion that you were just that much ahead of them the whole time…in my book? That’s a weakness. It’s weak to not be able to admit your wrong doings and it’s even weaker to gaslight others into believing they alone are at fault.
I can freely admit to you that as I came to know Candice Wolf my opinion of her continued to sink with each encounter. True, maybe some of it had to do with the situation with Vincent and the fucked up triangle he tied us to for the rest of our lives by his inability to make decisions for himself. Don’t think that I’m letting him off scott free in this situation because I’m not. But despite what Candice would have you believe there is plenty of blame to spread around. Vincent, Candice, Damon, Bryan, Myself… we all had a hand in this. And at Ascension when the cards are laid flat on the table and the damage is done – whichever way it turns out – this happened because of all of us. Our choices, our wants, our needs and our glaringly obvious character flaws. No matter what the rest tell you, that’s the truth.
But I’m jumping ahead again. The thing is that I want you to understand. I want you to know the real reasons why all of this has happened and why it has to end at Ascension. But you cannot possibly understand what will occur in the very near future until I take you back and explain the past.
You can have all of the carry-on baggage
I’ll trade the saskia jokes for the alphabet language
On special occasions, we’ll split between parents
Who forced us to hate them on alternating weekends
You call it over and I call you psycho
Significant other just say, we were lovers
And we’ll call it even, we’ll call it even
The first time I saw Vincent Black he set me on fire. Not literally, that was Candice. It was like that big meteor that came down out of the sky and smashed all the dinosaurs except for Dave and Damon Riggs. If I was a globe Vincent Black suddenly became the pole shoved through the center of my body, my stationary center that allowed me to spin around in circles indefinitely. This was before Candice was ever a thought in any of our heads, a speedbump in a road we hadn’t yet turned down. In those early days of Sharpie eyebrows and duct taped ring boots it felt like it was just the two of us. We ran in a group back then – Damon Riggs, Bryan Dyamond, Vincent Black, Alexis Austin and myself. There were others but none that have stood the test of time. Alexis and I were green back then, myself moreso than her. She’d grown up around this and was how I ever even got my foot in the door. A very kind Damon (and Bryan the psycho but it makes me throw up in my mouth to talk about it so just bear with me) agreed to mentor us and help us get our footing in this little podunk place we were all signed to. Damon, for all the shit we’ve given him over the years, has really done a lot for this business. A lot of your favorites? They’re here today because Damon Riggs saw fit to give his time, influence and guidance. He was kind of a collector of people, sometimes those people approached him and begged him to give them some shine – people like Alexis and myself – but more often than not he came across someone he took a liking to and that was that. Damon knew Vincent through his brother Kalvington Xylophone Fagan and through Damon, Vincent and myself became acquainted.
The first time Damon brought him in to train with us I thought for sure that this guy was going to skin us all and turn us into some sort of human skin patch work pantyhose for him to wear around the house while he lip-synced to Reba McEntire. You know the type. Vincent was this gigantic bleach blonde tattooed freak who spoke in single syllables and seemed like he hadn’t come downloaded with the mental program that teaches people humor. He was like that guy Richard who stands outside of the Queen of England’s castle in the funny hat, you know the guy, the ones who aren’t allowed to smile? But that guy just doesn’t smile because the Queen hates joy which was something entirely different from what was going on with Vincent. It became my main mission and goal in my life to wear him down like a pair of bad shoes rubs a blister on the back of your heel. I had varying levels of success with this mission. At first, it was just a funny screw off kind of thing and became an inside joke with the group. Damon would pull me aside and put a bug in my ear like “I dare you to do your match in Vincent impersonation” so I’d go out and source the clothes and throw on a blonde wig and have the sound guy switch my music to his. You know, seriously childish stuff. One night, I tied a blow-up doll to the back of his motorcycle wearing a shirt that read “I fucked Joe Montuori and all I got was this stupid t-shirt”. The guy didn’t even miss a step. Just threw his leg over the bike, started it and drove off.
But then one night in this shitty little joint outside of Memphis we were all in the back just goofing off or whatever before the show, waiting for our call times. Bryan has had a few to drink this night and he’s feeling pretty big for his britches and he works up the nerve to come over to me and kind of try to get a little frisky with me. Let me pause here really quick to set the scene for you. Despite us all kind of running in the same group I really didn’t care for Bryan. First of all, dude was fuckin weird. Not like robot serial killer weird like Vin but like don’t leave your drink alone with him in a room weird. The kind of guy who I am sure now sits around sharing memes of the Joker with quotes like “when the nice guy loses his patience, the devil shivers”. Dollars to donuts he probably blew every penny he ever made on a collection of rare casual wear fedoras. This guy was the kind of guy who you could just sense there was something off about. If he ever heard me say that he’d be tickled because he wanted to be known as that kind of guy. Not the booger eating fedora date rape guy but as a “crazy guy”. He wanted to believe he was this edge lord insane violent dude that everyone was terrified of and as insane as he may actually be, it’s not in the manner in which he’s attempting to convey.
The last few weeks he had taken a sort of special interest in me when we were training. Putting his hands in places they shouldn’t have been, squeezing body parts he had no business squeezing. The worst was the day he hooked a thumb in my shorts during a roll over and bared my ass to the entire room. I called him on it then but I couldn’t prove that he had done any of this on purpose and like it or not, he was the name in the locker room. I was just some nineteen year old kid learning the ropes and lucky to have people like him willing to train me for free. No doubt if Damon had ever known the extent of it he would have immediately put a stop to it but I didn’t want to be “that girl” so I ignored it and thought if I didn’t give him the satisfaction of a reaction maybe he would stop. By that night in the back Bryan was feeling pretty bold, he had come up to talk about the card and some shit we were going through with this other group whose name I can’t even remember at this point. Innocent stuff. As we talked he started sliding closer into my personal space but by that time I knew his games so I just brushed it off and continued to brush it off even when the conversation started to turn personal. I was pretty uncomfortable with this level of attention from a man in a position of power over me so I wasn’t really sure what to do, I looked around the room trying to make eye contact with literally anyone else but everyone was so into their own shit they never noticed anything was happening in our corner of the room. Suddenly, out of nowhere he grabbed my hand and I’m thinking to myself about how I can politely take my hand back because I don’t want to make a scene and I really don’t want to upset these guys and lose my training spot if they think I’m a problem or something. As I’m thinking about a way out of this situation all of a sudden he takes my hand and puts it on his dick. And I’m not talking just on his dick, I mean like down the front of his pants skin to dick action here.
I was shocked. And then as I looked at him he has this stupid fucking smile on his face like I should be flattered or something. That was the tipping point and I absolutely lost it. I dug my nails into the flesh of his junk like a three toed sloth on bath salts and I twisted it as hard as I could. Bryan screamed and went down, he’s whimpering and his eyes are starting to water, but I kept my grip tight even as everyone in the room jumped up trying to figure out what the fuck was going on. He starts telling me to let go, just let go, that it was a joke, right? But I hold fast, I’m not letting up. Everyone in the room is panicking and screaming at us, Damon has a hold of my arm and is trying to get me to unhand his friend’s dick, Alexis is torn between whose side she should be on in this instance and then all of a sudden someone starts laughing. Big ol’ belly laughs like I’ve never heard in my life. Everyone looks up and Vincent is sitting there across the room just losing his shit at the sight of my twisting this guy’s dick off like the lid on a pickle jar. And that was the very first time I realized that not only did Vincent see me, he liked me.
I am the ground zero ex-friend you ordered
Disguised as a hero to get past your borders
I know when I’m wanted, I’ll leave if you ask me to
Mind my own business and speak when I’m spoken to
At the time it felt like ages but looking back on it now, things progressed fairly quickly from that point on. We started spending time together up in the rafters of the arenas watching the show go on down below us, everyone down there unaware of what we were doing up above. Obviously, it didn’t happen right off the bat but I’ll spare you the steamy details of our burgeoning friendship transforming into something else entirely. The important part of this bit of the story was that I was absolutely enamored with this man. He was like no one else I’d ever known in my life and for once it seemed like he felt about me exactly the way that I felt about him. Every show night we went up to the rafters and we talked and we laughed and we fucked and the world seemed to stop in those moments that we were together.
It went on this way for a couple of months until one night I snuck away to our spot looking for him and he wasn’t there. At first, I didn’t think anything of it, I just sat down and waited for him to come. As the night ticked on and it got later and later, I started getting these knots in my stomach. By the time the main event rolled around I had worked myself into believing something must have happened to him – maybe that two-bit stable Dynasty (the original line up) had jumped him. That was the only thing that made sense in my head as I shoved open the locker room door expecting to find the usual backstage wrestling shenanigans but instead finding Vincent sitting in a chair with that supple redhead from a few weeks back wrapped around him like the red stripe on a barber’s pole. As no one knew that he and I had been seeing each other my presence went by mostly unnoticed by the rest of the room with the exception of Vincent who met my confused eyes with his empty ones. Damon, who was completely oblivious to the multitude of feelings coursing through my body at that time, led me over to them eager to introduce me to this woman that himself and Byran had “saved” from her hellish master.
Excitedly, I was told how Damon and Bryan had invaded this operation that this woman and her “master” Oss were operating in – an aside, master isn’t an embellishment, that was actually what she called him. The two of them had rescued the damsel in distress, freed her from her captor and left her in the safest place they could think of, Vincent Black’s bed. While they spoke and patted each other on the back for their good deed all I could think of was that I had been a fool when I assumed any of the last few months had meant to Vincent that it had meant to me. I wasn’t special, I didn’t mean anything at all to him. I was just another trophy in the case of Vincent Black – no, worse than that I wasn’t even a trophy. Trophies are shown off, celebrated. I was hidden. The trophy was extending her hand to shake my own, her alto voice purring out between lips flushed from the kiss that had been interrupted when I walked in the room.
”I’m Candice.”And I was nothing.
You get Route 2 between Concord and Lexington
I want mass ave from the square to my apartment
And if we should meet through some misunderstanding
I’ll be very sweet, very patient and forgiving
Now get off my side of the state
And if we should see one another in passing
Despite these techniques there is sometimes no avoiding
There must be some kind of mistake
We’ll raise high our white flags and bow heads and shake hands
Declaring the land, we’re on un-American
We’ll call it even, we’ll call it even
That should have been the end of it right then and there and for several months it seemed like it was. Life progressed forward, Candice and Vincent were the new “it” couple and I was discarded into the trash like yesterday’s news. Then one very unremarkable night there comes a knock on my apartment door, I pull the door open and Vincent is standing there on the other side with this intense kind of look in his eyes that I didn’t have the words to describe. Before I can get any words out of my mouth, he’s pressed against me and I’m drinking down a taste that I thought that I had lost forever. All the good intentions that I had in the moment were washed away in the feel of his fingers kneading the flesh of my torso as he backed me up against the wall of my apartment, our hands frantically ripping away fabric coverings like hungry children unwrapping secret candies that their parents had forbidden them from eating. In that shitty little apartment there was no Candice, there was only us and what we should have been.
I’ve always considered myself one of the lucky ones for not having to struggle with addiction like some of my compatriots in this business have dealt with but I know now that I was more addicted to Vincent Black than I ever could have been to smack. He was the drug that I couldn’t say no to, no matter how many times I promised myself that this time would be the last. Over the course of the next year, we would perfect routines that enabled us to continue our affair behind the backs of everyone else we claimed to hold in special regard. We told the lie that we were best friends, training partners, we even formed and competed as a tag team called Natural Born Killers just so that we would have the excuse of needing to train together to cover our illicit activities without anyone knowing. It wasn’t ideal but I would rather have those stolen moments with the man I was in love with then nothing at all.
Even when he showed up with her initials tattooed on his ring finger suddenly now a married man it didn’t matter to me. Well, that’s a lie. It mattered; it mattered a lot. If I thought that I had been devastated that day when I saw Candice in his arms the very first time it was nothing compared to the pain that came with the knowledge that he had eloped and married her. It was another confirmation of my worthlessness to Vincent Black. By then I’d done a fairly good job of convincing myself that what we had was something special and that he loved me every bit as much as I loved him. But marrying her? Marrying Candice? I’m not ashamed now to admit that it was like a death in the family and over a period of time I went through all the stages of grief. Denial, bargaining, anger… oh boy, the anger.
After stewing in my rage for a few weeks I hatched one of the worst revenge plans of my entire life; the kind of plan that was like a double-edged sword – you know, something that would cut me just as deeply as I intended it to cut Vincent. It was a terrible idea, one that to this day I still have to deal with the repercussions of, but at the moment the discomfort it brought me seemed worth the potential to hurt Vincent even a fraction of the amount he had hurt me. If Vincent marrying Candice had nearly destroyed me then surely my driving to Vegas with Bryan Dyamond to do the same would make Vincent feel everything that he had forced me into feeling. The worthlessness, the feeling of being second best, of being someone’s dirty little secret, feeling like you couldn’t possibly measure up to this other person masquerading around in what surely should have been your life. Watching the person, you were completely and utterly devoted to on the arm of someone else. Surely, surely, he would feel it the way I had.
But as plans go, it was a terrible plan. Instead of Vincent having an epiphany and realizing that he was losing the best thing in his life, he was just confused at first and then worse than that once the confusion subsided… he didn’t care at all.
I am the tower around which you orbited
I am not proud, I am just taking orders
I fall to the ground within hours of impact
I hit back when hit and attack when attacked
The landscape of our lives changed quite considerably after our marriages to Candice and Bryan, respectively. It was a small blessing that our friendly little group had devolved into two sides of a war with Vincent and I firmly on opposing sides. Vincent’s side was led by “The Icon” Damon Riggs and made up of a random assortment of names of the day and familial relations– Damon Riggs, Vincent Black, Bobby Ciccone, both Shane Riggs and Michael Riggs. My side of the war was going by the moniker bWo shorthand for Blackened World Order and was led by my then husband Bryan A. Dyamond backed up by myself, Alan Ambree, Jeff Dorsey, Damon’s future wife slash ex-wife Stellar Guilanni, a couple of guys going by Rayne and Trent Rivid and one little known newcomer by the name of Stephen Stratford. Gee, wonder whatever became of that guy? On this particular night Damon and Bobby Ciccone were defending the tag straps against Dorsey and Rayne Rivid, all hell had broken loose as it tended to do back in those days and the match had spilled out into the parking lot of the arena. The match had ended but there was some bad blood between some of the guys, one thing led to another and before the management could get a hand on things both factions had descended into the parking lot and were beating the holy hell out of each other. Vincent showed up with an axe handle he used to carry around back in those days and he was beating the dog shit out of Dorsey who had thrown Shane Riggs through the windshield of one of the cars sitting in the parking lot. Earlier in the night Bryan had been carted off to the hospital with an injury after a particularly gruesome hardcore match against the on-screen owner which made me the defacto leader until he was back in commission. The guys waded out to get a piece of the action but I was having trouble getting my legs to take me in the direction I needed to go. This wasn’t my war; it wasn’t what I wanted. Could I stand by and watch the man I loved be beat down by my husband’s goons? Could I be as vicious and unflinching as Byran demanded that I be? And if I couldn’t do it, what then? How would I answer to my guys? To my husband? Suddenly I couldn’t breathe. It was like the weight of the entire world had just crashed down directly onto my chest, constricting my lungs from being able to fully inflate. If I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t think, couldn’t get my body to move in the direction it needed to go. I could just stand there watching as my men walked towards a war that I cared nothing about at that moment.
Suddenly a slender black tipped hand waved in front of my face trying to break me away from wherever I had gone in my hand. I tried to focus on that hand but it was painful trying to get my eyes to train steady on it. It wasn’t until strong hands gripped my shoulder and dug in hard that my vision cleared and I was able to make out Stratford’s concerned face peering at me from inches away.
”Frank, I need you. Talk to me.”
”I’m here, I’m with you.”
The words were matter of fact, no indication of what was going on inside of me at that moment in time. Stephen studied my face clearly smelling the bullshit for what it was before quickly glancing back over his shoulder at the calamity happening twenty feet away from us. Stephen took an assessment of the situation before looking back at me, his hands never leaving my shoulders.
”What’s wrong? I can’t help if I don’t know what the problem is.”
His voice in those days hadn’t yet been entirely stripped of its Australian inflections. His kohl rimmed eyes searched for my own before I dropped my gaze to glance over his shoulder in Vincent’s direction. Stephen turned his head slightly, following my line of sight to the hulking blonde form of my beloved in a defensive crouch as Dorsey came at him. As Stratford and I watched Dorsey drive the axe handle into Vincent’s back my body involuntarily jerked at the sight of the blow, and with it, my reaction was telegraphed to Stephen’s hands digging into my shoulders. Stratford turned his gaze back to me and raised his brow as I fought to hold back the tears that were forming in my eyes from the weight of the pressure on me to perform in this moment. Stephen sighed and nodded his head.
“Frank, listen. Put your face on and be my mouthpiece. Say the words we need you to say and I’ll take care of Black.“
”Steve I can’t–”
”Trust me, eh?”
Suddenly, he jerked me forward, giving me a squeeze before releasing me and sitting me back on my own two feet to sink or swim. It took everything I had in that moment but somehow, I was able to push back the flood of anxiety to put on the face that everyone else expected me to have and only two men that night were able to see behind.
This all probably seems pretty inconsequential to you but that night would come to be one of the most important nights of my life. It was the night that Vincent and I conceived our daughter Ripley, a feat that was possible because Stephen had kept his word and taken care of Black. When Stratford joined the fray and took control of Vincent no one thought much of it and if Vincent ever wondered why Stephen took it easy on him that night when everyone else was looking to kill, he never mentioned it. It’s a favor that I will forever be grateful for.
Pregnancy is always a weird thing for women in a business built upon the maiming of other people and it was no different for me. Ripley was not the first pregnancy that I had carried, but the second. The first when I was fifteen had been one of the most traumatic and defining moments of my life. Nine months. Nine months I grew this being inside of me. I nurtured it, I cared for it, I loved it. And then… nothing. It was gone with no explanation as to why other than people patting my hand and saying “these things happen, dear” or “you can always try again” as if the life that I had manifested inside myself was so easily replaceable. Someone who I am sure was very well meaning thought that it was a good idea to let me hold him before they took him away. They had wrapped him in this blanket with little footprints on it and all I could think about was how big that pattern on the blanket was compared to his actual feet. And then all at once, I realized his feet would never be any bigger than they were in that moment.
When I found out about Ripley all those memories came rushing back. The feelings of sitting in that hospital bed cradling a baby that would never come home. There was part of me that wanted her, wanted her more than I had ever wanted anything in my entire life but there was a second smaller part that was terrified of going through the experience of coming home from the hospital empty handed again. When I went to Vincent to tell him that I was pregnant I’m not quite sure what I expected his reaction to be, after all, he was still married to Candice and I was still married to Bryan. If I’m honest with myself, part of me hoped that maybe this child would be the difference maker. Maybe if I could give him this, he would finally realize what we had was something real, realer than anything Candice could ever give him. After all, she was barren. She couldn’t give him a family, couldn’t give him children. But I could. I was. I would.
”Get rid of it.”
The words were simple, clear, and definitive. There would be no conversation about it, just those resolute words. Get rid of it. Someone was nodding their head and it must have been me but I couldn’t tell you how I managed to do it over the lump in my throat as I watch him turn away from me in what I took as disgust but what was really just his own upbringing coloring his emotion around his ability to be a father. I know now that my perspective of these events in real time was skewered but you have to understand, at the time, this was how it played out in my mind. Instead of seeing Vincent’s reaction for what it truly was instead I laid the blame at Candice’s feet once more. She was the villain in my story, convenient for whenever I wanted to make excuses for the man I loved. She was the reason that I couldn’t have my baby – the reason he wanted me to get rid of this one little piece of us. The one thing I had over her that she would never be able to compete with. If I were to have our baby then the act would be up and everything would have to be put out in the open – she’d find out about us and leave him and I could divorce Bryan and then we could finally be together. Those were the things I told myself, some of them true and some of them not. But that wasn’t our story.
I hope that Ripley never finds out how close I had come to ending her life before it ever began. I hope she never knows that I drove all the way to the clinic, that I sat in my shitty AMC pacer with the broken heater as tears stung my cold cheeks while I worked up the nerve to walk inside. There was an envelope of cash on the seat beside me, given to me by Vincent to take care of his mistake and uncomplicate his life. The weight of it in my hands felt dirtier than anything the two of us had ever done. The longer I sat there trying to talk myself into it, the less sure I became that I would do it until I got to the point where I knew there was no way I possibly could. This thing growing inside of me was him and it was me and it was us and most importantly it was mine. Just mine. Not Candice’s, not Bryan’s, it didn’t even have to be Vincent’s, it could just be mine. My own private little piece of a man who I had spent our entire relationship sharing. That thought was all it took to guide the wheel in the opposite direction of the clinic.
And I am an accident waiting to happen
I’m laughing like mad as you strangle the captain
My place may be taken but make no mistake
From a little black box, I can say without shame
That you’ve lost, that you’ve lost
Do you know what you’ve lost?
Shortly after that day I started planning my exit strategy, all in all, I was in the wind by the time the next week ended. There were no goodbyes, not to Vincent or to anyone else. Bryan would receive the divorce papers a few weeks later. I’m sure he was livid about it but by that point I was so well hidden that none of the men in my life could find me though I know that they all tried at various times throughout the years. When Ripley was born, the doctor handed her to me wrapped in a blanket with footprints and I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about the irony in that. But this baby was strong and healthy and would grow into those footprints within the next few months though I would not be there to see it. I hear when Ciara and Rose were born that Vincent was beside Candice the entire time, holding her hand and brushing her hair from her eyes as the twins made their entrance to this world. When they were wrapped in their blankets, their father kissed their foreheads and whispered promises that only they would know into their tiny ears. When Ripley was wrapped in her blanket and handed to me the room was empty. There was no father there to make her promises, no one to place the knitted cap back on her head when it worked its way off. As I cradled her in my arms knowing that it would be the only time I would ever do so I whispered my apologies against her skin for her parents making such a stupendous mess of things and then I let her go. Handed off to someone who would love her in the way in which she deserved, in all the ways that I knew that I would not be able to.
For over a decade I was lost to the world, lost to even myself. It’s a period in my life that I have come to regret not because it was the wrong choice for me to make but because of all that happened while I was away. Terrible things that maybe if I had been here I could have prevented. By the time I was ready to come home I hardly recognized the world around me. Vincent Black was now Vincent Wolf, a shell of the man I knew who was passing the last of his career sweeping up high school gyms after house shows. His brother Xavier was battling for the top spot with my old friend Stephen Stratford who had seemingly been driven insane by some bad business to do with his Missus and Damon Riggs. And Candice fucking Wolf was little miss commentator calling matches.
I could hardly believe it the first time I turned on the television and saw what had become of my old running mates. The business with Stratford made me feel guilty, like I should have been there to back him up and repay the gift that he had given me. The state of Vincent and Candice just infuriated me if I’m being quite honest. This woman had taken one of the most feared and respected men in the entire business and fucking neutered him. He was a glorified house husband, a stepford man, some “yes dear” cuck biding his time until death, wasting away what could have been the prime of his career. And did she care what she had done to this man? Fuck no she didn’t care. You know why? Because she was happy. She had her perfect little family with her perfect little career and her perfect little husband. She could rub everyone’s nose in her perfect fucking life every single night from the safety of the commentators desk. Candice didn’t give a fuck that the light in her husbands eyes had damn near burnt out, nope, not as long as she could be the revered matriarch in everyone else’s eyes.
So, I did what any woman in my position would do – I took it all away from her. The family, her career, her status, all of it. It was a stolen life she had never deserved in the first place and she had lived on borrowed time for long enough. Acquiring a contract with Outlaw was easy enough, Stylez salivated at the idea of being the man credited with bringing me back to the fold. Then all it came down to was Vincent. The first time I saw him after all of those years… god, the air was fucking electric. The moment his eyes met mine I was undone, a melted puddle on the ground just praying to God that he would step in me and let me feel his presence if only for a moment. It was like every hair on my body stood on end and willed my eyes to find his, to see if I could decipher anything at all in them at that moment. When I worked up the courage to meet them from across the room as he made his way to me I was struck with the memory of staring up into those eyes as his body worked above my own, the taste of his lips as he dipped his head down to taste my own, the smell of his sweat on the sheets as our bodies pulsed and moved in the twilight of the room looking to find that sweet spot together at the very same moment. The skin hunger erupted over me in waves and I had to spend more time than I would like to admit talking myself out of running into his arms like some girl in a fifty cent paperback romance. If you’ve ever been in love, real love, then you understand completely.
The luckiest moment of my life was the one in which I realized that Vincent Black as long last felt every last feeling for me that I felt for him. He hungered for me, he desired me, he loved me. And then, out of nowhere…
He chose me.
So take whatever you’d like,
I’ll strike like the states on fire
You won’t sleep very tight, no hiding no safe covers
Make your bed and now lie just like you always do
You can fake it for the papers but I’m on to you,
I’m on to you
So now you know it all, the whole story. Laid out here in front of you like this it’s clear that I am no hero in this story, I might even be the villain myself. I’m sure that’s what Candice would tell you. It’s probably what they’d all tell you. That I’m selfish, impulsive, two faced. That I pretended to be a woman’s friend when I was sleeping with her husband behind her back. That I broke up a family, ripped a father away from his young children because I cared more about my own happiness than theirs. Maybe it wasn’t about happiness, maybe it was just about revenge. Maybe in the end a small part of it just boiled down to the fact that for once in her entire life I wanted Candice to be forced to feel even a small measure of what I have lived with every day since the day that we met. Had we been adults perhaps we could have handled this maturely instead of the all-out war that has transpired over the last year since I returned to their lives. But you live and you learn.
I got everything I ever wanted. Vincent, Ripley, Candice’s downfall and near complete decimation. I should be happy; this should be it. But the closer that we get to Ascension the more exhausted I become. A decade. A decade of being stuck in this pattern, spinning my wheels. Paul Montuori is in the main event fighting for the highest honor in this company while I’m seeking revenge from a woman I’ve already beaten in every important way. When is it enough for me? For Candice? Are we doomed to do this dance over and over again for the rest of our lives? That thought alone just solidifies what must be done.
It has to end.
Make your bed and now lie just like you always do
You can fake it for the papers but I’m on to you,
I’m on to you, I’m onto you, I’m onto you.