ONE OF THEM
By Michael Chin
My first time with a ring rat, she said I was one of them.
You know how long I’ve been bringing wrestlers back here? She asked.
There were clues. Her bedroom something like a pro wrestling museum, wallpapered with advertisements. A newer, full-color glossy flyer selling El Generico vs. Kevin Steen. Old school posters that listed the card in red ink, red and white photos of the main eventers on top. Ted Dibiase and Randy Savage on one. Harley Race and Tito Santana on another. I think it’s Bob Backlund on another, but it’s too faded and my eyesight was too bad to really make it out from her mattress on the floor, to that upper, cobwebbed corner.
A long time, I guessed.
You ever hear of Paul Steer? She had varicose veins on her forearms, on her shins, neither of which I could see under a long-sleeved shirt and jeans, but it was all on display now. The both of us naked, her leg snaked around mine, cheek to my chest until she propped herself up to look at me. The boys used to call him Steer the Queer, no malice behind it, just was what he was. Bisexual actually. We hung out a few times, and he’d have me help him out, shoot the juice up his ass. Said he was too scared of needles to do it for himself. You believe that? Great big guy, gets smashed with steel chairs and ring bells, but he’s scared of a little needle?
I’d never stayed this naked this long with someone, just talking, not even kissing. This exposed and this free to explore.
It wasn’t so different being in the ring, I told myself, out there in my underwear for all the world to see.
It was real different, though. No underwear, no kneepads, no boots. It was my feet I was most self-conscious about. I had a great big blister on my right foot, second littlest toe. I lost my right boot (I have to assume one of the boys stole it—a rib until he didn’t give it back) and another one of the boys gave me one of his extras and it was too small and clearly faded next to my left boot’s newer, glossy black exterior, but what else was I gonna do, and it wasn’t like I could afford another pair of boots, so I went on using that little right boot until I’d hurt myself.
You’re one of them, she said again. New school. Not like one of the old tough guys.
I’ve been trying to be like the old guys. Tough. Hard. Following all the rituals like shaking everyone’s hand in the locker room when I come in and offering to carry the veterans’ bags for them. There’s something about this ring rat seeing through all that that hurts my feelings, but I guess that proves what she said was true.
But that’s not all she said. She looked me straight in the eyes. You’re already dead inside. Nothing in there. You shouldn’t look like that so young.
I accepted this all as true. When she closed her eyes and kissed me, I was grateful I could close my eyes, too, and keep all that emptiness hidden. She grappled with me. Wanted me to get her in a Camel Clutch. Wanted me to get her from behind. Wanted me to pin her down. She bit my trapezius until it hurt, until she drew blood.
Afterward, in her bathroom, where only one of the three bulbs above the sink worked, where the bathmat sparkled, made of some sort of jelly and glitter, was so soft beneath my feet, I looked at myself in the mirror. In the eyes. I tried to see if I could spot anything. To see what she saw, when said, I was one of them.