Thinking back now …the marquee outside the auditorium said “Demon Wrestling” in large fiery red letters. Underneath were four names and then a question mark. I was intrigued. I wasn’t sure if it involved large men in spandex performing flying attacks from atop barbed wire-covered fences or large men in spandex facing off with bears or lions or whatnot, but I knew I had to take a peek inside.
Eight dollars later, I was taking my seat and looking down at an old boxing ring. There were no cornermen or referees, no boxers, just a single folding chair set up in the middle. There was an energy surging through the crowd that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
Eventually a man climbed through the ropes and deposited himself onto the chair. Suddenly a large video projection screen above the ring sprang to life showing a close-up of the man’s face. Unseen, an announcer’s voice gave his name. A single spotlight shown down through the darkness, illuminating him.
And then all was quiet.
Everyone seemed to lean forward a little bit in their seats as they examined the projection screen. The man in the chair began to slowly look around aimlessly. Then his eyes dropped down.
Then they closed and I felt a little electricity course through the crowd.
“He put his father in a nursing home a year ago,” the man next to me said. I must have looked a bit lost. I had questions for my new acquaintance but his gaze had returned to the man in the ring. The projection screen showed a few beads of sweat forming on his brow.
The man in the chair started to rock gently back and forth.
This went on for a few more minutes and then he stood up and made his way from the ring. He slipped through the ropes and was gone.
“The next lady was an alcoholic and feels she didn’t spend enough time with her two daughters,” offered up my helpful neighbor. “This should be a good one.”
I took him at his word and as if on cue a heavy woman hauled herself up and made her way to the chair. It didn’t take long for tears to start rolling down her face. All of them captured on the screen.
“There are a lot of alcoholics in the stands. They always include one on the bill.”
I nodded as if I understood.
She departed and soon another man was in the chair. The man next to me gave me no information on him and I didn’t feel comfortable enough to ask. Whatever brought him to the ring must have been good because he was the most animated one so far. He twitched and shook his head and at one point I thought he was going to stand up and bellow but instead he chose to stay seated and ball his hands up into fists. He brought them up to his face and sobbed.
I regretted not spending the extra $4.00 for the program.
I tried to imagine a thousand eyes staring down at me. The warmth of the spotlight.
Eventually the man stood up and slinked off. It was hard to tell if he had put on a good show or not because there was no applause.
A fourth person made their way to the middle of the canvas stage. He took a seat.
He was there a long time. He was the first one to make noises. Through gritted teeth he sighed and yelped. He shook his head as if trying to dislodge an ugly hat.
I tried to steal a look at my neighbor’s program but couldn’t make out a word that would help me understand this man’s torment.
Finally he stood up abruptly and bolted from the ring.
Another surge of adrenaline seemed to go through the audience. People were talking amongst themselves and for a minute it felt like we were one beach ball being batted round the auditorium short of a Nickelback concert.
“Section C” the announcer’s voice boomed out.
Everyone around me suddenly came alive, looking back and forth between themselves.
The men on either side of me turned and stared.
“That’s you. You’re up, pal.”
A stranger gripped my arm and congratulated me.
I felt the spotlight hit me, warm and bright. It seemed to lead me down to the ring and, truth be told, I don’t even remember pulling the ropes apart and slipping between them on my way to the chair. I was too panicked. I had no idea what I was supposed to do.
It was hard to even get a breath with all those people looking at me. With the spotlight shining down I couldn’t make out any of the faces, it was just a sea of black surrounding me, but I could feel their eyes on me.
I had no terrible sins to reflect on. No dark secrets. I briefly wished that I had been molested or run somebody over with my car but I could come up with nothing. I stared directly into the light until everything got fuzzy.
Then I heard the song in my head.
I had posted the lyrics of it on my door in college in hopes that it would ward her off, like garlic does a vampire, but it was too late. I had already invited her in.
Thoughts of a perfect sunset I’d seen started to bubble up and I rushed to defend it. The purple unlike any color you’d see in any box of Crayons you’d ever open regardless of the size of the box. As close to a Bob Ross painting as I’d ever get.
She was a lot like that purple.
My heart might be pure but she clung to the sides of my arteries like plaque.
To this day this buildup makes me unavailable. To ever care as much would diminish the thought of her.
The sun set and I watched her walk away…
How is that fair to every girl that has been dumb enough to try and fill that empty space?
With a jolt I remembered where I was. The light was still shining down and I looked around half expecting to see someone rushing forward with a water bottle and a bucket to spit in. Smelling salts wouldn’t have been entirely inappropriate and some part of me wished that I could look up into an old weathered face and said “Cut me, Mick.”
And his old eyes would ask if it were time to throw in the towel.
But it was just me … and close to a thousand people I couldn’t see. Lurking in the shadows.
Had my ego not been so bruised I would have leapt up and cried “Are you not entertained?” at the top of my lungs but instead I tried not to cry like the lame celebrities do when having a chat with Barbara Walters.
Do they feel the same shadows lurking behind the TV cameras?
I closed my eyes, drove a stake through the heart of that song like I should have done so long ago, grabbed a shovel and, with my own hands, reburied her.
Heard the ten count.
Then I was back on the street again.