My hands are shaking. They’ve never shaken like this before. My heart is skipping beats. I can’t seem to catch my breath. This isn’t like that first night. I’m more worried than normal tonight. I have no idea why. It’s something that I’ve done plenty of times before, something I’ve done for years. What is it about this particular night that has me worried so much?
It isn’t as if it’s my first time. That was nerve-wracking. Sitting backstage on that cigarette-stained couch in that tiny office attached to a warehouse in the middle of who knows where (I want to say Keysborough), staring at the off-white walls, trying to remember all the intricate details of what I needed to do while I was out there. I tried to take a deep breath to relax, but I was only met with a thick, arid mix of fake tan, body odour and Lynx Africa. Professional wrestling was much more involved than I had initially thought. There was so much to remember. It was only supposed to be a short 5 minute match. I had thought that would mean maybe one or two things to remember, most likely the start and the ending, then we could just freestyle the rest. Turns out that wasn’t the case. That night I was facing a guy that I had only known for a very short time. David and I had met only a few weeks beforehand, but we had quickly become friends. You know those people that you just click with? David was one of those people. He was enough of a dick to make him interesting, but not too much of a dick to put people off. With his strong jawline and kind, blue eyes, David thought himself a good looking man. He had once described himself as ‘moderately handsome’, and justified that it wasn’t arrogant of him to say so because he had used the term moderately. Even now it makes me wonder, how moderate was his idea of moderate? How moderate was anyone’s idea of moderate? Was there a baseline for moderate that we as a society had decided on? Who moderates moderate?
“So what are we calling you?”
Tim Daniels was the commentator that night. These weren’t the first words he’d spoken to me before, but they’re the first ones that I can remember. ‘Dirty’ Tim Daniels was how he introduced himself. At first glance it was a nickname that made no sense at all. The man was well dressed and seemed nice enough. Tim was a veteran of professional wrestling in Melbourne, having worked for more promotions than any other commentator. At the time I thought that was an impressive feat, but looking back now I realise that wasn’t the case. Most of those promotions were no longer running, and even more had just stopped using him for one reason or another. He told drinking stories of nights out with old wrestlers that we had never heard of, flailing his arms in his ill-fitting suit jacket and dropping the occasional ‘fuck’ or ‘shit’ to make sure we were still listening. His voice cut through the thick air in that makeshift locker room, the words dancing from his mouth the way a drunk aunt would dance at her sister’s fortieth. It was more a light sheen of success than actual success, but that didn’t deter him from using it as a way to hold the attention of the young and impressionable locker room.
My music hit and I walked through the curtain. Dressed in my terrible gear of white shorts and a black tank top I made my way around the outside of the ring, high-fiving all 6 of the people in attendance. I think I bowed to the ring at one point. Why did I bow at the ring? What an idiot. There were no nerves anymore, just a quiet calm as I went over the match in my head, trying desperately to remember everything that I had to do. Then the bell rung and I quickly found out that I didn’t really need to remember anything in that match. David had started an old hazing ritual meant for everyone’s first match. The first shot took me by surprise. I remember hearing an almighty crack as an open palm slapped across my chest, immediately turning my alabaster skin a deep crimson, followed by another and another and another until all I could feel was a throbbing burn all the way through my chest to my back. As I walked backstage after the match, I looked down and saw several glowing handprints painted on my skin, bubbling and bleeding ever so slightly. Despite the pain I was in, I had just had my first match. And I was ecstatic.
My hands are shaking. They’ve never shaken like this before. My heart is skipping beats. I can’t seem to catch my breath. This isn’t like that first night. There’s something not right. This air is heavy, but this time not with the combination of fake tan, body odour and Lynx Africa. All those smells are still there, but there’s a little something extra that’s caught my attention.
David turns to me and asks if I’m okay. It’s remarkable that he’s still here. About two years ago he took a real bad bump and spent the night in the emergency department of Canberra Hospital. We were working together again that night. A tag team match. David and I against a team called The Dangerous Alliance (they breed them real creative in Canberra). The crowd was really into the match, and why wouldn’t they be? David was good, and he knew how to work them. He knew what moves to do to get the right response. In the short time that we had known each other, I’d learnt so much from him in how to work for your audience, and how to make it make sense. Everything was going great. But that’s always the way it happens, isn’t it? The worst things always happen when things look the best. I think it’s because the fall from high to low points is greater. We never notice the fall when we’re lying at rock bottom. During a simple dive, something that he’d done a million times before, his right foot had clipped the top rope causing him to travel headfirst to the floor below. The crowd of 200 went dead silent when they heard the thud. I’d never heard a room go so quiet so quickly. The referee was quick to respond, throwing up the ‘X’, the universal sign for ‘this shit just went from fake to real’. The match ended in a no contest, everyone too worried to care about who would win this pretend fight. The next morning, David was discharged with a concussion. As we were walking to my car, he flashed me that trademark smile of his and said, “I guess that means you’re driving us back to Melbourne.” What a dick.
It’s the crowd. At least I think that’s what I’m worried about. Or maybe it’s the lack of control that I have over how they will react to me, or more specifically, to us. For the past six months David and I have been heels, bad guys. Fuck we were good at it. At last month’s show we turned. We were now the new babyface team, and in true wrestling fashion, it was never explained why, not even to us. We had just turned up at the last show and they told us, “We need some face tag teams, you guys are faces now.” Tough gig, but somehow we managed to get over as good guys. By taking selfies with the crowd, an idea that I had thought up 5 minutes before we walked through the curtain.
Tonight is the real test though. That’s why I’m worried. That’s why my hands are shaking. That’s why my heart is skipping beats. That’s why I can’t seem to catch my breath. This is the night that either makes us or breaks us as a tag team. If we don’t get the right reaction, we might not be back.
There’s our music. Thrift Shop by Macklemore. Not our choice, but it’ll do. I’m walking out from the curtain. No turning back. Holy crap we’ve got pyro! This is proper good stuff. I’m slowly feeling it. My feet are moving in time to the music now. This is good. There’s a little girl in the crowd cheering for us. This is great. There are people holding signs up with our names on them. This is fucking awesome!
I’m in the ring now. Our music has stopped, but the crowd hasn’t. They’re chanting something.
“We want selfies!”
CLAP CLAP, CLAP CLAP CLAP
“We want selfies!”
CLAP CLAP, CLAP CLAP CLAP
They’re actually chanting for selfies. 350 people in an upstairs ballroom in Thornbury are chanting for selfies. My hands aren’t shaking anymore. My heart’s stopped skipping beats. I can breathe properly.