Welcome to the penultimate edition of The Rise and Fall of an Underdog. All that remains is next week’s Epilogue and our story is through. Thank you once again for reading and feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any comments or questions.
The sound of the shackles clinking together reverberated off the cold white walls of the hospital as two guards lead Jake to his mother’s room. Nurses and patients tried not to stare at the young prisoner in the bright orange jumpsuit, head hung low and tears streaming down his face. Jake didn’t think he could do it. He hadn’t seen or spoken to his mother since the trial and now he had to face her as she lay there dying. He stopped and began to fall to the floor. One of the guards helped him up and said “Come on son, you need to do it.” He was right.
As they entered his mother’s room Jake was hit with by the smell of the place, the feel of death all around. He felt sick. Machines beeped and a radio played light rock in the background. The Crusher popped up from his chair and brushed past Jake. “I’ll leave you two alone” was all he said as he patted Jake’s shoulder and turned away, shoulders slumped, broken. The guards too backed away, although they were not obliged to give Jake total privacy. They lingered by the back wall as Jake pulled up a chair next to his mother’s bed. If Jake hadn’t known it was his mother he might never have guessed it. She must have weighed eighty pounds if that. Her bald head looked as if the skin had been stretched like a balloon over her skull. There were tubes and wires sticking out everywhere and her arms were completely black from needle punctures and the toxic chemotherapy that afforded her a short time but in the end could not save her. Jake went to speak but couldn’t. He felt as if he was going pass out. It was all too much for him to process and he simply began to cry. He cried so much he couldn’t catch his breath. He cried for his mother and he cried for his life. For all the mistakes and all the love lost. He cried until he felt as if he could cry no more. And when he looked up, his mother was looking into his eyes. She couldn’t speak, the painkillers had rendered her almost comatose in an effort to relieve the constant pain and let her leave this life in as peaceful state as she could. She barely moved, she just looked at her son. A single tear rolled down the side of her face and Jake quickly kissed it away.
“I’m so sorry Mom. I wish it could have been different. I never should have been like this. You’re my everything Mom. I’m so sorry.”
He kissed her hand and laid his crying face against it. In what must have been the most staggering feat of her life, Jake’s Mom raised her hand and placed it on her son’s forehead. It lay there for a moment before it became too much for her and slipped back down to the bed. Jake looked up at his mother and saw that she was shaking her head slowly back and forth “No”.
“I love you Mom”
Ever so quietly, and through a voice that hadn’t been heard in days, she managed “Luh…”
Jake kissed his mother’s sunken cheek one last time as the guards motioned that it was time to go. His mother closed her eyes and went back to her medicinal sleep. There were no death bed conversions or life changing epiphanies like in the movies. Just a boy telling his mother that he loved her and knowing that she had always felt the same way too. And that was all Jake needed. As they left Jake watched as the Crusher rose from his seat, wiping tears from his cheeks. He looked tired and defeated. Jake didn’t say anything, just nodded. As if to say thank you and I trust everything in your hands now. The guards led Jake to the van and back to his prison cell and to a silence that was only broken by the sound of his tears.
The funeral was a week later and the warden once again allowed Jake to leave the prison. This time he was permitted to wear a suit and saved the embarrassment of being seen in a prison jumpsuit. The guards even allowed him to simply wear handcuffs and not the usual full body shackles. They stayed far enough back as not to be seen but to still be able to see Jake. Running away was the last thing on his mind. The only place he wanted to be was there. He stood over the casket like he had done for his father not so long ago. Then it had been a necessity to cleanse himself of all the distance that man had placed between them and now it was he who had made the distance and his mother who had been cleansed of all the pain. Jake didn’t shake hands or speak to anyone. He kissed his mother one last time and asked the guards to take him back. He didn’t want to hear the priest go on about how amazing his mother was. He knew better than any priest and hurt everyday for needing this situation in order to believe that fact again. He also didn’t want to see his mother go into the ground, it was too much. So they headed back to prison, back to the remainder of his sentence, and to the new sentence the loss of his mother made him feel.
Jake was becoming a model prisoner and was on track to stand before a parole board and face an early release. That was before the day in the showers though. In being a model prisoner Jake had also become a model mule; moving drugs around the prison seamlessly and reaping the rewards. But he had crossed one angry addict too many and one particularly nasty customer who felt he had the market covered. This twenty-to-life murderer didn’t like Jake’s proficiency in the business and took kindly to the snide comebacks he faced from the one time Rocket Kid. So one day, as Jake was working his rounds cleaning the shower stalls, this convict jumped Jake from behind. He slammed Jake up against the cold tiles and Jake went into instant shoot mode and took the assailant down to the wet floor. A group of inmates had formed. Some to keep a watch out for the guards and some out of the pure sick love of a fight. Jake got back to his feet and landed a quick kick to the frothing inmates face. Blood splattered across the clean white tiles and Jake thought that he had it under control. But as he went for a follow up kick, he slipped on the wet floor and came crashing down hard. As he winced in pain he couldn’t see the convict reach into his shoe and pull out a homemade shiv: a piece of broken glass worked down into a brutal point and fastened to an old toothbrush. Jake squirmed to get up but stopped dead as instant pain filled his body. He looked down and saw the convict pulling downwards on his calf, blood gushing out like a waterfall. Jake had never known pain like it. Nothing in the ring could ever have matched up to this pain and he knew he had to get out of there before this guy killed him. As he struggled to move away the convict pulled downwards and between both of their movement Jake could feel his calf muscle come right off the bone. This was about the time he passed out.
He woke up the next day shackled to a hospital bed, his head still woozy from anaesthetic. He looked down the bed and saw his bandaged leg. Although it was completely covered, he could see that something wasn’t right. He looked from his good leg to the bandaged one and could clearly see that they were no longer the same shape. He reached out for the buzzer. He knew there would be one, there always was. Before he could find it though a doctor came bounding in holding a chart.
“Well there you are. Welcome back to the world of the conscious. I see you’ve noticed my handiwork. We did the best we could to repair your calf muscle Mr Reynolds but there was severe nerve damage and the tendons were a complete mess. But we are confident that after a thorough round of physio you should still be able to lead a healthy productive life.”
Jake didn’t know why he said it. After all he had been through, his mother’s death, his own near death, he didn’t know why he said it. It was the last thing on his mind but the first thing out of his mouth. He looked up at the doctor and said “Will I ever be able to wrestle again?”
The doctor chuckled “Mr Reynolds you’ll be lucky to walk without a cane at this point. One step at a time please.”
The doctor left, shaking his head, and Jake was alone again. Shackled to a hospital bed with most of his calf gone and all of his heart broken. All he could do was laugh. Wrestling had gotten him here and now he wanted to know, above everything else, if he could ever do it again. Jake laughed more than he had in years, tears streaming down his face. He looked out the window as his laughter died. He had come so far and gone nowhere at the same time. From a post high school life going nowhere to a dirty old gym on the wrong side of town. From bingo halls and rec centres to a stinky old van crossing the frozen north of Canada. The beer halls of Europe and the dojos of Japan, he had been further than most people had ever dreamed of. And he had lost more than anyone could ever imagine. The love of his life and the unborn child he would probably never know, gone. The father he had never really known and the friend and teacher who tried to fill that void, gone. And the most painful of all, the woman who had done everything in her life for her son and believed in him when nobody else did, his mother, gone.
Jake Reynolds was alone now and, as he looked out the hospital window and an average sunset, he accepted it. He accepted his mistakes and his blame in all of them. He accepted that he was now definitely not a candidate for early parole and that was okay. He needed to do his time. He needed time. Time to learn from the past and to make a future. And time to forget about wrestling. The Rocket Kid had taken off fast and came crashing down even faster. No one could ever say that he hadn’t given it his best shot but no one would ever say he should try it again. And he knew that now. He had begun it all in order to find somewhere he could belong, to get a feeling of fraternity he had never known. Some had tried and he had failed. But he knew what he had found in the end – himself. The Rocket Kid was no more; he was now merely Jake Reynolds. And that was just fine with him.