It starts when I’m changing channels past my bedtime, but I’m home alone so who can tell? It starts when I see The Lightning Kid do a backflip off the top rope and his body collides upside-down, chest-to chest with that of the much bigger Razor Ramon, and a man in a powder blue shirt and bow tie slams his hand against the mat three times.
It starts when I fetch the extra sheets from my closet, roll them tight, and affix them to the walls, to the headboard, around my bed. Makeshift ropes, my bed transformed into a wrestling ring, my oversized teddy bear, Buddy, playing the role of Bam Bam Bigelow, playing the role of Yokozuna, playing the victim to my snap suplexes, Russian leg sweeps, and elbow drops.
It starts when the WWF comes to town, I beg to go, and, in a strange moment, my father agrees to take me. Maybe a stab at a relationship—we haven’t talked much lately. It starts when he goes to the bathroom and I sneak from the upper deck to the floor to the front row to standing ringside, to just touching the real wrestling ring. It starts when security stops me from climbing inside.
It starts when Johnny Reds picks a fight in the school hallway and I don’t back down even though he’s bigger than me, and he dents the locker with my skull.
It starts when Mom turns off the TV mid-match because I ought to outgrow this nonsense. It starts another afternoon when Dad watches over my shoulder and sees Mabel on the screen in his purple and gold pajama outfit clamp a bear hug on Diesel and says if I still like watching this, I must be gay.
It starts with a set of dumbbells. The first thing I buy with my first paycheck working fast food.
It starts with the five sets of ten dumbbell curls in the morning. Again at night. No matter how tired I am.
It starts when I don’t get into any colleges. Not that I want to go, but I had to apply to get Mom off my back.
It starts at my old man’s funeral. A resolution. That I won’t die under the same roof where I was raised, or in the same smell of leather that survives the shutdown glove factory in the middle of town where my father had his first job when he didn’t go to college, stitching on an industrial sewing machine amidst other people who thought small.
It starts when I pack a bag and leave the dumbbells behind, because they’d only weigh me down now and gas money’s going to be precious. It starts when I sign up to train based on an Internet ad and the promise I’ll have a roof over my head, enough to eat, and if I stick it out I’ll be a real wrestler.