Bret Hart & the Finished Dungeons of My Youth

Legends are born here: of sweat soaked vinyl & broken bones, of holes in the sheetrock, of elbows fitting into eye sockets. I am having difficulty telling you these things because of what happens to fat boys with kind hearts in basements; that you could kill all of them if your heart was blacker—you could twist an arm until it popped. You could ruin all of the fun. It is a secret down here, our bellies full of corn syrup, of taunts, of how you took the biggest slice. It was your mistake to wear these clothes. You should’ve known that something like this could happen—fabric tearing around the neck, a scratch on the shoulder. You know this is fake, right? You know the fix is in, yes? & it is; this is not your house—your pictures are not the ones on the wall. You are underneath somewhere you’ve never been & this is what is expected of you— there is no room for a television in your basement, among the paint cans & saw blades. There is no room for any of this there: someone could get hurt—no carpet over concrete, just a slight sparkle amongst the gray.

In other dungeons, we roller-skated: we minded the load-bearing poles, we whipped around in circles when it was hot outside, when the sun was too much for us to hold. In other dungeons, we watched your excellence—how your glasses were always rose-colored to hide your nervousness, how we learned to fear the color pink. You, off the second rope instead of the third. You with the ax handle. I, too, cannot look anyone in the eye. I, too, am afraid of heights. I, too, wish to build something stronger than who I am, instead of being ripe for the pummeling: skinny elbows striking my shoulder, myself a dumb, soft ox not knowing how to stay down.

Here, underneath, there are no windows & you cannot save me: you cannot execute, you cannot aim, you cannot lock on. In a world of hulks & giants & the undead, you were the least believable—a man from a place with three names, a man in leather, a man whose claim was timeless. You, the humble hero. You, refusing to be a cowboy because you knew no stampede. You, king of the oubliette, graduate of the dungeon.

Here is a promise that I can keep: I will return to the basements of my youth. I will reclaim the walls. I will pretend to understand what this all means: that to be under something is more than to be something, that here I can be a king, that here I can be a monster with wings and skull teeth. I can be timeless. That when the children jump from staircases onto my back I can shrug them off, grab the back of my back & stumble into a corner to buy myself some time before coming back with a quickness—that I can tell a story with these aches, that I am pretending I am hurt when I am not. These children, they watched you too: I have seen how they shield their eyes; I have seen how they turn good men bad. Nobody in the building cares, yet everyone knows that I cannot be heartless; that I cannot break your back like a pendulum. I cannot tell you that your brother will be dead in ten months. I cannot tell you that this will end suddenly. I cannot tell you that this wasn’t all part of the plan.

When I come to, I am standing over you—your legs-locked, your back twisted, your head being ground into the carpet. It is your birthday; there are photos to be taken, there are cupcakes to be brought into school on behalf of you making it this far. The floor is burning your cheek. You have given up & I refuse to hear the bell. Wrestling is not real. The blood vessels in your eyes have burst. If I could just get home. If I could just survive the night. If I could put them all to sleep. None of this is real. If I could just get home. You cannot pretend that you have won, that there is a bell ringing, that you are the champion of anything. None of this is real: we have no time for finishing. All of the houses have been sold—the machines disassembled, the walls patched. I now live in a place where there are no basements—what we are left with are concrete slabs, pits of red clay, single stones holding the weight of timber. There are no holes. There are no crawlspaces where secrets live.

Author: Brian Oliu