On the surface, 1991 was a magical year for nine-year-old me.
I had a vivid and at times overactive imagination that made the world much more wonderful than it was. I had an imaginary friend in the form of a giant tree I called “The Great Old One.” Yes, I’m surprised this didn’t concern my parents. I had a plethora of Saturday Morning cartoons to choose from. I stood up, for the first and only time, to a bully and dropped him on his head. Bonus, I got away scot-free! I was learning I enjoyed writing and reading at a very young age. Above it all, I had just gotten into pro-wrestling and it was the greatest thing in the world. I even had my own Galatic Wrestling Federation where Hulk Hogan had just defeated the evil Dino-Rider Krulos and banished him to the Toy Chest forever. On the surface, things were wonderful.
Trouble was brewing amongst it all and underneath it all. I had several borderline abusive teachers. One once tied a student to a chair for getting up too often. Another once stood me up in front of the class to ridicule me for drawing Abraham Lincoln blue and insulting all past presidents. They even invited the gym teacher who was passing by to come in and lecture me on how people aren’t supposed to be blue. They then ripped up my picture and made me do it again. Then at home, I was having massive behavior issues my parents could not cope with. A lot of this was driven by mental illnesses that would not be properly diagnosed until adulthood.
I was violent, lashed out, refused to listen. I would get fixated on various toys and refuse to let go or become unhealthily attached to them. I would constantly fight my brothers. I kicked a teacher because they would not let me participate in Show and Tell and then dislocated their shoulder when they tried to drag me to the principal’s office.
Through it all, though, was pro wrestling.
One thing I seemed to enjoy and one thing that would keep me calm, even if only for a few hours. For nine-year-old me with an active imagination, this was my escape, these were my super heroes. I forgo Batman and Superman and instead focused on Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, Randy Savage, Bret Hart, Legion of Doom, Big Boss Man. These were my heroes, these were the people I looked up to and admired. This was what I use to distract myself from the world. Needless to say, though it was not enough and my parents were forced to make the difficult choice of having me hospitalize in hope of finding solutions and diagnoses.
This was a rough time for me. I felt abandoned. My parents lied and told me we were going to McDonalds and then dropped me off at the hospital. It would be weeks until I saw them again. My stay was close to two months. I didn’t get along with many of the kids. The orderlies didn’t always understand the best way to deal with me. Once I made it clear that I thought milk didn’t belong in cereal. They responded by pouring milk in the cereal and told me “this is how normal kids want it.” I threw the bowl right at their face and got put into isolation as a result. Slowly though they learned several lessons.
Once it was realized that pro wrestling helped keep behaved and entertained the television schedule quickly began to include Saturday morning wrestling. This made me popular with the other kids who would gather around and watch the proceedings. Saturdays became a wonderful time. It was the one day of the week I found myself connecting with the other kids and even some of the other orderlies. The orderlies would sometimes share ice cream with me because I was so well behaved. They had cracked my formula. Unfortunately, that formula was about to expire and it expired because of one man.
I feared Jake Roberts once he turned heel. Even as a face there was a darkness about him that made nine-year-old me uneasy.
When he became a villain it did not shock me. It seemed a matter of when not if. I still remember those hokey sketches with Ultimate Warrior. I remember Ultimate Warrior getting bit and crawling toward The Undertaker. Surprisingly, these skits had little effect on me. Ultimate Warrior was as close to a God a mortal could get to me. I knew no matter how serious the wound he would rise again and strike back against Jake Roberts. Obviously, I had no understanding of the backstage politics or shenanigans that would eventually go on but I had no doubt my faith would one day be rewarded and Ultimate Warrior would vanquish Jake Roberts. I still had a fear though.
I did not view other wrestlers in the same light. Sid Justice, Bret Hart, Big Bossman, Randy Savage. They were all human to me. Amazing abilities and good people, but not the near god-like level that a Warrior, Hogan, or even Legion of Doom had achieve. I knew Jake Roberts’ antics against them would have deadlier consequences. The stage was set.
The events went off in motion on a fateful Saturday morning. I sat on a couch with a bowl of cereal, no milk insight, and settled in for another day of great pro wrestling. At the very least what nine-year-old me considered great pro-wrestling. Jake Roberts was in the ring and I seethed. How I hated that pure evil that was on my television. Things were progressing smoothly until they didn’t. Jake Roberts started taunting Randy Savage. Randy Savage started to stand up and I just knew Jake Roberts was in for a bad time. An awful time. He was going to get what he deserved because Randy Savage might have had faults, he wasn’t perfect, but he wasn’t going to let this Jake Roberts bullshit stand. He rushed the ring and I leaned forward knowing Jake Roberts was finished. Good always triumphs over evil.
Except that didn’t happen. Jake Roberts got the upper hand and put Randy Savage down. I remember my cereal tipping tediously in my lap as I hoped Randy Savage could recover. Hope at times though does not come through. Randy Savage got tied in the ropes and the events almost transpired in a slow-motion spiral. I felt my heart start to flutter as if I knew what might be coming, Although my over-active imagination could not process it.
Then the Cobra was brought out and to this day I remember being on my knees. Holding on to my cereal as I put my hand over my mouth. Knowing what I know now about my conditions, it is quite possible an anxiety attack was building. Looking back it’s amazing how this was missed. It did not matter I knew this couldn’t happen. The good guys would rush down and save Randy Savage. Randy Savage would fight out of this. Good triumphs over evil. Good triumphs over evil. God never loses to The Devil. Villains do not wi . . . .
The snake clamped down on Randy Savage’s arm.
There was no liting of the fuse, the dynamite just went boom. I can’t remember in one hundred percent detail everything that happened but I can say this. Shit hit the fan, my cereal went flying. I was screaming, other kids were freaked, and orderlies temporarily froze unsure of what had just happened. Once they put two and two together they moved quickly. It was not easy. I went completely ballistic. I was cursing, I was screaming, I was shaking. I was crying. I sincerely thought Randy Savage was going to die. My heart was probably racing. This wasn’t marking out. I was completely having a break down because evil had won and good was about to die.
Pro wrestling was immediately turned off to never be turned on again as the other kids were ushered away from the scene. They tried to calm me down. They tried to restrain me. No one thought to explain wrestling wasn’t real. In hindsight, it probably wouldn’t have worked.
They had to throw me in isolation and hold me down when I start running face-first into the door over and over again demanding to be let out. An emergency call was put into my therapist who rushed over. I don’t remember what he said or did, but that kind sweet gentleman achieved in under an hour what the orderlies could not. He got me to calm down and even got me to take a nap. What a wonderful man. I lost all my privileges that day.
Video game priveledges, arcade privileges, ice cream privileges. All gone.
The end results were all pro wrestling was banned for EVERYONE and the other children were scared of me for a long time.
To this day I vividly remember this. The day pro wrestling made me lose my damn mind. The day it was too real. To this day, I still hate snakes. To this day, I still can’t gel with angles that involve animals. I have gone back and watched the angle over and over again and looking back now while it’s still a well done and awesome angle I find it incredible that it set me off as it did. It was a perfect storm of undiagnosed issues, overactive imagination, and the spell of pro-wrestling that totally captivated nine-year-old me who thought it was the greatest thing in the world.
Amazingly this did not turn me away from pro wrestling. If anything once I knew Randy Savage was okay I was even more tuned in. It hooked me even further. Because once I knew Randy Savage was okay I realized good would triumph, it just had to go through trials and failures first. In a way that was a lesson to me both as a child, and as someone who was a writer. They didn’t sink in right away, and being only nine-years-old I probably didn’t grasp it the ways I do now. As deep as the cobra bit into Randy Savage, Pro wrestling sunk into me even deeper. It made me feel it, it made me experience it. Not in the healthiest or greatest of ways, but in a way in which I cannot deny the impact.
With that admitted, I’m so glad I’m to the point pro wrestling will never put me through that again. Ever. It was horrifying, it was painful, it was scary. But perhaps for the one and only time in my pro wrestling watching experience, it was very very seriously real.
And reality is, above everything else, horrifying.