Her Last Match
I figured it was my last wrestling match. Strings of melted cheese connected Mom’s lips. Beneath the flickering fluorescent light of the diner, I felt very grown up, ten years old and tall enough my feet could touch the ground in our booth. Past ten o’clock, past bedtime. Old enough that I was allowed to order whatever I wanted, even if I did order the lasagna, same as Mom. It was too cheesy, with plastic-y noodles. Nowhere near as good as the Stouffer’s my stepfather would heat up when Mom was on the road.
Mom usually didn’t take me.
It was a shame. I must have had a hundred better matches. The girl I was working was practically a rookie. Thank God I was the heel, at least.
Mom liked working heel. She found it easier to make people hate her than love her. It seemed ridiculous to me because I loved her more than anything and was grateful for those night she spent at home and I could be near her and study the yellow-brown-black bruises against her skin.
But I took the test and there’s the plus sign and the wheels start turning. One bad bump and I’m asking for a miscarriage. Could I ever forgive myself? Would he ever forgive me?
I don’t know that she ever told my birth father about me. That’s how Mom and my stepfather worked, too. It was no secret that there were secrets between them, like that he kept nudy magazines at the bottom of his underwear drawer, and like she had other boyfriends on the road. Like that he clipped coupons to save on groceries so he could have a little extra dope money, and she only swallowed her big white pills when he wasn’t looking. She popped two across the table from me, without water. I’d gagged the times I’d tried downing my allergy pills dry, and they were a lot smaller.
Mom kept me a secret because the promoter offered her the biggest payday of her life.
The first time a pair of women ever main evented at the Coliseum. Can you imagine?
I could. The poster advertising the match hung framed in our living room. She had tighter muscles then and wore face paint. I’d told her she was prettier without the paint and she’d hugged me. Her opponent had a blond mohawk and wore a black bikini top covered in little spikes.
We were the baddest broads the territory had ever seen, and I knew that match wasn’t going to be easy on you. But I figured, if a child could survive this, she could survive anything—and I knew you were a girl already. I just knew it. Mom forked off chunks of lasagna, never touching her knife. The world bent to her that way. I wanted a survivor.
So Mom had the match, and she told me every punch, every big fall—I’d weathered that, too, because I was inside her. It had been Mom’s last match for a time. Until she had me. Until I was nearly a year old when the promoter said he wanted to do a return match. The two of us going at it again, because I was back from the dead and thirsty for revenge.
We got back in Mom’s car. The floor crinkled with candy bar wrappers and empty cans of the Jolt Cola from overnight drives. It was dark outside and the glass fogged. It was so humid those summer nights.
She drove us out of the diner’s glow and into the night, where our headlights pierced the darkness and I imagined the two of us blazing a trail. The next time I thought I was done, it was a botched piledriver. I’d heard this one before and could fill in blanks in the story about The West Texas Triad. The two women and their scrawny male sidekick planted her with a spike piledriver, the man holding her upside down, but with her head to low, down past his knees, the two women each clutching one of her ankles as they stood on the middle rope and jammed her down, despite her scream to pull her up. It sounded like someone hit a gong, then I couldn’t feel my arms.
Mom had recovered. By the grace of God, no thanks to those nitwits. The promoter had wanted her to wrestle the Triad again, but she didn’t have any interest.
Didn’t you want to get them back? The road curved and I was scared Mom was going too fast.
She shook her head in the dashboard light. You want to wrestle people you trust.
I thought about what she said as my eyelids got heavy, and I rested my head against the window. I remembered being little and grappling with Mom in the living room. Mom just laughed when I got her in a headlock and then picked me up, so impossibly high, my back to her shoulder. She fell back, hard, but I landed soft as anything, because she took all the impact for me on her arm. Because she kept me safe.
I sat up a little straighter. I was only a couple inches shorter than Mom, and she said someday I’d be taller. Torso to torso, I could almost match her, sitting. One day, I’m going to be a wrestler too.
You think so? Mom flipped the directional. She didn’t brake, but let the car coast as we got off on an exit. It’s a hard life.
I want to wrestle you.
Mom laughed at that. That’d be a hell of a last match. Mother-daughter. She put a hand behind my head and stroked my hair. I was getting taller, but her hands were still much bigger than mine. Big enough to palm my skull. Big enough to crush me if she’d wanted to. Nobody’s seen anything like that.