My Sister, the Wrestler

 

Originally published in Indy magazine.

Here comes my sister, the wrestler.  Down the glitter-speckled hallway and into the living room in this the house we’ve been sharing since the funeral.

With her, as always, is her fruitcake boyfriend, who says to me, he says, “Hey.”  He’s a midget.

Okay, he’s not really a midget.  He’s just short.

She has this look on her face, my sister.  Who’s not really my sister —she’s my half sister.  And who makes sure I never forget it, saying, “She’s my mom, not yours.”  Even though, although technically her assessment was true, I’m an orphan, my half sister’s mother did raise me.  The look on my sister’s face, however, lets me know that, true though this may be, “What’s the big deal anyway.  What’s the big stink?  The world is filled with orphans,” doing one of those cutie-pie smirks she always does. “You’re not alone.”

My sister’s boyfriend, the midget, again says, he says, “Hey.”  Something you should know: he tends to repeat things.

“Come on, it’s time to go,” she says.

“Match time,” chimes in her midget boyfriend and I’m like: Oh no, here we go again.

“Wait a minute,” I say.

Then he says, “We can’t wait a minute.  We just can’t.  We’ll be late. Last time we waited for you to freak out like this, she lost.  And why?  Because you were freaking out and wouldn’t let your sister wrestle.  I mean, God, is that what you want—for your sister to lose?  I doubt it,” in his annoying midget’s voice.  “I seriously doubt it.”

She grabs my shoulder and indian-burns it and says, “I said . . .”  She doesn’t have to say any more.

Maybe the thing about my sister isn’t that she hates me or that she has a fruitcake boyfriend.  Maybe it’s not that she’s angry with herself, and with life, for being faithful to a fuitcake boyfriend and not holding out for a good one.  One who’s tall, not a fruitcake midget shrimp.  Maybe she’s not all angry with me for being her half-brother, not her real brother.  Maybe, and this becomes clear when I hear her say what I’m about to tell you she said, my half sister, she’s not angry at Mom.  What, then, ’s my half sister angry about?  It’s just that time of the month again, match time.

Do I tell her?  Not on your life.

Because she’s a wrestler.  And because, being a wrestler, and being all big-boned and tough-guy-ish, she doesn’t give a shit about anything, except that she’s angry—really—throat-grippingly—angry.

Not at anything in particular.  Just generally, at the world.

On top of that, her last match didn’t go as she expected.  In fact, it was an upset and everyone, including my half sister, lost a lot of money, and everybody, especially my half sister, got all angry and has remained angry ever since.  See, my sister is what the rags call The Drill—and for good reason.  She power-drives her opponents.  She smashes them down into the mat, hard.  She breaks bones.  She rearranges faces.  Because of this, and because, and I’m trying to be modest here, being half-related, she’s a petite, very attractive little number, one of those women who from a distance might not even warrant your attention but who up close and face-to-face are so sexy and attractive you’re smitten within a second and everything goes numb and—even—especially—me, her half relative—then rigid, if you catch my drift.  But then, the more you know, the longer you baste in her presence, she becomes all mean verging on evil and might probably kick your ass if you so much as wink at her.  Which has happened, and which has contributed to her reputation.  She has this move she’s patented, the lunging spike.  She leaps up in the air, floats there for an elongated moment, then kicks up her legs, both legs, and—wham—there’s one right at you, spiking you, knocking you out.  Even if you’re a Mac truck and weighty.  She’ll floor you.

But her last match, that night, something happened no one expected to happen, not even the experts.  First, there’s the matter of her opponent.  Her opponent, a transsexual, a big, formerly humongous transsexual with an ax to grind, s/he was called the Hornet—or the Wasp—something like that.  And it was as though she orchestrated this whole come-from-behind you-will-never-get-up-again victory, it happened so fast.  Not even ten minutes into the match, my half sister, then champion of the W.W.W.N.A., was a pretzel on the mat, writhing, her face broken.  Watching the TV that night, I got scared, because, even though it’s supposed to be fake, and lately they’ve been flouting how fake it is, it looked so real.  She didn’t move.  At all.  The whole time.  The cameras showed the audience, and the faces there were truly horrified, shocked.  How could this have happened?  They even put on “I Will Survive,” to help out my half sister.  Soon, ambulance guys were there pumping her stomach and wrapping her face in gauze.  I’ve always had this thing about gauze, but not that night.  I was okay.  The music swelled.  Lights strobed on, then off.  The ambulance guys placed my half sister on a stretcher and slid her into the ambulance and hooked her up to machines and slammed closed the door and beeped the siren and drove off.  The music stopped.  The big transsexual was standing in the center of the mat, arms raised.

You might think wrestling, as I did, is choreographed, scripted.  But you’d be wrong.

A week later, my sister was out of the hospital and we all threw her a party with streamers and a piñata with the miniature figurines of the Wonderful Women Wrestlers of North America.  There was Disaster.  There was I Am Woman.  There was Hester.  There was the Drill, which I can tell you was the most beautiful figurine, ever.  Her midgetish boyfriend bought her expensive jewelry and a special reclining chair and a new TV—for her recovery.  There were wieners and brats with extra sauerkraut and mail-order Cobb salad (because Mom, even though she could make one whupass goulash, didn’t know Cobb salad from Caesar).  There was also, happily, a surplus of raspberry wine coolers.  And music, a TexMex salsa thing.  For a short while, we felt like a real family, not a half family.  It was nice.  We marinated.  We bar-b-que’d.  The midget flipped the patties.  I prepared the veggie burgers.  My half sister, the Power Drill, blew up balloons.

Then, Mom got more involved in my half sister’s life.

All this time, Mom had kept her distance, worked behind the scenes, because she didn’t want to get involved.  Because she didn’t want her daughter wrestling, and would say to me, she’d say, “Why can’t your sister be more like you?”  And then she’d answer herself, “Oh, that’s right, because she’s my blood, and you’re not.”  She was like that—the woman my father married after my mother went bonkers and split.  She had that scathing, incendiary, bitter humor, that self-degradable bent.  But that’s why Dad, when he was still living, loved her, because she was no-nonsense.  Ditto with my sister her daughter, the wrestler.

Then, Mom got sick.

Lately, my half sister’s been on Paxil.  Because she’s severely shy.  And needs to get out more.  Because, ever since that last match night, she’s been freaked by people—any people—on principle.  Because that night was so damaging to her psychically and emotionally and because after that night she was just drained, physically.  Then, with her mom in the hospital and all, with infarction having over-ridden her mom’s body, with everything, she began—slowly—gradually—totally—to withdraw from life.  Her midget boyfriend grew suspicious that she might be conducting affairs.  For some reason, perhaps because she didn’t see it necessary, she never denied it.  The midget’s jealousy spiraled.  There were fights, the screaming kind and those worser fights that stay all bottled up deep down inside and don’t get out till it’s too late.  My sister’s manager, Tuco, called and called, but never got a call back.  Then, one night, Tuco stopped by.  At first, I didn’t answer the door.  I knew who it was, and I knew what he wanted.  And I didn’t want to be a part of it.  Somehow, maybe because I’m a sucker, and, like all suckers, being at everyone’s whim, I was roped in, down for the count.

“It’s just—  You can talk her into it.  Not her midget boyfriend,” said Tuco.  “Only you,” and then he left.

Match day was a day away.  I didn’t talk to her.  I hardly saw her.  But on match day, as I sat reading the morning paper, here’s my sister, the wrestler. Ready to go to work.  Decked out in her standard Spandex match-day outfit, under a downy monogrammed bathrobe she slips out of before leaving the house.  I sense her coming, but don’t want to look up from the paper.

What do I do?  I look up from the paper, ask, “What are you doing?”

She goes right for the cereal, her midget boyfriend right behind her cheering her on (as the pre-nup stipulates).  There’s something about her today, I notice, something I can’t pin down but which is utterly new and different.  It’s hard to put into words.  I watch my half sister for a while, to see if I can pin down what’s different about her.  It’s not the midget: he’s the exact same.  It’s not her hair, which is plastered back and formed into one upsweeping wave (her trademark).  It’s not her eyes, which are somewhere between green and blue.  It’s not her body, which is the same old pug-shaped stub that brazened last month’s W.W.W.N.A. newsletter.  And it’s not her face, which is determined, unsmiling.  She doesn’t look at me but for an instant, as her midget pours milk over her cereal.  But in that instant, that second, I notice what’s different about my half sister this match day.  It’s her hand; specifically, her finger—that finger.  An engagement ring.

I try not to say anything.  I try to shrug it off, but here I go, saying, “Oh my God.”

The look on her midget boyfriend’s—fiance’s—face is possessed, maniacal.  It’s the look the evil guy has in all those old movies.  One eyebrow raised slightly, the other lowered, mouth slanted, scowling.  That, plus the midget’s wearing his own match day garb—a sweatsuit made out of fluffy towel material.  The only thing that’s missing are gold chains.  He’s got the wiry chest hairs.  He’s got the cologne.  I’m almost choking on account of his cologne.

“What?” wonders my half sister.

Should I tell her?  No I shouldn’t.  But, yeah, I do, say, “What’s— that?”  Pointing.  Leering.

Without looking up, as she slurps her cereal, she says, “Oh.  That.”              But that’s it.  So I’m like, “Yeah—that. What is it?”

“It’s a ring,” she says and holds it aloft so it glimmers in the fluorescent lighting till it’s clear it ain’t real.

“Yeah,” I go.  “Exactly.  What’s it doing there?”

Still slurping, she says, “Well, it’s a little something called getting engaged.  Ever heard of it?”

The midget looks at me and grins and continues to rub down my half sister.  Modern sports science has proven that a good rub down before a match more often than not leads directly to a victory.

“But he’s a midget.”

My sister looks mildly sedated, anesthetized.  “So.”

“But you don’t love him.  Don’t tell me you love him.”

“No,” she says, “I don’t.”  The midget doesn’t seem to care.

“So why get hitched.  Why throw your life away like that.  Why—”

“Listen,” she tells me.  “Just because you have secret fantasies about getting me in bed or something because we’re not related, so what.  It’s match day, and I’m fucking getting married on national TV whether you like it or not. Like I could give a fuck.”

“You’re just…jealous,” says her midget.  His face is blank.  He turns and walks away, followed by my half sister.

Who turns when she’s at the door, says, “You’ll watch, right?”

She’s serious.  She is earnest and completely serious when she says this; she actually thinks I’ll watch.

Despite my objections.  Despite my being incensed.

So what do I say?  I say, “Hm.”  Considering my options.  One, I could object; two, I could play along and maybe somewhere down the road try to sabotage the wedding; three, I could just accept that this is what my half sister wants and this is the way it’s going to be.

What do I do?  Like an idiot, I say, “But what about Mom?”

Pause.  She looks up.  But says nothing.  Her midget fiancé, however, he says, “Come on, we’ll be late.”

I shoot him a razor stare, then look pleadingly at my sis.  She says nothing, but deadeyes me.  It’s a friendly kind of deadeye, like she wishes things had turned out differently but it’s too bad they haven’t; and if there’s anything she can do, she’d do it, believe her she would.  But can’t.  Being my half sister and not a miracle worker and all.  For a moment, I believe her.  But then she says, “And…?” Her face has changed, has darkened.

So what do I say?  I spell it out for her.  I say, “She’s fucking sick.  She’s dying.  Don’t you think she deserves better than to have the last thing she does on earth is to watch you get married on TV—to a midget?  I mean, God, her whole life, and this is what it comes down to?”

“Okay.”  That’s what she says.  That’s all she says.  Because then she moves in.  She comes right at me and… I’ll spare you.  I’ll spare you the details.  Except to say that it’s too bad my half sister’s a wrestler and I’m not.  Because that might have been interesting.  Not one of those two-second whupass things that are over before you know it, like when Mike Tyson bit that guy’s ear.  Not that my sister did that to me.  Well, she tried to, but missed, chomping instead down on the soft spot behind my ear.  It drew blood.  She flipped me, my half sister, and maybe because she’s my half sister and not my real one she was able to body-slam me without guilt or apprehension.  Without helping me up afterward.  Without, once it was obvious I wasn’t getting up on my own, ever helping me up.  Her midget rooted her on.  It was savage.  Everything happened so fast.  I mean, we used to fight like half-siblings sometimes fight but this was different.  It was like she was trying to prime herself for this afternoon’s match.  It was over in a few seconds flat.  I was upside down, then right side up.  Then sidewise, then something that must have been in betrayal of the laws of gravity.  Soon, I blacked out.  Never undermine your half sister, especially if she’s a wrestler.

“Do it for Mom,” I say before blacking out.

Even though I can’t open my eyes, I can hear her say, “Fuck that.  I’ll do it for myself.”

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