We met under the spotlights, cast as Macduff and Banquo in our high school’s production of Macbeth. Alex and I became fast friends. We goofed around a lot back stage, smoked a little weed in the alley. My big moment was when I got to run onstage and yell “horror” until the word lost meaning. When the production was over, Alex invited me to join him and his other upperclassman friends in their backyard wrestling league. Boys playing dress up, immortalizing our daring feats on a bulky 90s camcorder. I played a janitor in coveralls and wielded a mop. We fell on each other from great heights, a mattress or trampoline underneath us. If you do it right, it’s a kind of embrace.
Dark Arena. Ring stands empty.
Into the light dances a myth,
purple feathered boa wrapped around torso.
Pink boots a stompin’.
Larry Sweeney barrels down the aisle
and dives between the ropes of the ring,
bounces to his feet, taunts the crowd,
delights in their jeers, flexes, preens.
His shoulder-length bleach blond hair is wet,
droplets rain with every whip of his head.
We stayed friends but never became close ones, even after I followed Alex to the same Midwestern college. After graduating, Alex moved to Pennsylvania to train with Ring of Honor. That’s where he created Larry Sweeney. I followed his career from afar, got Facebook invites to his matches when he was in town. He doggedly pursued his art, something I admired and even envied. Mine was an idealized notion of Alex. I only heard about the rest later, after he killed himself. Barthes said “In wrestling, a man down is exaggeratedly so, filling the spectators’ entire field of vision with the intolerable spectacle of his powerlessness.” Alex lived to put on a show, so to mourn him, so will I. Good taste is never of paramount importance, least not in wrestling. Book an arena of the mind. Reanimate the dead. Print fliers. Spread the word: a rematch.
What a treat we have in store for you tonight.
Re-birth, Re-venge. The Re-turn…of
Sweet ’n‘ Sour Larry Sweeney!
Close up of Sweeney’s face in pain.
He takes his pink aviators off.
Then puts them back on.
More, More, More demands Larry’s theme music.
When a friend kills themselves, there is no ref to whom to appeal. I read online that Larry hanged himself from the turnbuckle of a ring in Louisiana, that it was his parents who found him. “Unnatural” is a word people use when parents bury their children. Kayfabe is the concept in wrestling that the shared fantasy created in the ring is a code and that the characters and stories created in the ring are sacred. Reality outside the ring, once acknowledged, betrays the fantasy created within it. To “break” kayfabe is wrestling’s greatest sin.
Venue change: Starbucks.
Behold Alex, gravel-voiced bipolar disturbance.
He delivers a kick! to the plate glass window
then stays to kick and kick
until the shatterproof glass comes down.
Stays long after
the baristas call the police.
Rematch implies the possibility of changed outcome. Alex is gone but some version of him (Larry?) kicks around my head. I hate movie suicides, the sad minimalist piano music, the familiar storm clouds and pockets full of stones. I watch dedications online, teary bloggers recount what they all agree was his low point.
Toyota Center Parking Lot:
Shaky camera work,
an opponent named the UK Viper.
Fans getting a chance to mix it up
with a fallen star.
Alex is a manic
and good-natured ringleader.
Tractor trailers in the background.
Halfway between Alex and Larry,
switching back and forth.
When the amateur announcer calls him Larry,
he stops him, and speaks of the name his parents gave him.
I track down and speak to a man who shot the video, who documented what others describe as the zenith of Alex’s unchecked mania. Aaron was a kid skipping school when he met Larry in a McDonalds down the street from the arena. Over the course of that afternoon, Alex became something like a mentor to him. Aaron was the “promoter” of that improvised parking lot match witnessed by a dedicated handful. No one had believed in him like that before. Before what I saw in the video was a tragedy, a fallen star vamping for attention and beer money. After talking to Aaron, I remember Alex could be plain fun. So many known and recorded versions of Alex: artist, friend, inspiration, danger to himself and others, suicide.
Crackling audio of Alex discussing
the awakening that sealed his departure
from Ring of Honor:
“The sky parted ways.
They opened up.
I don’t know how else to describe it, man.
It was like God
staring directly into me
and through me and
I was looking back at him.”
In his own words, 2009, the year of the parking lot match, was the worst of his life. A qualifier though, when he speaks of it, one that haunts me. He calls it the “worst event of my life, up to this point.” “Up to this point” is probably just Alex being realistic, life is a series of hurdles, but to me it sounds expectant. I track down Aine, one of the witches from Macbeth. They never dated-dated, but he was her first kiss. Back then I thought he walked on water, she says. She tells me of the time Alex drove halfway across the country based on a message he heard within the “Jesus Christ Superstar” soundtrack. How far do the dead plan ahead? He would have done big things in the big leagues.
Sweeney kicks a tombstone into an open grave,
then begins to shovel.
Breaks free, jumps upon the turnbuckle,
makes the international gesture for suck it.
Fireworks punctuate the gesture.
From my spot on the mat,
I regard the figure on top of me,
monster stitched together from Youtube,
memory and daydream.
Surely this is not Larry, much less Alex.
Once he was gone, Alex became a sinking feeling. Instead of making sense of his death, I wallowed in the messiness of it, got lost in the versions of him that live online. Dying in the ring made him myth. Reanimating him has done little to make the spectacle of his death tolerable. My imagination has failed me.
A flicker passes across his eyes,
He jumps, sends his feet
out in front of him, cocks his elbow,
his hair streaking in the wind.
It’s a very interesting question,
though only one person who can answer it.
The man under that big black hat.
Credits roll, time marches on.
Tune in next time.
Larry elbow drops into the ether.
I remember his bark of a laugh. Put the various versions of him away. I’ve been grappling with him so long fantasy has dried into memory. What a poor promoter I was. None vanquished, no new storylines to pursue. If anyone real were involved were my checks would have bounced. I miss Alex. I close the browser windows.