UPDATE: This article was edited after May 4 with full credit to the beautiful narration done by Tim Kail over at The Work of Wrestling podcast.
February 14, 2011. To the majority of us it’s Valentine’s Day. Chocolates. Roses. Edible Arrangements galore. For many years this was how I saw this day, but recently something changed how I perceived the significance of this date on my life. During this time of physical isolation, I’ve been reflecting on moments in my life, along with my fandom of pro-wrestling. I realized that in 2011, from February to April my personal life and wrestling fandom collided in an unexpected way. It was a series of events and choices that I didn’t fully connect at the time and the conclusion I come to is this: If The Rock hadn’t returned on February 14, 2011, I may have never gotten married.
Before you stop reading this, allow me to explain where my fandom and life was at this point in time. I’ll also walk through how Rock’s return brought back a wrestling tradition I had thought was long retired, and in so doing gave way to opening myself to who is now the most wonderful part of my life, Kristen. Let’s roll back the hands of time to February 2011.
During this time in life I was living in a four-bedroom apartment in the south shore of Massachusetts. Three years post undergraduate, working as a life coach. My days consisted of taking kids with chronic mental illness out into the community to provide experiences they normally aren’t exposed to. This meant a lot of time at batting cages, riding go-karts, LOTS of Guitar Hero and occasionally comp tickets from a local sports team. I’d like to think my fellow life coaches and I made a positive impact on these kids, and hope those experiences provided a sense of normalcy that many rarely felt during that time. At the time I was content with my career. It was certainly challenging, yet I had no aspirations beyond this job and would often say aloud that I would be happy to do this forever. I liked what I was doing, and the people I worked with. I had one co-worker: Kristen, who had been working with us for a few months at this point. We had developed a good friendship while in the office and at bars for after-work salutations. I could see Kristen was intelligent, had a great sense of humor, thoughtful, and was incredibly loving from my time working with her. I had no romantic feelings for her at the moment as I was in a relationship during this time.
We had been dating since the previous summer. She lived in another state and the long distance took its toll on the relationship. I saw it was heading to its end, yet I was desperate to prevent something else from not working out. In my frantic attempt to hold on to it, I came up with the bright idea of moving to her state. In just a few short weeks I had made arrangements for me to move in May, making the months leading up a “farewell tour”. I told my friends, who were not too happy with me at the time. I also let my boss and co-workers know about my planned departure. Thinking about it now, why the hell did I give my notice so early? What was I thinking? It was early February and I planned to move in May. A lot could change between now and then…which it did.
As it would turn out right before Valentine’s day that year we broke up. I knew in my heart it was a healthy decision, but I was still broken up over it. I felt lost. I had been so quick to give up what semblance of my life I had, and now I found myself with my head hung in both pain and embarrassment. I was embarrassed that I impulsively decided to uproot myself from a place and people I had grown to love. I was embarrassed to have to now return to them to give the news, to hope I still would have a job after prematurely giving notice. I was taking a serious look at myself and was discovering I wasn’t living the way I could be. I realized I operated like a chameleon, constantly morphing myself for what I saw as acceptance from the people around me. Didn’t matter whether it was friends or in romance. I wouldn’t put the blame on them, I was so uncomfortable being myself because for years I was convinced that once I left the confines of home for college that I needed to change, to mature and let go of “childish things”. For me that meant giving up on many things I enjoyed doing. I was an avid comic book collector for many years and this largely stopped because when you’re in college…you have no money! The other “childish thing” I had moved away from was pro-wrestling.
From college to this point, my fandom with wrestling had become peripheral. I was still a fan, but not nearly as devoted as I used to be in high school when, since 9th grade, I would have an annual WrestleMania party. My friends would come over, I would have assortments of snacks, and mom would make the best pigs in a blanket on the block for the showcase of the immortals. Once I entered my college years I had tried to hold onto my love for wrestling. Sure, I would play the video games, and of course had a cardboard Rock stand-up in my dorm room freshman year (who doesn’t?) yet as college progressed, I found I didn’t have room for it. I came to believe that my focus needed to shift from pro-wrestling to “making something of myself”, as someone once told me. I began to associate it with regression; that I couldn’t engage in it if I wanted to be accepted as someone who could be employable, successful. I drifted away from it. I kept occasional tabs on what was happening, but again not with any regularity. After the break up I needed something to comfort me. I was hurt and angry. I kept myself from the things I enjoyed for many years, and it was my own fault. With that, I decided I would rebound from the break up by rekindling an old flame. Monday Night Raw.
As fate would have it, my valentine this year would be Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler as they talked me through this edition of Raw. The episode was focused on the identity of the special “guest host” for WrestleMania on April 3. I had already read some passing news about who it was thought to be, and one name in particular was all the motivation I needed to stick around for the whole show. At about 10:50pm, the final commercial break was done and the final segment was up next, the host would be revealed. I waited for the announcement, with none-too-high of hopes this would be memorable…until the music hit IF YA SMELLL. In that moment I had an awakening of pure joy seeing my childhood hero back in wrestling. I was floored. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, this was my all-time favorite wrestler returning after 7 years away from pro-wrestling. I intently listened to every word of his over 20-minute promo (That’s a long promo). After he punctuated the night with a “If ya smell what The Rock is cookin” I’m not ashamed to admit I was giddy with excitement to see him at Wrestlemania. Then the inspiration hit me like a people’s elbow directly to the heart: like Rock, I needed to go back to something I moved away from for 7 years. I needed to bring back my WrestleMania party.
In the months leading to WrestleMania, I started work on my un-farewell tour. I told my friends they would be stuck with me a little longer. I was thankfully able to keep my job. I noticed feeling re-invigorated in my work. I experienced so much joy playing a minor role in the life of the kids we served. A new development after my “un-notice” to work is how I increasingly looked forward to being around my co-worker, Kristen. I can’t put my finger on the exact moment it changed, but what I can tell you is I eagerly anticipated our interactions at work, I would volunteer for errands that I knew she was on. I was so drawn to her energy and her spirit. In a way I was blindsided, because I didn’t know where this came from. All I knew was I wanted to be in her company as often as I could. Naturally, I thought this would be as good a time as any to invite her to my newly resurrected pro wrestling extravaganza. She had no clue about pro-wrestling, but she agreed to attend.
April 3, 2011. It was WrestleMania day. After 7 long years of depriving myself the sheer childish delight that accompanied this event, I was fully absorbed today. The additional unforeseen bonus of putting this party on is how impactful the event would be on the trajectory of my life. My energy in that dilapidated apartment was obvious that night. I was cutting promos, carrying around my replica heavyweight championship title as if I just won a match. It felt great to be my genuine self again. I was getting back to the person I was before my belief in myself was clouded. The show started, and I let myself get swept up in the stories told in the ring. Good, bad or indifferent. This didn’t really matter. I was sharing stories on the years I spent watching The Rock kick ass, talk trash and electrify all over the world. I always admired his sincerity, he was so confident, self-assured, and resilient. He knew who he was. Qualities I wish I had. He made no apologies, and he had no problem telling you to take your criticism, turn it sideways and stick it straight up…well you get it.
It was nearing the close of the show, and my viewing was rewarded. I watched The Rock getting into the ring, rock-bottoming John Cena and setting the stage for their “once in a lifetime” match at next year’s WrestleMania. For lack of a better term I was electrified. I would have the chance to see The Rock compete again in the ring. As much as I was looking forward to what was to come in the world of pro-wrestling, it was what the future held for me personally that captured my attention next.
After WrestleMania ended, all of my friends eventually had their fill of food, drinks and my incessant need to impersonate Rock promos and left for the night. A tradition successfully reborn. After the friends had left, there was but one straggler remaining. Kristen. She asked me about the ins and outs of pro-wrestling. It was a world she was very unfamiliar with, and as we talked, we would laugh together at some of the ridiculous aspects of pro-wrestling, notably the Spanish announce tables propensity for being the only announce table destroyed at every PPV. We found ourselves sitting next to one another on what can only be described as the ugliest couch in history. Covered in cat hair from my roommate’s felines, clawed through and essentially held together by packing tape. The least romantic setting I could imagine. What happens next was the course changing moment in my life. It came from something innocent. Something simple. Sitting next to each other our hands gravitate towards one another’s, and the second our fingers interlocked-it was the second time tonight I felt electricity. Suddenly I forgot about what I witnessed in a wrestling ring. None of it mattered. She did. It shortly became crystal clear that this could be something meaningful.
Two short weeks later we started dating. That night was the catalyst for me recognizing that this person needed to be in my life, in a significant way. Wrestling might have been the spark that night, but she has continued to be my own inspiration for growth. She provided the encouragement for me to take a plunge and get into graduate school.
We both graduated with Social Work degrees, a field we both work in today. We were fortunate to share an apartment for many years (leaky roof and all), became engaged, married, moved out of said leaky apartment and bought a house together.
My love of both wrestling and Kristen crossed over in a literal way in 2018 when we flew to New Orleans for WrestleMania. I view that as a full circle moment. The very thing whose ripples resulted in our paths converging could now be celebrated by us. Together. Today, we continue the WrestleMania party tradition. This experience has changed the way I see wrestling. I long viewed it as an escape from my life, yet now I see it as a reminder of a story of someone sifting through the fog, re-discovering themselves, reconnecting to their passions, and repair the link with their authentic self. In doing so I connected with a partner and my life has taken on a significance I could not have imagined. I now find that every year I can reflect on the way this time unfolded with an ever-growing appreciation for what it brought my life, what I’ve been gifted. I do believe that Kristen and I would have found a way to one another at some point down the road, but in re-telling this story I am affirmed in my theory that on the night The Rock came back we were put in the express lane towards one another. I couldn’t be more thankful for my love…and wrestling.