Sometimes in life, you can’t see what’s coming. You might think you have it all figured out, but, truth is, you don’t. As my feet left the top rope of the ring that day, I thought I knew right where I was going. But, I had no idea.
“Stop!” my mama hollered from the sagging back porch, the screen door banging behind her, jolting Skeeter, our dusty old bloodhound, out of his dreams. As the bright blue gap of daytime sky grew between the toes of my filthy white Asics boots and that big braid of frayed bungee I’d worked so hard on, I caught sight of Mama holding up The Macon Daily Express. The headline screamed “DIVINITY FREE! WRESTLING MURDER A SHAM!” “Look! It was all fake! I told—”
By the time she’d gotten all of that out, my body was already falling on top of the Juiciest Peach of Justice, her skinny neck cracking underneath my bent elbow, her bare bony leg folding backward beneath us. We fell to the stained mattress in a tangled heap, and when I rolled off of her, the Peach wasn’t breathing no more.
The First Annual Badass Backyard Brawl was all my idea. I didn’t have any friends at school, but I had a bunch on the computer, and they were all wrestling fanatics. Not as much as me, but pretty rabid. I set it all up, the whole thing. See, I had a plan none of them had any idea about.
What my mama had been yelling about was Helena Divinity getting sent to prison for killing Velvetina in the ring about a month back. Little did Mama, or anyone else, know that I’d set up the Brawl for just that reason. Helena was my idol and if she was gonna be in the pen for a while, for killing someone right here in Macon, I could go with her and hang out and learn stuff—real wrestling stuff. I wanted to be a pro wrestler, just like her.
I got interested in wrestling when I was little. My grandma, Luscious Lucy McKittrey, got famous a long time ago when she wrestled a comedian on TV. I used to watch her match over and over on our old VCR machine. Poor Meemaw got her ass whooped, but all that pageantry and TV acting sure looked fun. Not to mention glamorous, being on there with famous people and all. The comedian that she wrestled was a man named Andy Kaufman, and I learned to love him. Not so much when he sang along with some dumb record all alone on a stage, but he was real funny on an old show Mama showed me called Taxi. I liked him so much that I read a book about him and got an old DVD off of Amazon—it was a movie about his life, with Jim Carrey. You know, I bet he’s still alive somewhere. He’ll be back someday to laugh at all of us and say, “I ain’t dead, see, I was only joking!”
I won’t see it, though. Not after what happened in the backyard.
Denise Jenkins always gave me a hard time on the bus. She sat way in the back and I sat up front close to the door, but she’d always sass me as she shoved on by. “Damn, Caprisha,” she said, smacking her gum, “your ass gets any fatter, you’ll take up a whole dadgum row.” She was one to talk. Her ass got skinnier and skankier by the grade. The only reason her knee dug into my thigh as she squeezed by was she was busy shoving her panties all up in some shy, embarrassed boy’s face in the seat just in front of mine.
“Bet you’d like to grab a handful of Carson’s Boston butt, wouldn’t you, you ole hog?” Darlene wrinkled up her nose and oinked at me before getting shoved down the throat of the bus by the football guys who’d piled up behind her. Carson, having survived his assault by Denise’s bony ass in the very front row, just stared out the window and pushed his big black-framed glasses up his nose with his pointer finger, acting like he was wishing he was someplace else.
At that time, Denise was one of my online wrestling forum friends—she didn’t know it, of course, because I was using a fake name. Though I knew, as everyone else did, what she did on the mats with the boys in the gym, making them call her the name she used on-line. She was one of only two female high school wrestlers in all of Georgia. She’d show up at her matches with a red satin cape with a big “JPJ” on it, for Juiciest Peach of Justice. High school wrestling ain’t like the pro kind, but she treated it as such. Bless her little heart. I knew she’d come to the Brawl that day.
“What are you doin’ out there all the time, darlin’?” Mama would be drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, and folding paper into origami shit when I came inside just as the sun went down. She made all kinds of crazy little birds and dragons and stuff. Our house always looked like winter in the North because every surface was completely covered with little white spiky paper animals, some places three and four bodies deep. She started doing that after my daddy got killed crossing the train tracks in the middle of the night coming home from Lou’s Tavern back when I was seven. Only the smoking bothered me because teachers would pull me aside in school, smelling it on me, and ask me if I’d been smoking in the girls’ room.
“Oh, nothing, Ma,” I lied. “Just playin’ with Skeeter and whatnot.” I reached into the fridge and pulled out some milk. I put it back after I saw that it had expired days ago,and grabbed a can of Coke instead.
“What’s that you’re building out there, sugar?” I guessed she’d looked out the window. Unusual for her. Her whole world was inside our rundown old house. She only ever stepped foot outside to go to the store, or maybe, once in a great while, to the movies or a restaurant. She was kind of what you’d call a hermit.
“Aw, nothin’ really,” I said, wading through paper toward my room. I spent most of my time in there, chatting with my wrestling buddies and listening to Slayer.
“You buildin’ a wrestling ring out there? ‘Cause that’s what it looks like to me,” she said through a cloud of smoke, folding a dorsal fin on a dolphin.
I was building a wrestling ring. My computer friends all talked about having a backyard match someday, especially after watching some fools do it on the YouTube, and I loved my friends so much, I wanted them to all come see me. Even though I was pretty sure they wouldn’t like the real me. On-line, I was a pretty blonde, five-six and a hundred and fifteen pounds. In real life, I was five-three and almost one-ninety. But, I was real lonely and, after all the trouble at school freshman year, I needed some friends. I thought my computer buddies would all come if I built this ring.
Right after Divinity’s trouble, going to jail for murder and all, my brain got a great idea. I had to finish it. I worked harder on that ring than I’d ever worked on anything, including that dumb science fair project I had to do for school in eighth grade, the one where I stained my good pair of jeans with ink and Mama made me scrub ‘em out for a whole day, and that still didn’t fix ‘em. This great idea would do two things for me: get me close to my wrestling idol, and shut Denise the hell up once and for all.
“Y’all! It’s finally finished!” I wrote on the wrestling forum message board that night. “The First Annual Badass Backyard Brawl is ON like Donkey Kong! Please come celebrate my 18th birthday with some old fashioned ass-whoopin’!” I posted a picture of the ring I’d built from the massive junkyard that was our lawn. It was only made out of a bunch of old stained mattresses, broken mailbox posts, and braided bungee cords, but everyone said the nicest things about it. Everyone seemed real excited. I was, too.
Forty-three people showed up on my birthday.
“Oh, my God, it looks like Velvetina is down for the count,” the announcer shouted as Mama and I had watched, popcorn held halfway to our mouths. Mama had paid the cable company a good chunk of her social security check so I could see Helena Divinity in the most important women’s wrestling match of all-time. The fight was held right in Macon, but those tickets were way too expensive.
“You’re gonna be just like her,” Mama used to tell me whenever we’d watch Helena. “It’s in your blood,” she’d say. Mama said I was built like Grandma and that I had just the right stuff to become a champion. I was gonna go to the Diesel Calder Academy of Wrestling up in Atlanta after I graduated. The reason I didn’t wrestle at the high school was on account of Denise and what she did to me at the very start of ninth grade.
“It was the most disgusting thing I ever saw in my whole entire life,” Denise told the crowd of our classmates gathered around, all with their hands over their noses and mouths, as she stood on the cafeteria table with my soiled underwear held over her head in her rubber-gloved hands.
We had to run a mile in gym class that day, and as soon as I started running, I realized I had to go to the bathroom. Gym was right after lunch and I had eaten the school tacos, and, all the times I ate them, they never sat right with me. I had to have the school hot lunch, on account of my being on the free lunch program—I had no choice. Anyway, I yelled to the teacher that I had to go to the bathroom, it was an emergency, but she told me to shut up and keep running. She was real mean. Denise had been right behind me. I could hear her snickering and talking to her friend, Lacey, saying what a fatasss I was (I wasn’t even that fat back then—I weighed about 135; I didn’t start binge eating until Denise started all the trouble).
Then, it started to happen. My stomach gurgled and I felt my butt kind of loosen up. I worked my legs faster and clenched my ass muscles tighter, but it didn’t help. I felt it coming out, hot and moist. Denise let out a squeal and everyone behind me was laughing. Shit ran warm down my leg, collecting on the top edge of my rolled down sock and falling to the ground in little wet clots. I was crying so hard I couldn’t see by the time the teacher let me into the locker room. I stripped off all my clothes and ran into one of the private showers you can use when you have your period and I cried some more as I washed the poop off my legs. Well, when I got out of the shower, my gym clothes were gone. I thought the teacher must have thrown them out or something, but it turned out that Denise stole my underwear.
And she showed everyone.
“Velvetina’s not moving,” the announcer hollered. Helena Divinity went to her corner and watched as trainers and ambulance people stood around Velvetina’s body. “Velvetina is dead!” the announcer screamed. I jumped up from the couch and dumped over the popcorn.
The Helena Divinity case was big news and it was on TV all the time. Mama tried to tape the reading of the verdict for me, but the record button on our VCR machine was broken. Life sentence, Helena got, in Macon State Prison, of all places. I felt so sad for her. She hadn’t meant to break Velvetina’s neck when she jumped off the top rope and performed an expert diving elbow drop.
I saw the first car pull up our long gravel driveway about 9:30 that morning. I was ready. I walked out the door, onto our weathered front porch with the crooked beams, wearing my turquoise wrestling mask and matching cape that Mama had sewn for me, and I said, “Howdy! Welcome to The First Annual Badass Backyard Brawl!” By 10:00, everyone was there and we were ready to get started.
There was one late arrival.
An old Ford Bronco skidded across the field next door and bumped and crashed over old bedframes and coffee tables in our backyard, finally coming to a stop right near my ring. The rusty passenger door creaked open and one hot pink boot touched the dirt. Everyone stared as the Juiciest Peach of Justice climbed out of the truck and walked toward me.
“Caprisha Marlin? You can’t be.” She looked me up and down while all the fat boys we knew from the computer did the same to her. “The Marvelous Marauding Maven is supposed to be a hundred and fifteen pounds, not three-twenty!” Everyone laughed.
I had been counting on this. I had imagined it so many times as she squeezed past me on the bus, as she laughed at me in the hallway, as she and her friends pointed as I ran by in gym.
“Why, if it isn’t the Juiciest Peach of Justice.” I walked right up to her, spit on her ugly pink boot, and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. “You remember that day in the cafeteria? I ain’t forgotten it, nobody’s forgotten it. You were so interested in my shit—I’m about to make you eat some.” I stared into her dumb face. Her eyes went wide and she swallowed hard. I smiled a tiny bit. “It’s my birthday, Peach. What do you say we get this party started?”
And, that was the beginning of the end of The First Annual Badass Backyard Brawl.
She’d almost pinned me a couple of times in the ring, shoving my face into a pile of rat shit on the old mattress once, pressing my cheek into a splintered corner post. Watching the crowd glare at me, shouting stuff like: “Kill her, Peach!” my anger finally grew hot enough for me to climb the ropes. After I had head-butted her in the nose, I began to climb. No one knew what was coming, but I’d been planning it for more than a month.
Images of my precious Helena Divinity filled my head as I stood on that top rope and let out a howl, just like old Skeeter that time old Mr. Bennett had run over his hind leg. I held up my arms, bending one and grabbing the wrist with my other hand. Denise stared up at me, real dazed-like, her nose bleeding all down her chin and onto her sparkly pink outfit.
And then, I jumped.
“I had to put old Skeeter down yesterday,” Mama said into the old-fashioned wall phone/intercom, blowing smoke toward the brick wall next to her. Even through the bullet-proof glass, I could smell the booze on her. The guard tapped her on the shoulder then and made her put the cigarette out. You can’t smoke in the visiting area. You can in the yard, though.
You can do a lot of things in the yard. Like talk about who you fisted in the shower. Or you can lift weights. Or get one of them famous prison tattoos. I got one that says “No regrets.” It’s a lie, though. I’ve got plenty of those.
I loved Helena Divinity. She should have been there with me, showing me how to do a cobra clutch or working with me on the aided leapfrog body guillotine. She could have taught me a lot of things. I was pretty dumb, thinking she was really doing jail time. And that I could serve right along side her. Stupid kid dreams. After realizing what an idiot kid I was, I spent most of my time reading the Bible. I had been doing one of them college degree courses, but there was no point in that. Not for me.
“Let’s go, Marlin,” the guard said.
I’d had my last supper—ribs from Smok’n Pig B‑B-Q, pizza from Ingleside Village, and some of my mama’s spaghetti, which was awful, but I wanted to have it just one last time. Now, it was time to go. I’d washed my hair real good and made sure I was as clean as could be since I’d be meeting Jesus tonight. I knew that I’d shit my pants on my way out of this world, just like that awful damn day in gym class, but I wanted to be clean just the same.
They walked me to the big padded table that reminded me of the dentist, where they made me lie down, and then they strapped my arms and legs down, pulling the straps so tight they cut me. I’d been feeling sick all the time over what I had done, so I knew this was for the best. One of the guards stuck a big needle into the back of my hand and hooked me up to some kind of IV bag like you’d see in a hospital. Nobody said a word until Pastor Andy read a Bible passage over me. I don’t know which passage it was—though I’d studied the Bible for a long time, the medicines they gave me over the years made it hard to memorize stuff. I knew that God was waiting for me, though, and that He forgave me for what I’d done to Denise Jenkins, just as sure as He forgave her for what she’d done to me.
There was a big window in the execution chamber with people sitting on the other side. It was like being behind the screen in a movie theater. This little theater wasn’t packed or anything—there were just a few people there. Mama was one of them. She was the only one crying. I wanted to tell her it was okay, that I was at peace and that I wanted her to be, too, but she couldn’t hear me. I felt sorry for her. I was sorry that I wasn’t the pro wrestler that she’d wanted for a daughter. Who knew that I’d end up here?
As the executioner emptied the syringe into my IV line, and I started to feel real sleepy, I saw Mama hold up a newspaper. The headline was what made me cry.
“ANDY KAUFMAN LIVES!”