The Gift of Sorrow, Advanced Mode

“I’m not sure I should watch this,” I say.

We’ve gotten home from work and Smackdown is queued up and ready to go. I know Sami cuts a promo on Daniel Bryan and then he and Kevin win the main event together. Everyone on my timeline is thrilled. It’s the storyline I’ve been looking forward to for years.

“I mean it,” I say. “I’m really not sure I should watch this.”

“Aren’t you happy for the real guy?” Dan asks.

“Deliriously,” I say fervently. “For both of them! It’s so great, they’re going to be so great.” I’ve seen people hating on this angle and they’re insane, it’s already the most exciting angle this year and it’s only going to get more interesting. The wrestlers must be over the moon to have a cool story like this, to be able to work together again, and I’m so happy. They’re the best wrestlers in the world and it’s going to be magnificent.

But the thing is I don’t… really know those two guys; I’m aware of the difference between reality and fiction and I know better than to think I actually know them at all. It’s Sami Zayn, the character, that I like; Sami that I started making gifs for, that I started writing for. I loved feeling like maybe I could make some small difference, give people who loved him something to share and talk about and win over other people with (as if his wrestling, as if his self, wouldn’t be enough? That was dumb).  I wanted so much to maybe, somehow, just a little bit, be helpful.

Dan goes to hit the play button and I stop him again. I’m trying to explain this and it isn’t working. “Look, I can handle a lot of things, but if he blames this on not getting enough support from the fans, I don’t think I’ll react, uh, well.”

“He won’t mean you.”

“I’m sure the real person wouldn’t have anything specific in mind but I don’t care. Sami will be including me if he says it. I’ll have failed him.” My chest tightens just saying it. “We didn’t do enough and he’s going to blame us and I’m going to know he hates us now and maybe he always really did even when he was smiling and stuff. Maybe he despised us and now he’s finally free to say it.”

“He’s. Fictional,” Dan says.

I’m having a hard time breathing around my heartbeat. I try to keep my breaths steady. I don’t think I should watch this. “Look, I’m telling you, I don’t know what childhood trauma or insecurity this taps into, and I’m aware it’s totally irrational, but if Sami tells us that we let him down and our support meant nothing and he’s better off without us, I’m just warning you that I truly don’t know what I’ll do.”

“You’ll be fine,” Dan says reassuringly. But Dan, who is almost always right, is not right this time. Because yes, of course we reach the point where Sami explains to Daniel Bryan that the fans failed him, that they weren’t there for him, that they cheered for Bryan “but they never did it for me.”

And then for a bonus, because God forbid WWE avoid this in any storyline ever, he calls Bryan a “housewife,” because we all know the most useless, pathetic thing a human being can be is a woman.

It’s raining. My feet are cold.

It’s raining and my feet are cold, and I realize that’s because I have apparently gotten up and fled from Sami’s cheerful voice into the night without putting on my shoes and I’m walking down the street in the rain in my socks. I stop myself and put my forehead against a wall in the cold October rain. They should have waited a couple of weeks and then at least I could have wandered the streets sobbing to the lyrics from a Guns n’ Roses song. I feel strongly that this was a tragically squandered opportunity.

I wrote an essay a while ago about how Sami and Neville’s match at Takeover R-Evolution made me feel as if my support meant something, as if my love and energy could possibly be meaningful and helpful. An early draft included the line, “This is the kindest lie anyone has ever taken the time to tell me.” I ended up cutting it because it sounded cynical, and I didn’t want to be cynical, I wanted to be positive. Being positive has never been my default. It always took effort, and it always felt like a small victory against entropy when I achieved it.

For three years, Sami Zayn was the kindest lie anyone has ever taken the time to tell me, and I will always appreciate that gift.

Eventually I walk back home in the rain and change into dry socks and finish watching Smackdown.

“You should just write about it,” Dan says later.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” I snarl. I am incandescently furious at myself for apparently valuing a fictional character’s opinion more than a real person’s career. “Write about crying like some kind of fucking melodramatic moron who just found out Santa Claus isn’t real and the Tooth Fairy isn’t getting rich off the Raw tag team division?” I mime rubbing my eyes and jeer, “Oh boo hoo hoo, let me tell you how the big bad wrestler hurt my pwecious widdle feelings.”

“You didn’t get into writing about wrestling to talk about sound booking choices, you got into it to talk about the emotions of it. You can feel more than one thing at a time. Be happy for the guys, of course, but don’t pretend that all you feel is that smarky happiness. Mark out in the sadness.” He shrugs. “Look, the greatest wrestler in the world wants you to feel some shit, so feel some shit. One of your early essays is about how loving Sami as a character let you feel pure sorrow when he suffered, how that sorrow is a gift. So let yourself be vulnerable. Write about being vulnerable. Think of it as the gift of sorrow on advanced mode.”

For a long moment the room is quiet except for the sound of the rain falling outside. Then I look right at him and say with all my heart:

“That is the stupidest fucking thing I have ever heard in my life.”

Recent Posts

Recent Comments



J.J. McGee Written by:

I'm an American expat who lives in Japan and spends most of my free time being painfully earnest about narrative, character development, and slippage between kayfabe and reality in wrestling.