“But one thing from people of the faith,” Chris Shepherd said in front of the Ultratitle banner, “we can be quite good at learning from other people’s mistakes. We do it all the time. We read what men did thousands of years ago, and take those lessons to apply to our lives. Bonecrusher, we both know Lane Cash made a mistake. The only question is… will Deacon learn from it? I got that answer. I gave you that answer. And tonight, we’re going to teach that answer to you and anyone with ears to hear that announcer tell the world that Deacon’s moving on to round 3.”
“Cut!” Gene announced. “Get it to editing.”
“Moving up, Gene,” Chris said, now fully out of character and into real life. “Directing now?”
“They fired the last guy for letting the N-word go,” Gene said without looking at Chris.
Chris pursed his lips and shook his head. “Getcha everytime. How are things at home?”
Gene stopped. He didn’t answer the question, and even though Chris’d talked to him at length about Gene’s family problems after the round 1 matches, Chris had to wonder if Gene was embarrassed.
“I’m sorry,” Chris said. He’d learned a long time ago that he could only help those who wanted it, and after last week, he knew Gene lived with a great deal of stress. Sometimes they broke only to dam it back up as soon as they could.
“Nothing to apologize for,” Gene said flatly. “My son’s just… he needs help and I don’t know how to help him.”
“I can’t say I have all those answers either,” Chris said. Some Christians wanted to give the ‘right answer’. Actually, that wasn’t just a Christian problem. As with most things, at its root it was a person problem, daytime talk-shows were full of people giving simplified ‘right answers’ to questions a lot more convoluted than we would want to admit.
“I know,” Gene said, so quiet Chris wasn’t certain if he was speaking to Chris or to himself. Chris wouldn’t question which it was. Gene seemed to need his time, or at least that’s what Chris thought until Gene did finally look at him. Eyes wide and swollen, Gene was scared, terrified, and trying to keep it all in, to find a way to hold everything together when the whole world seemed to be falling apart. Chris had learned a long time ago to help those who wanted it, but he’d also learned that sometimes, you just have to push a little bit harder.
“Did his mother show up again?” Chris asked.
Gene shook his head. “Maybe that’s the problem. She said she would be there and she stood him up. How could she do that?” It wasn’t a question to be answered. “How did this happen?”
Chris could guess at that answer. After hearing Gene’s story, Chris knew enough to see the picture of a boy still in a man’s body taking a wife too young for her own. The man started to grow up and the girl, mother now, was unable to grow with him. They separated. The man met and married another woman. ‘Fun and vibrant’ would be what she labeled herself as. ‘Unwilling to stay sober for more than a day’ would become his label when the newness wore off. And he’d do the same two more times with two more women, dragging his son into each. It didn’t take much to connect the dots, but Gene didn’t need the picture, he needed…
God, what did Gene need?
Chris offered only a shake of the head before he said, “Sometimes the question isn’t the important thing. Yesterday’s done.”
“Jason can’t even stay in school for a day without getting into a fight! What’s his life going to be like?”
Again, Chris shook his head. “Tomorrow will be there when we get there. You have enough to worry about today.”
“I wish it was that easy for me,” Jason said.
At this point, Chris could’ve jumped and told Jason how it could be easy, that if he trust God and grab ahold of Jesus’ promises, that all his pain would go away. He’d heard as much from thousands of theologians with bible verses galore to back up their claims. Chris could’ve, but that would’ve been a lie.
“It may never be easy,” Chris said, “but it’ll be worth it.”
“Sometimes I doubt it,” Gene said.
Chris could’ve told him to have faith, hold strong, all those things he’d done in all those wrestling promos. But this wasn’t a match. This was a life, and the only battle Chris could see was the one he couldn’t see – the one that’d grabbed hold of Jason and seemingly wouldn’t let him go. Rejection of a mother. Instability in a home and the resulting inability to trust someone enough to love them.
“I know you doubt it,” Chris said, “and that’s why I’m still here, still asking, and still praying.”
“Thanks,” Gene said, but his voice said he didn’t mean it.
“And why I’d like to pray for you here, right now,” Chris said, making certain that his voice sounded like he meant it.
Gene looked at him, staring through him. It was uncomfortable, but Chris held the gaze. Discomfort was the least of his concerns. Gene, and ultimately Jason, was the greatest concern, and inside, Chris prayed a prayer even before Gene said…