A Look on the Bright Side: The Final Column

Tuesday night, I lay in bed, reading a book that had just arrived from Amazon. My five year old son, Donovan, was next to me, watching one of his shows on our TiVo (he’s allowed to watch an episode or two before bedtime). At some random point, I put the book down, watched him for a few moments, and stroked his hair a couple of times. And then I tried to imagine: how could it be even remotely possible for me to get to such a dark place that I could be capable of smothering him to death?

Now, there are two points here you have to understand:

1) I’ve tried to explain to childless friends how having a kid changes you. One of the best ways I can do so is to explain that, prior to Donovan’s birth, I probably cried a total of 3 times since had turned 18 – and two of them were due to pain. Now? I’m capable of tearing up at a freaking commercial. So much of my emotional core is tied up into him, and concern about him – I am absolutely terrified of something happening to him that I am unable to prevent. I am being quite literal when I say that the very thought has kept me up at night. I watched the Mel Gibson movie Ransom back when it originally came out in 1996, and it barely affected me. I caught it again a couple of months ago, and was an absolute wreck 45 minutes into the movie.

2) Shooting someone with a gun can be considered an “act of passion” – point the gun, pull the trigger, BANG, done. Takes less than a second. Smothering someone requires a sustained action. And it usually requires struggling against the person you are smothering/strangling. This is not over in an instant: you have to set your mind to it, and follow through. In other words – this is not the result of a sudden bout of rage – roid or otherwise.

So as I’m looking at my son, the center of my life. And I’m thinking about Chris Benoit, a man that by all reports adored his son, just like I do. And my head is turning this over, again and again – how? How could he possibly do that?

Donovan turned to look at me. He smiled, and said, “I love you, Daddy.” Then, he lept at me and gave me a hug.

I never wanted to let him go.

And I guess that’s as close as I’ll ever come to understanding it.

Last week, I was planning on opening my regular “A Look at the Bright Side” column with my stated distaste over the “Death of Mr. McMahon” storyline. Iain had as good a take on it as anyone: it was the WWE’s attempt to return to a “male soap opera”, with storylines that have shocking twists and turns. You weren’t supposed to take it seriously: everyone with a clue knew that Vince wasn’t really dead (although “Mr. McMahon” supposedly was – but I seriously doubt that would have stuck).

The reason for my discomfort was very simple: the mortality rate in wrestling is staggering. I mean, here’s a list of people associated with the wrestling industry that have died in the past 10 years under the age of 50:

Louie Spicoli, 27
Chris Candido, 33
The Renegade, 33
Owen Hart, 33
Yokozuna, 34
Crash Holly, 34
Brian Pillman, 35
The Wall/Malice, 36
Eddie Guerrero, 38
British Bulldog, 39
Ravishing Rick Rude, 40
Miss Elizabeth, 42
Big Bossman, 42
Mike Awesome, 42
Earthquake, 42
Curt Hennig, 44
Bam Bam Bigelow, 45
Hercules Hernandez, 47
Chris Adams, 46
Road Warror Hawk, 46
Sherri Martel, 49

And now we can add:

Chris Benoit, 40
Nancy Benoit, 42
Daniel Benoit, 7

Because yes, I absolutely do blame wrestling partly for this. And I blame the WWE, and everyone who sets the policy there on working schedules, and drug tests, and the required “look” for becoming successful. So in other words: yes, I partly blame Vince McMahon.

If you haven’t yet, please read Aaron’s article on this subject (he also includes a full list of links to other IP articles on the subject from earlier in the week). Between himself and his guest writer Derek, they have covered most of my feelings on the subject: Aaron with his opinion that the schedules and other demands made by WWE are unreasonable, and Derek with his stance on mental illness, and the seeming inability of anyone who hasn’t directly dealt with it to truly understand it. I applaud Derek for his honesty about his mother and her condition. I am, unfortunately, not at liberty to discuss my own experiences – but they closely echo his.

One thing that has been glossed over, however, is the revelation of Daniel’s diagnosis of Fragile X syndrome. If you aren’t familiar with it, please read about it here. Basically: it’s an inherited disease that causes mental retardation, or autism, through the lack of an essential protein in the body, called fragile X mental retardation protein or FRMP. It’s caused by a change or mutation in a gene on the X chromosome. For those of you not familiar with anatomy – X and Y are the sex chromosomes; girls are XX, boys are XY.

So, why do I feel this is important? Two reasons:

1) A child’s diagnosis of autism can be absolutely devastating to a family. Unfortunately, I do not have statistics handy, but I can guarantee you that the divorce rate for couples with an autistic child is well, WELL above the national average. My mother-in-law used to work at a center for handicapped children run by UCP, and her stories involving autistic children are absolutely horrific. And in her experience, if a couple divorced, it always seemed to be due to the husband. In her words: “Men are just weird about autism. They just seem to have real trouble accepting the fact that they could have produced a son who was so ‘wrong’, in their opinion.”

As much as I hate to admit it, I have to agree with her. It’s certainly not 100% of men who are this way, but the percentage is way too high. Too many fathers want to live through their sons – look at the stories of nightmare Little League parents, and fathers bringing guns to a pee-wee football game and such. If you find out that your son is possibly never going to be able to lead a “normal” life? That he might need 24/7 care for the rest of his life? That’s an incredible strain for someone who has tied so much of their own personal satisfaction into “my boy”.

Now, I don’t feel I’m an example of a father like this, but I can relate in some way. Donovan is epileptic. He had his first seizure when he was 2 years old, and has had 14 of them in the 3+ years since. None of them have been terribly severe, and he’s come out of a couple of them by himself without medication. But believe me – when you see your son go totally non-responsive, his eyes rolled back into his head, his arms and legs perfectly stiff, and he simply CAN’T talk to you no matter how much you yell his name… it’s unnerving, to say the least. We’ve been told over and over again that A) he probably will grow out of it (which we doubt a little more every time it happens), and B) he can live a normal life, even with epilepsy. But, this kind of condition brings up questions you just never thought about before — he’s starting kindergarden next year; will he be allowed to play on all of the playground equipment (if he has a seizure while climbing on the monkey bars or something, he could easily fall 6-8 feet straight to the ground)? If this never goes away – will he be able to get a driver’s license?

Believe, there are times when I’ve railed at God. Why Donovan? He couldn’t have done anything to deserve this — why is he being punished for something I may have done? Why does this have to happen to us? These are the questions that come to you in your darkest times. And I’m blessed with actual mental stability – I’ve been lucky enough that all of my issues have manifested themselves in a relatively simple form of alcoholism.

Benoit’s schedule in WWE required him to be on the road 300+ days out of the year. If his son turns out to be autistic, he’s going to need plenty of attention and care, up to and including 24/7 (though with the late diagnosis, that seems unlikely – but I’m just hypothesizing here). When your job, your passion, the thing that defines you (and from all accounts, this is true about Benoit in terms of wrestling) – when it requires practically all of your time, how do you react when you are told in no uncertain terms that you have to make a decision between it, and a family member that needs a lot more of your time?

2) As I said above, this disease is caused by a mutation of the X, or female chromosome. So, it would have been a simple, though severely misguided, conclusion on Chris’s part to “blame” Nancy for this – since it was her chromosome, after all.

Please note: this is not the conclusion of a rational person. But I think it’s been firmly established, by the evidence of three dead bodies, that Chris Benoit was nowhere near rational on June 22-24, 2007.

As I said at the beginning of this column: I still do not understand what could get a person into such a mindset that they think killing their wife and their own son is acceptable behavior. But, under these kind of circumstances, I suppose I could see Chris “blaming” his wife for their son’s condition; combine that with rage and confusion on any requests to cut back on and/or quit wrestling (his life long dream, and the only thing he’s made money at since he was 15), and I suppose I could see what could drive him to kill Nancy. Then, knowing that his son has now lost his mother, and that his father will now be looking at a lifetime in jail, and is autistic: maybe he decided Daniel was better dead than living that kind of life.

Again: not the thinking of a rational person. I am not sympathizing with Chris Benoit. But I am recognizing that the combination of drug use (steroids, pain killers, and who knows what else he might have used), a stressful life style (300+ days a year away from his family, on the road, never truly getting the necessary time to heal from everyday wear-and-tear), and what I feel was an undiagnosed mental illness could drive a person to the decisions I wrote above. That certainly doesn’t make them “right”. But I also don’t think it necessarily makes Benoit “evil”, or a “monster”, as I’ve seen written multiple times.

It just makes this all sad. And wrong. Very, very wrong.

One other point that Aaron wrote about that I’m in complete agreement: I am done with WWE, unless and until I see real, actual, significant progress from them in addressing the issues that caused this entire tragic episode to unfold. That means a real drug policy, and mandated time off for everyone on the roster, and a reduced weekly schedule (drop the house shows, or at least 80% of them), and an overall shift of attitude: reward guys who work hard, rather than muscle-bound stiffs.

But continuing to point out the positive side of an company that seems to be doing its best to kill its own employees seems obscene.

So until I see these changes, “A Look on the Bright Side” as you’ve known it will cease to be. Aaron has been trying to convince me to continue writing with an emphasis on RoH DVDs and coverage, and I have to admit I’m much more comfortable currently covering an organization that promotes a 185 lb. wrestler as “the best in the world”. I’m going to be attending an indie IWA show in Philly on Saturday night with him, S-Squared, and Big Andy Mac: we’ll see if that does anything to re-light my creative fire.

I would like to thank anyone who read my column, and especially those of you who emailed me or posted on the forum about how much you enjoyed it. You don’t know how good it feels to know that someone, anyone, is enjoying your work.

And if you don’t see me again: please take care of yourselves.

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