Where Were You When Mick Foley Fell from 10,000 Feet?
by J.B. Stone
…I know I was in the Civic Arena here in Pittsburgh, front row & live at King of the Ring 1998, and young enough to confuse 10,000 feet with 16. Mick Foley’s body might as well have fallen from the stars that night. I watched as Mankind and The Undertaker grated each other’s bodies, shredding skin like blocs of Swiss and at one point turned this tarpaulin-covered canvas into a coffin bed of thumbtacks.
I could hear legendary commentator Jim Ross speaking in the language of warning signs from beyond the guardrail, If you have young children you might want to avert their eyes, because this won’t be pretty. My father just blew a raspberry, scoffing at the idea of his son being given any parental advisory, by anyone but himself. He never brought me here to bond. For him, this spectacle was his version of a ‘teachable moment.’
The previous day Jamie Czatkowski had pushed my head against the school fence, busting my lip, swelling a black and blue shiner right below my left eye. Jamie had been tormenting me for weeks, but instead of consoling me, my old man just threw a pair of tickets on the dining table, with some cheap stretch of pity flushed across his careless face.
As Mick Foley fell from the cage, landing on the barely padded cement, breaking the announcer’s booth in two, scaring Jerry “The King” Lawler half-to-death, it wasn’t the bloodshed, nor the drop itself that destroyed me, no matter how much I fanaticized the details. Seeing father after father, mother after mother heeding Jim Ross’s advice, my dad cheered like a spectator watching a gladiator’s body piked and gored.
He forcibly pulled my head closer, when he made me watch Mick rise from the stretcher like a body-bagged phoenix, and limp his battered bones, unmasked, with a long wooly beard pocketing plucked teeth, still going toe to toe with professional wrestling’s personification of death… he still found the time to talk over a crowd of thousands, stare back at me with the seething, violent lust of a football hooligan, “See! See! This is what REAL men do!”
As I started bubbling up weeks-worth of withheld tears, he turns his head back to me, and then looks ahead to the show, withdrawing any direct eye contact, “You can blubber all you want, but one day you’ll be thanking me.”
On the drive home, he turns his head back to me, cornered to the furthest reaches of the backseat trying to avoid contact as much as possible, “Goddammit, are you still crying?” He sighs, as if my cries were the auditions at a casting call, “If you quit all those damn waterworks, I’ll take us to Denny’s.”
As we sat down, my dad scarfed down his All American Breakfast Slam. I was just sitting in silence, until I asked, “Hey dad can I get something from the menu, maybe even the kids menu?”
He stopped chowing down, and shouted, “I got you a free ticket to a wrestling event didn’t I? Now shut up and let me eat.”
In the distance of my father’s shouting was none other than Mick Foley, the hardcore legend himself with his son Dewey. He walks up to my father, his son crutched against his waist, still wiping the bladed blood away from his forehead with a sweat rag, he turns to his son, “Dewey, go to mommy okay,” he says with a tone more gentle and loving than anything I have seen in a long time.
My dad’s eyes popped, his face gleamed, and in his excitement he says, “OH MY GOD! Mankind himself! It’s a pleasure to meet ya sir, see son it’s the man himself, here at Dennys Wouldya lookey her—
—”Yeah, yeah any reason my family had to hear you yell at your son like that?”
“Well you know how it is being a dad yourself, and al—
—“Yeah I do,” he bends a knee down to me, ignoring my dad, with the worry of a case-loaded social worker in his bludgeoned eyes, ”Hey bud you enjoy the show?”
“I mean I guess,” I said turtling my neck, a little taken aback.
“Does your dad always talk to you like that?”
“Hey who the hell do you think you are,” my dad intervenes.
“Well you clearly know who I am right? Yeah? You and I need to talk pal,” Mick Foley picks my dad up, carries him on his right shoulder with ease.
I stared through the window pane from the pleather-upholstered booth, and watched Mick Foley set my dad down on the sidewalk outside like as wrinkled duffle bag. They went back and forth in a shouting match muffled through the smudged-up glass. Suddenly, I saw my father break down in tears, wrap his worn, hairy arms around Mick. I didn’t need to hear Mick ask where my mother was in all of this to know that’s why he opened up, I just know the mere mention of her name is the one thing on this earth that still makes him cry. My dad walked back in, Mick’s bear-paw hands clutched to his shoulders, they hugged each other goodbye, and he called to the waiter, “excuse me bud, can I get a breakfast slam for my son as well?”
Our bellies stuffed with ham, eggs, and hash browns, my dad raced to the car, trying to get to the car first, rolled down the passenger-side window, and said, “Hey bud how’s about ya get shotgun here for a change, yur old enough now!”
“Okay,” I said with my eyes peeled but my trust still pacing back and forth like a cornered tiger.
“Oh Gloria, I could use a lil strength here darlin,” he mutters, gritting his teeth, staring back at the full moon gaze from the side mirror, radioing his pleas to the sky as if it was a HAM radio channeled between the static of the heavens and the earth.
He turned his attention back to me, but turned his eyes back to the road, “I know I haven’t been the best dad since mom passed, but I’m gonna try and do better.”
“Whatever,” I said, having heard this more times than my 10 year-old-self could stomach,.
“What do ya mean whatever?”
“You’re a Stephen King fan right dad?”
My father scratched his head, puzzled by the question, but obliged to answer, “Umm yes son.”
“Okay, do you remember the short story “Afterlife,” about the corrupt corporate guy who dies and ends up in some office in the afterlife speaking to someone serving out their own eternal damnation?
“Yeah, I folla”
“Remember that whole bit of dialogue where he tells him of all of the mean and stupid things he’s done, and how he has a choice to wither and die like a candle in the wind, or relive his entire life repeating the same mistakes over and over again.
“And do you remember when the man in the office chair tells him, they have had this conversation about a dozen times, the same conversation?”
“Yes,” he tilts his head down, not too low to evade his eyes from the road, but low enough to let me know he’s listening.
The only difference is, unlike the desk jockey, doomed to relive the same conversation to with the same dead men for all eternity, I didn’t do anything rotten to anyone to deserve such repetition.
“The thing is,” I continued. “I shouldn’t know about any of this dad. I’m ten but half the time I feel like I shouldn’t be able to reference stories written for people grades above my reading level. I-I-I shouldn’t be able to convey things bigger kids, like teenagers, can’t even convey to their parents. Yet, ever since mom’s been gone, you’ve been just an absolute dick. I miss her even more knowing I don’t really have you to turn to. Knowing whenever work at the Murphy Bros Construction, I’m the outlet for all your frustrations. I stopped trick or treating at 6 years old, SIX, most of the kids in school stopped at like 10, do you know how much innocence I’ve lost? How many times I had to hear kids in class excited about a Santa Claus coming down their chimney, trying everything to hold back my own tears?”
“No. I guess I never took those feelings into consideration,” sighing his own self-reflection into the lamp-lit skyline of the I-79.
I went back into recoiling my body to farthest side of my seat again, balling my body into a shell, tears bursting beneath my eyes like dying stars on their way out of the universe’s door, “You guess? Just leave me alone okay? Stop talking to me, or saying you’ll do better!”
I could see from his mirror, the slight gape in his bottom jawline, that he wanted to say something in the drive, but had no idea what to say at this point.
The following afternoon I got home, my jacket slumped from my shoulder, I threw my backpack to the corner of the coat rack, I headed to the dining room, dropped my head against my arms, folded them against the table surface, the sleeves of my green-plaid flannel: a makeshift handkerchief for residual snot. My old man just threw what I thought were a pair of tickets on the dining table again. However, it was a card for a therapist. I looked up to my dad from my chair, a tightened grin lighthousing hope and change across his face this time, he rubs his rough hands as softly as possible against my shoulder, “We’ll be meeting with Dr. Fidelo on Monday bud.”
I didn’t know if it was the imposing blood-ragged, six-foot-three frame of Mick Foley, or the ghost of my mother paying my father one last visitation, but I really didn’t care what the reason was. What’s important is without even saying it; my father was trying, and I knew, at least for a good long time, we were going to be just fine.
The thing of it is, I told this story to my kids the other day on our way to see their grandpa this past weekend. Towards the end of the story, my 12-year-old son Brayden asked me in the car, “What would happen if you both weren’t able to work things out?”
My wife Claire whispered to me, “Are you sure you’re ready to answer that?”
I nod back to her, shaking my head yes, “Honestly son… I may not be driving you to see your grandpa at all if that was the case, let alone get out of the car myself and join ya.”
As we approached Alleghany Cemetery, parked the car, treading our feet through the smoothed dirt and loosened cobblestone, we saw the grave as plain as the previous day.
Last year, at the tail end of 2021, my father passed away at 5:40 in the morning at UPMC Presbyterian. His final heartbeat thumped right before the sun rose that same morning.
His gravestone read:
Rest in Peace
His gravestone was set right next to mom’s. We all started weeping of course. We all started paying our tributes. Claire had placed a small bouquet of violet roses she grew herself in our garden earlier this summer. My youngest son, Ellis, placed a rock he finger painted with a blue and pink smiley face in Pre-K earlier this week. Brayden placed a poem he wrote in his English class, dedicated to him. I placed a pair of those same tickets to King of the Ring ‘98 at the Civic Auditorium, and a pair of business cards to the office of Dr. Jeanine Fidelo, Family Therapist across the burial site, one ticket and business card for my mother’s side of the plot, and another for my father’s.
In the distance, another vehicle pulled up. It was a teal Subaru Forrester station wagon, and there, stepping out from the driver’s side: an older Mick Foley. His back was a bit hunched, his beard was bigger, and burlier, with expansive streaks of gray to match the years. However, his kindness, his gentle giant demeanor remained, as he left a cliché bouquet of yellow tulips, but matching Claire’s already-displayed roses, Mick turned to me, “Hey sorry to hear about your dad. Remember me though?”
“Yeah, of course! How are ya? Did you and my dad ever get to talking after y’know?…”
“Who do you think recommended that therapist to him.”
A pause slipped through the foggy January air, more out of reverence to not make small talk in front of another man’s grave, especially my father’s. We strolled down a trail of pebbled gravel, and talked for minutes that seemed to span hours. We spoke about my father, how therapy was great for him, how it helped me as well. We spoke about wrestling too of course; his war stories in Japan against Terry Funk, his opinions on the current crop of wrestlers out here today. We also spoke about how his jawline was never the same; how he felt the cage and the fall were more iconic than he was in that fateful moment of ‘98. I tell him how the latter could not be further from the truth.
He smiles, missing teeth and all, “You know what? I think I am starting to believe that more and more every day.”
As the horizon set across the furious gusts of a long, cold winter, Mick and I watched the sky turn tangelo, the light of the heavens themselves cutting through the thick walls of fog, and we saw an unusually-thin jet stream shooting right up like a bottle rocket above the Pittsburgh Skyline, almost still, frozen in the distance. The thing about bottle rockets, they’re usually tiny homemade projects, and to see them from such a distance would be damn-near impossible. Bottle rockets don’t have the same journey that a satellite nor a real rocket can attest to, so eventually gravity wouldn’t be denied. Eventually, it would have to come down after five minutes. But it didn’t.
We weren’t going to go with aliens at first, or humor the conspiracy theories of chem trails. But no, there was a little more to this. I’m obviously older now; I’m less amazed by things. I know the difference between falling from 10,000 feet and 16. But when it comes to rising, I think my father knows a little more than I do.
J.B. Stone (he/they) is a Neurodivergent/Autistic spoken word poet, writer, teaching artist, critic, serving as the EIC/Reviews Editor at Variety Pack and reads for Uncharted Magazine, and Split Lip Magazine. Their writing has appeared or forthcoming in X-R-A-Y Magazine, The Citron Review, MoonPark Review, among other spaces.
Image Source: Claudia Raya/Unsplash