Dreams in a Mirror by Gabrielle Bellot
It was a wonder none of us were expelled for breaking broomsticks over each other’s backs in secondary school, for hitting each other with thick foldable chairs we scarcely blocked, for using the tiny library on the lowest level of one of the two classroom buildings in order to wrestle each other instead of returning home on the bus or cleaning the chalkboards as the Brothers who taught our school lessons had commanded was our duty for that day. These were the days, nearing my final year in secondary school in the Commonwealth of Dominica, where I briefly belonged to a wrestling federation that a group of boys had created in the shadows of some afternoons after lunch, our heads filled with the visions of professional wrestling pay-per-views that one channel on our island faithfully and with questionable definitions of legality delivered for years, alongside movies that should not have been playing on TV as yet and channel feeds taken from other islands altogether. I had not as yet even come out to myself, in those days of being a young teenager, as a transgender woman in the Caribbean island I grew up in, but already my head was filled with fantastical visions of being both a writer and, somehow, a professional wrestler in the style of the high-flying female wrestler, Lita. I enabled the possibility of the former by not dying trying to do the latter. In truth, I am still surprised I did not fracture bones leaping between six and twelve feet off a wooden ladder onto the dirt in my backyard to practice Swanton Bombs, Guillotine Leg Drops, Whisper-in-the-Winds, and Frog Splashes, or by the way we did not fake being hit with objects, but instead truly broke brooms over each other, truly took hard chair shots to the back.
There were few of us in the core group, but we all had distinctive identities and styles. The creator of the group, as far as the narrative I knew went, was a lean boy with coconut-brown skin we called Izzy. A burly wide-eyed piano-player named Kimon was the muscle-man, who performed choke slams that felt all too unstaged. He was tall, had mango-light skin, and sported an ever-thickening moustache. Once, after throwing me into a swimming pool in a bit of practice sparring, Kimon almost leapt directly on top of me as I swam back to the surface, narrowly missing my head with his foot. An occasional member was called Rezi, short for Rezident, short for Resident Evil, the latter of which was his official but rarely used nickname; he idolised muscular wrestlers like Triple H and occasionally made snide homophobic remarks, and I later would wonder if these were both genuine or the result of his agony over students who teased him for not having a girlfriend, who called him gay in the non-serious way that wouldn’t get you beaten up but would lead to your ostracism. His nickname had come, unfortunately, from boys teasing him about the back of his head, where you could see the scars from stitches from a brain operation; his hair did not grow properly there, and with the patchiness on his dark brown skin set against the tall frizzy hair atop his head, the schoolboys had decided he looked like a zombie from the Resident Evil series. He played along, adopting the name at all times even over his birth name. I wondered, especially later in my life, how he had seen himself in his own mental mirror, if it had hurt him in a way he would not admit.
I was Enigma, a figure loosely based off the wrestler Jeff Hardy. What I truly desired was to be Litaesque, even as I could never admit that I really wanted to be a woman wrestler, or I would be a faggot, a buller, a batty bwoi. Lita, who was a member of Team Extreme, a high-flying group of wrestlers comprised of the brothers Matt and Jeff Hardy and herself, seemed like a kind of dream to me: she was beautiful, but she was also powerful and tough, a woman who took no shit in the ring, even as I had learnt as a teenager from reading The Rock’s autobiography that pro wrestling was all staged, was all the illusion called kayfabe. I wanted to be like Lita because, unlike so many of the other female wrestlers I saw each week on the screen, she did not try to play up her sexuality just to get shouts from the audience, did not try to appear weak or fawning as part of her character. It was all an illusion in a mirror, of course. But it was a dream I wanted to believe in, as all of us did in our federation.
Despite my name, I was not the most enigmatic member. That was perhaps Osari, a lanky boy with the leer of a goblin who was always either cackling about something or lost in the blissful dreams of being high. He was a little older than the rest of us.
I’d first heard of the federation as a rumour after school. Later, on one Creole Day, in which all of us at our school were wearing some form of Dominica’s national dress, the Wob Dwiyet, to ornament our school uniforms, I saw my first DEW match. The wrestlers had gone down to the basketball court that separated our school buildings and erected a series of desks in a large rectangle to form a makeshift ring. Inside it, four of them fought, performing the moves I had consumed for years on the TV screen. One boy even climbed atop the desks and leapt onto another in a Frog Splash to try to pin him. We cheered from the three floors of the taller school building. The sounds were like the calls of sirens in some hazy sea. A few days later, I approached the group leader and asked to join.
My first match was in the library on the bottom floor of our building after school, in which a group of boys unaffiliated with DEW watched us. Some of them were skeptical. ‘That cannah be real,’ I remember one boy said.
‘No, boy!’ another told him, eyes wide, as the crack of a broom breaking over someone’s back echoed through the air into the shelves of books. ‘You not hearing that? That real! That real, gasah!’
We grew closer to each other as we fought more. We made up stories to tell our parents where we were going in the afternoons. Study sessions and music lessons morphed into excuses to study the sounds of orchestrated body slams.
We pushed the boundaries of the fictional until they seemed to form one manic image in our mental mirrors, and I still remember our craziest days in the haze of a happy drunk who has escaped from being arrested. One of the most extraordinary of our federation’s nights was one I missed but heard much of soon after. This was a graveyard match—a real one, in the cemetery between our primary and secondary schools. The goal was to bury someone in the ground with shovels. When Kimon told me about the match before it happened, his eyes flickered with a kind of devilish Prokofievian delight. He wanted to bury someone in the ground like the Undertaker, like a real gravedigger. We were not complete fools; we knew that digging up the dirt in a public cemetery in broad daylight for an unscripted wrestling match could get us in trouble with the po-po, as we called the police. Therefore, the match would be held at night. The lanterns of logic pulled us forward. However, the match didn’t happen—not completely. The story went that Kimon, who was not a drinker, had been tempted to have a few drinks by the other wrestlers before the match. He then ‘went crazy,’ as I heard. In one account, his eyes flashed with an angry red. He attempted to attack his fellow wrestlers before they reached the cemetery and he had to be restrained and brought back to his home to sleep off the vermilion madness. Perhaps it was for the best it never happened.
After some months, our dreams grew bigger, like the visions of Naipaul’s Mr. Biswas. We created a website for Dominica Extreme Wrestling, which hosted our wrestler bios, records of wins, and photos. We would be locally known—and then internationally known, like Supernatural’s song. Our biggest plan was to buy a full-size wrestling ring from abroad, importing it in pieces and setting it up. Osari messaged me on MSN Messenger, then the most common tool of communication when we were at our homes, to try to plan this out: the costs, the country it would arrive from, dealing with customs officers, how we would use it. ‘Easy ting,’ Osari said. ‘We can do that in 2 weeks. Easy.’
A mirror can only hold a reflection so big. Our plans quietly fell apart. Like so many dreams in Dominica I would hear from friends, family members, and from myself, we would talk big—this going and happen, and then this, and then this—and then nothing would happen, and then we would dream a new dream, the old failure forgotten. It was only later in life that I recognised this pattern in so much Caribbean literature.
The mirror finally began to crack one night, when my mother picked me up from the place near our capital city where I was studying for the SATs to get into an American university. Osari was there that night. He lived on the way up to our house, so my mother offered to give him a ride up. He sat in the back of the Pathfinder.
A minute later, as we passed down the tiny road by a cemetery, where most of the graves were overgrown with a thick yellow weed, a white dog ran into the road. The car rammed over it, bumping slightly to one side. The dog yelped and howled, over and over. I couldn’t see it but I imagined redpink, the image of when one of my own German Shepherds had been run over by one of our aunties.
Osari began to laugh. In the mirror I saw his head tilt back, cackles going out the window, seeming loud to echo off the galvanized roofs. ‘It was funny,’ he said when my mother asked him why he was laughing. ‘That was hilarious.’ I had heard of one of my cousins aiming for dogs on the street, ‘ramping’ off one of them he ran over in his father’s pickup. I knew how common it was to abuse animals, had seen the schoolboys throw stones at dogs for fun and had done it too. But I could never fully separate myself from the idea of causing a creature that kind of pain for fun, could never let go the way so many others seemed to. When I heard my part-time wrestling mate cackle, I felt distant from him in a new way, a gulf of understanding humour. If we understand each other’s jokes, we can know a lot.
I didn’t stop wrestling right after that, but it felt harder to suspend my disbelief when I thought of Osari and of us hitting each other in the fake-real way we had been doing for so long. It felt different. I knew even then I was being a bit silly, since dogs were hit all the time, since even my own mother did not respond with the emotional jolt I did. And then when our plans all fell apart, so did our wrestling personas, and our website, and all our old dreams.
I had been performing, but it was a suspension of disbelief that I had so consciously sustained I had forgotten it existed. I was trying, as so often, to erect a false identity to hide behind, one I could show from the towering top of a Babel-high ladder. I was trying to hit, without hitting, while hitting.
But this was the world, in a grain of sand from a volcanic beach. The point wasn’t to believe a lie, to be deluded, or even to have dangerous fun. The group wanted, instead, to be real, to be seen by a bigger world so that our island, itself, could be seen. The universe is a library, to paraphrase the beginning of a story by Borges, and we wanted our voices preserved in it for others to read. We wanted to perform, at performing, before a wider audience, kayfabe as both ’kay and fab. We wanted to hide, I think, from some of our ghosts, the ones we couldn’t grapple with or pin down with words. We wanted to be real in a false way, for a bit.
I still remember those old dreams, now that I live as the realest version of me, and I wonder about mirrors.
‘Gabrielle Bellot grew up in the Commonwealth of Dominica. She has contributed work to The New York Times, Slate, Guernica, VIDA, The Caribbean Review of Books, the blogs of Prairie Schooner and The Missouri Review, and other places, and she was featured on The Butter’s ‘This Writer’s On Fire’ column. She is a doctoral candidate in Creative Writing at Florida State University. She is working on her first novel.’