“If the length of life were based on happiness, then today you have assured that I will live forever.”
That was the final line of the vows I spoke to my wife on our wedding day back in October of 2019. We were lucky to have gotten our ceremony in when we did, as the world, and every wedding since, had become drastically more difficult due to what came in 2020. I love my wife, more than words can ever accurately describe. I promise not to spend every verse I have talking about her greatness, just trust me when I say that the light in my heart grew much stronger the very first time I laid eyes on her, as does the light of everyone who is fortunate enough to meet her.
My wife also suffers from crippling anxiety, stemming from traumas that I would not feel right sharing in this column, but for purposes of this story, I think it is important for you to know that it is something she, and millions like her, bravely battle to this day. However, those battles were never easy. Once she bought a one-way ticket to stay with her parents. She looked me in the eye and said, “I’m not sure when I’ll be back.” “Don’t worry,” I responded. “I’m not going anywhere.” We are blessed to live in a timeline where such struggles can be treated with medicine, and are no longer viewed as a weakness much like they were in generations past. I hope that if you are someone who deals with similar demons, know that you are not alone.
My wife and I met and dated in high school, but things didn’t get serious until we rekindled our relationship at college in Chicago. I studied acting, while her passion was writing, something we both continue to find success in to this day. After we graduated we made Chicago our home, as the theatre scene was thriving and the film and television scene had grown to very respectable levels. I remember working on my first big paid project in the Summer of 2011. This girl in my cast started talking about wrestling and I chimed in saying I was a huge fan as a kid and was a constant and consistent consumer of the Monday Night Wars. I still knew the names of the top guys, but had largely forgotten the sport as my full focus was on my career.
She was the one who first told me about a man named CM Punk, and this crazy ending to Money In The Bank at Allstate Arena from the weekend prior. “Wow,” I thought. “What a great way to end a wrestling show.” She later told me that she knew Punk personally, and would even invite him to our show, which was at the Den in Wicker Park. I don’t know if he ever came.
I fell deeply in love with pro-wrestling again in 2014 after my friend convinced me to watch Mania 30. The actor in me stopped seeing this as childish and started seeing it for what it really is…art. Sometimes dumb, sometimes breathtaking, but art nonetheless. It’s a different form of storytelling, one that in my mind, had only gotten sharpened thanks to the legends of the past and the hunger and uniqueness of the talent today. I loved this beautiful ballet so much that I started writing for the PW Torch for free, and eventually worked my way up through several publications to where I am now: Covering this thing on a daily basis, interviewing top guys. I still act professionally, but I do and love this just as much.
On my journey to ingest everything…and I did ingest EVERYTHING…I did a deep dive on Punk’s archives. What an affect this guy had on the crowd. What a way with words. What captivation in the ring. My fandom for him only grew when the now iconic podcast dropped with Colt, truly opening my eyes to something that I discovered first hand in the film industry…that there are times when the thing you want to be gets fogged down by the politics of business. That art takes a backseat towards feeding the machine. That negligence and ignorance are dangerous and harmful. That love, can turn to hate. After hearing him speak about what happened I thought, “Damn, I’ll never see a new CM Punk match again.” That didn’t really matter though. I just hoped that he was happy.
Towards the end of 2018 the wife (we were only engaged at this time) and I had hit our glass ceiling in Chicago, and wanted a change of scenery. We’re both from the West Coast, but had never lived in Los Angeles together, so that became our stop. When 2019 came around we were as busy as ever, but were steadily preparing for our wedding day in the fall. By this point she had been managing her anxiety for about five years, and was, on paper, the best she’d ever been. But as the big day grew closer and closer, the pressures of planning such an event, and the expectations she had to adhere to began to wear her down. Her meds no longer removed that feeling of a boulder on her chest. Her worries grew while her sleep suffered. Sudden doubts began to surface, like whether she felt she was capable of making it as a writer, or, and more heartbreaking, whether she was capable of anything. Someone once referred to the experience as going in the blender. You’re spinning round and round, and there doesn’t seem to be answer to how to stop it, and if there is, you can’t see it.
At one week out she was living on the brink of something indescribable. In our partnership we had always caught the other if they fell, an agreement that has helped us save each other more times than I can count. But tactics that worked in the past now seemed irrelevant, and her armor had been entirely stripped away. I suggested we go to Runyon Canyon, a popular park in LA that many would go to hike and escape the sounds of the city and take in some of the best views of the town that can be seen. I thought moving around and getting some air would be good for both of us, and for some reason, the aura of that park had been speaking to me loudly that day.
I can’t tell you how happy I am that I trusted my instinct.
So we did Runyon, walking for about an hour. As we began to make our way down from the trail and towards the exit we discussed what she was going through, and how we could make her feel better. I suggested maybe we hit a dispensary, so we stopped to look up some close options in the area. As I glanced away from my phone just for a second I noticed someone doing exercises on one of the many hidden paths that Runyon offered. I saw the tattoos, the beard, the build. It was instant recognition. That’s CM Punk. My wife knew how much he inspired me in my life, not just as a wrestler, but as a prominent figure in Chicago culture. “Should I go over there”? she asked. “Please don’t,” I answered. I didn’t want to bother him, especially since he was actively exercising.
We once again head towards the exit, both of us already satisfied with having seen the man. During our walk, I glanced back and noticed that he too was heading towards the exit, something I acknowledged but didn’t call attention to. At the entrance to Runyon is a stand that offers water bottles and granola bars. No one works the stand, but there is a little box for donations, the idea being you put money in the box and take whatever item you need for your hike. Our timing coincided with his, and we all ended up at the stand together. I believe he was aware that we had noticed him during his exercise, as his immediate energy sort of pushed us in the other direction. We started to head towards our car…until the arrival of a very friendly doggy.
My wife and I ADORE dogs (WHO DOESN’T? PSYCHOS THAT’S WHO) as we had one of our own, so we instantly showered this new furry friend, and its owner, with love. We chatted with this stranger about the breed, and Punk, who was not far from the conversation, gave the dog a few pets as well. As the owner and her pup left it was once again just the three of us standing like three points of a triangle. It was here that my wife decided to make her play, even though my eyes asked for anything but. She asked me if I had a dollar so she could grab a water from the stand, but alas I had left my wallet in the car. Having heard the exchange, Punk looked at my wife and said, “What would you like?” “Oh no that’s okay,” she calmly slated back. “No it’s fine, ” he insisted. “What would you like?” She asked for the water, he placed a dollar in the box, and handed it to her. “Thank you very much. By the way…we are huge fans.”
This next moment happened in slow motion. Punk had taken in what she had said, put together that we had noticed him in the park, and began to put his wallet away. I saw the pendulum swinging as he figured out how he would respond. I know wrestlers, especially one as famous as him, have been bothered by fans at too many inconvenient and inappropriate points in their lives, and despite my wife taking the leap that I wasn’t brave enough to take, all I really wanted was for him to not feel bothered by us. I swear this moment was maybe three seconds long, but it truly felt the length of a WrestleMania pre-show.
Punk made his move. He extended his hand, to my wife first, then to me. His grip was as respectable a handshake as one can offer, no tightness or aggression displaying any animosity. “Well now you have a story,” he smartly stated.
It didn’t end there. As much as I love wrestling, I love basketball just the same. He noticed my Chicago Bulls Derrick Rose jersey, so I took that opportunity to do what I do best…be myself. I wanted him to feel comfortable, but I also wanted my wife to as well, as the entire purpose of our trip was to help alleviate her intense stress. “We’re both from Chicago,” I said. “We loved that city very much, it’s where we fell in love, and it was a great home to us.” I think he appreciated the compliment on our shared experience of the Second City. “What are you doing here?” he genuinely asked. My wife, who is as funny as she is precious fired back. “Well…you may not believe this…but we’re in the industry.” He chuckled, and was kind enough to make small talk with us for a few brief minutes. “Well good luck,” Punk eventually declared. He began to turn, but decided to leave us with some advice, which was unsolicited, but very appreciated. “No one can do it for you,” he said. “No one can do it for you.” I spoke from the heart. “Thank you sir. Also good luck with your movie!” (Girl On The Third Floor, which had just released.) “Thanks…that’s actually why I’m here.” He turned and walked away, our paths no longer crossed.
I have shared many experiences with the love of my life. Belly aching laughter, earth-shattering grief, euphoric and unexplained occurrences, but few if any compare to the moment we shared after having just met the Best In The World on that sunny day at Runyon. Tears streamed down her face, not just of joy, but because for the first time in a long time she started feeling like herself again. For the first time in a long time…the blender started to slow down, and she was able to see in front of her. To this day she refers to the coincidental meeting as a message from God.
I laugh thinking about the story now because the first thing she asked me when we got back in the car was whether or not she should have told him I interview wrestlers and work for a website. “GOD NO,” I screamed as the adrenaline was still pumping through my veins. “No that was just for us, and I couldn’t be more grateful that we got to do it together.” One week later we would be married, on what I consider the very best day of my young life.
Three years later and the world is an entirely different place than it had been on that faithful morning in Runyon. Life, as I’m sure you know, tends to be overwhelming, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. We had moved back to Chicago because of COVID, and remained there until this past January when we once again relocated back to the west, this time in Vegas. We don’t regret one moment of those two years back in the Windy City, because it afforded us the opportunity to reconnect with dear friends and witness something I never thought would happen. ALL OUT 2021. CM Punk’s first new matchup, live and in-person, in seven years. That was the first wrestling show my wife ever went to, a way of paying respect to the man she met a few years prior. Our full circle moment had been completed.
I write this passage today because I had this fantasy of being able to share this tale with Punk whenever I got lucky enough to interview him for this site. I doubt he remembers the day the same way we do, but I’d like to think that he would appreciate hearing how much it meant to both of us. I also thought about the questions I would ask, not just about wrestling and his monumental return, but questions on the films he’s made, the projects he’s written, the music he’s listened to, and what the hell the Blackhawks are going to do.
But what I really wanted to do was tell him thank you. Thank you for, unknowingly, saving my wife from something that a lot of people are not able to escape from. Thank you for being kind, for inspiring both of us to this day, and for reminding us of our own passions and goals in this existence. Thank you Punk. This business is hard, but a great man once told me, “No one can do it for you.”