I grew up in Calgary in the 1990s. So I heard a lot about Bret “The Hitman” Hart.
I don’t remember any specific time I heard his name; he was just a part of Calgary, like the Saddledome, the Stampede, or terrible public transit. I remember hearing a lot about him on CJAY 92 (“Everything That Rocks”), the radio station my dad always played in the car. Calgary’s minor league hockey team is even called The Hitmen. Given the enormous popularity of the WW(F)E, the Pink and Black Attack is probably the most famous person to ever come from Calgary.
I never went to see the Hitman wrestle. I was a strange, bookish child, only vaguely aware that wrestling or any other sport (other than softball, which I played every spring, badly) even existed. Bret Hart was the only wrestler I could name and I had no idea what he looked like. Sometimes I wonder if I ever walked by him at Chinook Centre without realizing it. Probably not, I guess.
In 2009 I moved to Toronto to work in publishing, because I wanted a really glamorous and lucrative career.
That summer I got a marketing internship at Tightrope Books, a small yet excellent publisher, where my main duties included Tweeting, going through the slush pile, and drinking wine at author events. At the time the office was in a lower-level space on Markham Street and we always worked with the door open. Sometimes a big grey cat would come in and sit on my lap while I wrote cover copy. It was basically the best summer job ever. Way better than serving ice cream at Heritage Park, another venerable Calgary institution.
In 2011 I started dating a man as strange and bookish as me. He was and is an enormous wrestling fan, a fact that makes a lot of people raise their eyebrows. Wrestling? Really? He knows it’s fake, right?
I must admit that I wasn’t sure how I felt about dating a wrestling fan at first. My boyfriend’s brother, also a major aficionado (and the source of many of the gifs used in this post), kindly included me in his regular gatherings to watch WrestleMania, Summer Slam, the Royal Rumble, and other bombastically titled events. Against all odds, I started getting interested. Even…engaged. I began to look forward to these events, and it wasn’t just because of the spectacular junk food that was always on offer.
I started to develop my personal favourites. Gentle giant The Big Show, all-American John Cena, boyishly handsome Chris Jericho, Irish rogue Sheamus, snake hand guy Santino Marella…dammit, these men are fun to watch. And goodness do they love the troops.
How strange that these three seemingly disparate experiences—my Calgary upbringing, my summer with Tightrope, and my newfound affection for What the World Is Watching—would collide, like Alberto Del Rio’s shoe with Sheamus’s face.
Tightrope contacted me to copy edit Hart Strings: My Life with Bret and the Hart Family, a new memoir by Julie Hart, the Hitman’s former wife. Of course, I was beyond excited.
Julie Hart’s memoir is an honest, sometimes even uncomfortable, account of her life and relationship with the Hitman. What struck me most was that it really isn’t a wrestling book; it’s a story about two normal, relatable people in a passionate yet dysfunctional marriage, and they happen to operate in the cuckoo-bananas world of professional wrestling. Certainly it convinced me never to marry a wrestler, though that resolution may be put to the test if C.M. Punk ever asks.
Was it coincidence or fate that I became attached to the Hart Strings project? I’ll never know. Life is mysterious that way. I will say, however, that I probably know more about wrestling now than most Toronto copy editors.
So, C.M. Punk, if you’ve got a memoir in the works, you know who to call.