Scripted story lines don't reveal reasons for Benoit tragedy
FAYETTEVILLE, Ga. -- The house, by most appearances, is immaculate and perfect. The fireplace, the wooden deck, the private staircase climbing up to a little boy's room. The circle driveway and the red Hummer.When fact blurred to fantasy, Nancy Benoit never told people this, that in high school, all she really wanted to be was a housewife. Now her house is where the story ends and the spectacle begins. It takes a good navigational system to get to the Benoit home, past a gravel road, through a narrow two-lane spin with tall Georgia trees on both sides. Gawkers have inched by for days, peering through the metal gate for answers. A woman rolled in from North Carolina the other night, reeking of alcohol, firing a volley of "why"s as a neighbor went to get his mail. She allegedly pelted him with rocks and wound up in jail.
Jim Daus was headed out to dinner Monday night when a call pierced his steeply planted world. Nancy was dead. Before she was "Woman," before she graced the covers of wrestling magazines and was drooled over by teenage boys, Nancy Benoit was Nancy Daus, a Florida girl who dropped out of high school to marry her boyfriend Jim. They were high school sweethearts, kids with no money and little to do, and on Sunday nights, Jim grabbed his girl and whisked her to Orlando to watch wrestling. It was new for Nancy, whose protective parents didn't let her go at first. But he had front-row seats, and the couple was lured by the drama, the machismo, the circus. "How would I describe it? Male soap opera," Daus says. "You follow the story lines like you'd watch a soap opera on TV. It builds, and you have to wait 'til Monday to find out the next chapter." He used to call it fate, being in the right place at the right time. One night, as a wrestler grabbed Jim's chair and heaved it into the crowd, a camera clicked away at Nancy's surprised expression. She was discovered that night and joined wrestler Kevin Sullivan's entourage, and her life as a valet/diva/manager put her in leather and chains and took her everywhere from Texas to Hawaii. For a while, Daus was a happy part of the ride. They grew up fast and owned their first house as teenagers. Eventually, though, there was no room for him on the tour. On New Year's Day -- Daus isn't sure what year -- he picked her up from the airport, heard all the places she was booked for and said they were drifting in different directions. He suggested a divorce. Within days, they were seeing the same lawyer. "We cried a lot that day," he says. "It was very hard on me. That was the toughest year of my life, the year I got divorced." He stopped watching wrestling. It was too painful. Nancy's career skyrocketed, and she married Sullivan, a booker/wrestler known for his satanic references in the ring. If the entourage ultimately pulled Nancy away from Jim, it almost seemed fitting that another wrestling saga eventually pried her from Sullivan.
The testimonials for Chris Benoit, pre- and post-death, sound almost prerecorded from those close to him. Hard worker, they say. Loyal, polite and quiet. Passionate.
Dinah Lawrence is a blond-haired mother from Social Circle, Ga., who carries a metal casket on her key chain and a love of wrestling in her heart. She's made the hour-long trip here, to the Benoit house, with her 20-year-old son, Chris.
The first three nights after Nancy Benoit's body was found, Jim Daus couldn't sleep. He's been remarried for nearly 20 years now and has a job in the real world marketing propane and natural-gas products. His work takes him on the road a lot. It almost seems strange -- years after Nancy was going places he couldn't, Jim's job takes him everywhere. Nine years ago, scrambling to catch a flight in Chicago, he found a seat in the back of the plane, looked up and saw a familiar face. It was Nancy. They talked for three or four hours and reminisced. They had that kind of relationship, no bad blood, just laughs and memories and a little sadness. Jim has been to two wrestling matches since their divorce, and he took his son there once. His son hated it, and they've never gone back. Now, wrestling is keeping him awake, bringing him more pain. "For years, I told everybody [her discovery] was the right place at the right time," he says. "What happened to Nancy it kind of feels like the wrong place at the wrong time. "That's why I feel bad. I pushed her into this whole thing." He wonders why she stayed and what happened in that big house on Green Meadow Lane. Maybe, he says, Nancy tried too hard to make it work. She was stubborn like that. He knew she was happy at some point. The last time they communicated was by e-mail seven years ago, when Daniel was born. He congratulated her and remembered how they didn't want kids. But that was fantasy. This was reality. "Congratulations on your son, too," she wrote back. "I guess some things change." Elizabeth Merrill is a senior writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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