Four Years Ago
“This is a good place to die…”
I have long maintained that you don’t find God; He finds you.
In Saginaw’s north side, one of the toughest ghettos I’ve ever been in, there is a shelter that is not listed in any phone book. You learn of it by being told.
The shelter’s rules used to be rather lax (they were tightening when I left). Be in at a certain time, no weapons, no forced worship. We said a voluntary prayer before each meal and the no weapons rule was governed by an honor system.
I was twenty-nine at the time, and I avoided spending time at the shelter when I could. During the day, I was at the local library, and I spent my nights in the gym downstairs. I didn’t like to be bothered. Busterwolf was only playing at retirement. Truthfully, I had a lot more to give. At least, I thought I did.
Something strange happens during a very routine workout. As I threw roundhouse kicks against the worn, hanging bag, it became an effort to get my legs up. It felt like kicking through quicksand, and the power was gone. It was disconcerting; my kicks used to be my greatest asset.
What’s happening to me? I wondered. Why does this take so much effort? I’d been fighting for more than twelve years, sometimes three or four fights a week. I hadn’t changed my workout, or my diet, all that much. I was still in fairly good shape. If nothing had changed, why did this require so much more effort?
The revelation hit me like a shot to the chest, and I leaned against the bag in desperation, knowing that the thought that had occurred to me was unflaggingly correct…and there was nothing I could do about it. I’m getting older. I can’t do this forever.
It was my first inkling that something needed to change.
I had no idea what to do from there. Fast forward a couple of weeks. Everyone knew who Busterwolf was, they’d heard stories, but these weren’t fans; these were people who wanted a shot at me.
On my way out the door, the man running the front desk that day pulled me to the side. He asked if I was who I was purported to be. I said, “Maybe.” I didn’t know him well enough to answer. To give you an idea of the way this shelter works, the man I was speaking to was an avid churchgoer who would help you sell your food stamps the next day. You be the judge.
I didn’t have a problem with him. He was putting together a very small tournament, nothing big, just local people. The grand prize: one thousand dollars. Would I be interested? In hindsight, it wasn’t a lot of money, and it may not have been worth it for what I endured. I was angry that I was passing out of my prime and I wanted out of the shelter. A thousand dollars on the street is enough to start over….and no one around there could have taken me.
At first, it all seemed pretty run of the mill. Fights were held on weekends, and I even got to beat the hell out of a kid who kept getting on my damn nerves. I had learned to control my temper by that point; I just rang his bell, nothing permanent.
I started a friendship with a man who furthers my knowledge of Capoeira—something I’d like to get back into, if I ever get the chance. Nothing beats flying. About midway through this tournament, people had stopped betting against me and a new guy is the only other person who seemed to be working through everyone else. I’d never heard of this guy before, never seen him in the area. His name is Desmond. I got to watch him fight once. He was about five eight, bald as an eagle and dark brown. Wide, glassy, dead eyes. Not an ounce of fat on his whole body. If he’d been three feet taller, I’d have taken him for Tyrone’s younger brother. He was exceptionally brutal and tough; he didn’t try to block anything going at his body. Anything at his head, he avoided (I remember that). He then moved into his opponent and literally beat them down with his fists until they stop moving. He’s not lethal, he just knocks them out and walks away. He’s not trying to kill them or even prove a point. It’s as though this isn’t personal for him.
It almost felt like he was paid to be there…
I watch Desmond break the legs of the man I’ve been studying Capoeira with and realize that my quicksand kicks will not be enough to take Desmond. At this point, a confrontation was almost inevitable; people had already begun to speak about him and me in the finals. I hadn’t been afraid to fight in a long time. I didn’t want to end up crippled.
At this point, I had dismissed the idea of ever seeing my children again, but I hoped I might have more in the future, and I wanted to be able to run around with them. I’m not willing to risk it all for a measly grand. Hell, I’ll just go get a job. After Tyrone, I have nothing left to prove.
I go to the man who organized this entire thing and politely bow out. He asks me if I’m certain that this is what I want to do. Yes, it is.
Two nights later, on my way back to the shelter, someone pulled up to an intersection two blocks away. He stepped out of the car and I saw the lightning flash in his hand at the same time I heard the shot.
The sound of a gunshot has no accurate analogy. A gunshot doesn’t sound like anything else. You know it when you hear it. I hurl myself to the ground at the same time I hear the car pull away.
He fired that at me! HE TOOK A SHOT AT ME!!
I didn’t want revenge. It didn’t dawn on me to chase him down and beat the hell out of him. I nearly wet myself. I had never had a bullet fired directly at me before. I shakily returned to the shelter. The next day, the man who organized the event asked me if I was interested in returning to the tournament. Now him I would’ve beat the hell out of.
What choice do I have? Yeah, I say, I’m still in. Fuckhead.
I consider this the lowest point of my life. Word reached me that this entire thing had been set up to pit Desmond, who had his own reputation, against me, who had never lost (untrue, but I allowed people to believe it). A lot of people had money on this, and as usual, the only participants receive jack. A lot of people were betting on Desmond to send me to the hospital. I didn’t have it anymore, they said. My heart was there, but my body wasn’t. Plus, my nerves were shot. It should have been a walk in the park for Desmond. Desmond would win. Desmond, Desmond, Desmond…
If I won, the people I cost money would probably have me killed. If I lost, Desmond would cripple me, or worse. No way out.
That night, before my cot, sleeping beside the bathroom and beneath the pay phone, I got on my knees and asked God to please meet me halfway. I would give up this life; I would go straight, if He got me out of this.
Three weeks later, Desmond and I reached the finals. The fight was to take place three blocks away, in a train yard that was located on an overpass over fifth street.
We would be undisturbed.
It was snowing very gently that day. I’ve been in the Midwest long enough to be acclimated to the cold. I have short sleeves on under my trademark jacket. I’m very much at peace; I remember smiling as I made my way there. I figured I was about to Go Home, if you take my meaning.
A thin layer of snow blanketed the ground, but it wasn’t enough to hamper movement. As I entered the train yard through the right side, I glanced at the sky.
This is a good place to die.
Desmond, the onlookers, and the man who organized this whole thing were already there. Desmond looked at me as though I was prey as I approached. There was no shaking hands, no acknowledgement, nothing. We knew why we were there; let’s just get down to it.
I began to circle him, hands raised. I remembered the beating he put on my friend when the latter attempted to kick. I was about to find out if I was any good at boxing… I shot a left jab right into his chin. I hate my left jab. I’ve been practicing it for years, and it still feels slow and horribly weak. I avoid using it when I spar.
But this day, his head snapped back.
He looked at me for a moment, lowering his hands as his eyes grew wider.
And then he fell flat onto his back, arms and legs splayed. And he didn’t move.
Yeah, I didn’t believe it either.
No one did anything for a minute. The organizer checked his pulse and looked at me. I asked if I killed him. Did I kill him? I couldn’t have killed him! It was just a jab!
I didn’t kill him. I did, however, discover his Achilles heel by accident. The onlookers seemed disappointed, but a win is a win. I collected my earnings.
That was my last fight for money. I went to work for a telemarketing company shortly thereafter. I did fight again, but it was for life, not for money. I write this blog from the safety of my own apartment, a little miffed at myself because I made less coffee than I thought I did. I need to clean the kitchen, but my client’s work is done and I have a small, but manageable paycheck coming tomorrow. I celebrated three months with my girlfriend, my story is taking off on the web, and I’m in regular contact with my children.
There are way worse places to be in. I have no complaints. I know—and I mean I know– that as long as I continue to work towards my dreams, God will continue to meet me halfway.