Chapter 37 ~ Hitting Bottom Hurts
Joe drove toward the 515. Joe’s hands held onto the steering wheel as if he were afraid someone was going to take it from him. When the reached the intersection of Boulder Highway and the 515. He pulled into the left turning lane and signaled his intention to enter the 515 and head toward Phoenix.
Sam turned away from the passenger side window and said, “What’s in Phoenix?”
Joe shrugged, “I’m not going to Phoenix. We’ll catch I-40 in Kingman and head back. I’m going home. I’ve learned enough about Joe Ritchie to make me puke anytime I hear his name. He’s not worth chasing.”
Sam didn’t answer. Joe pulled onto the 515 and accelerated to 70 miles an hour, a bit over the speed limit, but enough to flow with the traffic. Outside of Henderson, the divided highway ended. A sign indicated Hoover Dam and the exit to visit the dam. Joe continued straight ahead until the road turned back into a divided highway. They crossed a large expansion bridge over a deep canyon where the Colorado flowed somewhere below them. Hoover Dam was off to their left. Cement barriers were high enough to prevent gawkers from staring at the dam and causing accidents. A sign warned drivers of dangerous cross winds.
Sam spoke, “There’s men who helped build Hoover Dam who that fell and are buried in the concrete that make up the dam. Did you know that? I learned it on cable TV.”
“That’s a myth,” said Joe.
“Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t,” said Sam. “I’ll tell you what’s not a myth. It’s this trip. It’s been hard as ice in the middle of a January deep freeze. At the same time, I think it’s been good for you. You got some answers. Maybe not the answers you want, but you got some.”
Joe ignored Sam. He said, “Where do you want to go? I’m heading to Columbus. You’re welcome to stay with me for a few days until you figure out what to do.”
Sam didn’t answer. He stared at the passing desert landscape, the mountains off in the distance, and an occasional Joshua tree. Sixty miles later, less than sixty words passed between the two, they passed a sign that read, Kingman, Arizona, 30 miles.
Sam fished in a white plastic bad and pulled out a banana. He peeled it halfway down and held it in front of Joe, “Want a piece?”
Joe took the banana and broke off a third and handed it back to Sam, “Thanks.”
When Sam finished eating the banana he said, “You know Tony Peters?”
“Should I? Is this one of your stories where I have to learn a lesson?” said Joe.
Sam said, “How about Lyle Washington? You know him?”
“I don’t know Tony Peters or Lyle Washington. I never heard of them of them. Tell me the story. I know that’s what you’re going to do,” Joe said with a bit of chuckle.
“Tony Peters is about the smartest fellow I know. He didn’t go to college. He got kicked out in the tenth grade.”
“You mean he got expelled from school? He must have been pretty bad?” said Joe.
Sam said, “Tony got expelled because he had a short fuse. I’d say about a half inch long, which is only a bit shorter than your fuse. You look at Tony cross-eyed and he’d as soon bust you on in the nose quicker than you can sneeze. Man, he could punch.”
“He ever take you out?”
“One time, but I deserved it. I made a wisecrack about a girl he was dating. When I got up, I apologized. It was a good lesson for me.”
“Is this the lesson?”
“Listen and don’t interrupt, you might learn something.” Sam said, “About the fourth time Tony got kicked out of the school they made it was permanent. Everybody said Tony would be dead before we all graduated. He was headed that way. If there was odds on Tony ending up on a slab in morgue, it’d be two to one in his favor. Then one day, Lyle Washington is coming out of Tinkers. At the time, Lyle’s pushing fifty, maybe fifty-five, but he was in shape. Tinkers is one of those gas station that sells gas, and all kinds of stuff inside you can eat or drink. I don’t know who bumped who, but Tony and Lyle bumped. Lyle said excuse me. Tony took a step back and let a right fist fly. Lyle, he kinda twisted his body a little bit and Tony’s right fist went whooshing by. Lyle popped him two quick punches and Tony’s lying on his back on the asphalt. What happened next blew me away.”
“What was that? How did you know?” asked Joe turning slightly toward Sam.
“Keep your eyes on the road, Joe. I know because I was working the pumps. I worked the full service gas island. I pumped the gas, washed the windows, checked the fluids, and checked the tires. I saw it all happen.”
“Lyle takes a step toward Tony and extends his arm to lift him up. Tony stares at him. I could see him thinking how he’s going come back at Lyle. He fooled me. He reaches out and grabs Lyle’s arm and says, ‘Will you teach me that combo?'” Lyle is the boxing coach at the boy’s club. He took Tony under his wing. Six months later Tony is fighting Golden Gloves. His whole personality changed. He lost the hair trigger. He started to have decent friends. I believe he woulda been the US Golden Gloves middleweight champ maybe gone a long way in the pros if Vietnam didn’t interfere.
“He got drafted?”
“Hell yes. He got drafted. They sent him over there and six months later he’s home minus one leg.”
“That’s rough,” said Joe.
“That’s not all he lost when he came back. He lost his will to live. He didn’t go back to the gym. He started drinking. He was on the same road Monica is on. It got worse and worse. He was drunk all the time. His parents kicked him out. He was homeless. One day he was drunk as hell, sitting on the sidewalk outside Murray’s hardware store. He had a dirty can in front of him for change people might give him. I couldn’t stand to look at him. It was too painful.”
“What happened to him?”
“Lyle Washington happened to him,” said Sam. Lyle was jogging by with some of his boxers. He stopped. He told the guys to finish their run. He reached down with his two big black hands and grabbed hold of Tony under his armpits and lifted him up. Tony’s crutch lie on the ground next to his can. He tried to swing at Lyle. Lyle let go and let him fall. Tony began screaming at him to leave him alone. Lyle bent over and picked him up again. Tony took another weak swing at him. Lyle let him fall. This happened three more times. On the fourth time, Lyle put Tony’s right arm over his shoulder and they hobbled along until Lyle got him to the gym. Lyle had a cot in the gym. Sometimes he slept there. He laid Tony in the cot and stayed with him day and night for a month. Want to know what happened?”
“You have my attention. Yes.”
“Tony beat it with hard work, courage, and Lyle’s tough love. Lyle hired him as a custodian at the gym. Lyle’s dead now. He died of cancer four years ago. Tony runs the club. He graduated from high school, went to Indiana State and got a degree. You should see him. One time he was lower than nothing, now look at him.”
“There’s hope for everybody, right, Sam?”
“There’s hope for everybody.”
Joe half turned toward Sam, “You think we should go back and try again with Monica?”
“Tony was ready. He might have taken a couple of swings at Lyle, but he was ready. Monica’s not ready. You can see it in her eyes. She’s got the hunger. It’s eating her alive. You might as well ask this desert to turn into a crystal clear lake. It’s not going to happen. I been around a hell of lot longer than you and I know’d men and women like Monica. Not the same circumstances, but they got the addiction bug. You can’t reason with them. It hurts like hell cause you feel so powerless. She’s got to choose to get better. When she makes the choice, if death don’t claim her first, it’ll be like winning the lottery because she’ll have her Lyle Washington by her side.”
CHAPTER 38 ~ JOE HAS A DECISION TO MAKE – WILL BE POSTED MONDAY.