His name’s Doyle. We’ve crossed paths a thousand times since kindergarten. I went to his house once, on one of those second grade play dates arranged by the parents so you’ll be distracted while they drink beer all Saturday afternoon. They plopped us down in front of a big screen TV and cranked the speakers way up so we’d get lost in the action. It didn’t work. Not even ten minutes passed and I was up exploring the house. The place was huge—wide halls and high ceilings. Doyle’s bedroom had a walk-in closet. Before long, he got bored of following me around, so he went back down to watch Power Rangers or whatever. I settled at the top of the staircase and leaned over the banister. The TV didn’t look so big from up there and Doyle just sat, oblivious.
Alexis Arguello was my favorite boxer, my father’s too. Before all those stunted comebacks anyway. We used to watch the tapes of classic matches at night before bed, even some of his early ones. Like his first fight, where he never got up after round one. And Ernesto Marcel’s—Arguello didn’t have a chance. That’s why we liked him. He came from nothing. Just a scrawny Nicaraguan nobody with a girl’s name. And then he proved you wrong.
“It’s precision,” Dad would say. “Who needs power?” And he’d lean back and squeeze my bicep hard enough so I felt muscle sliding over bone.
Arguello became the champion of three weight classes, ruler of three kingdoms. And he still had the pluck to go for another.
They say when you hear that ringing in your ears it means your cells inside are dying. That piercing tone suggests such a violent ending, some horrible microscopic massacre just outside your brain. Maybe the wasting of some young draftee—a mother’s only son—would be worthy. Something as mundane as the climax of a rock concert or my car door slamming shouldn’t provoke such a harsh response, but up to now that’s all that’s brought on the humming in my ears.
We played basketball in phys ed the other day. I hate that screeching sound, fifty sneakers skidding on the gym floor. It’s unbearable. Doyle scored about ten times. He’s good. Not noticeably faster than anyone else, but strong. Nobody was trying all that hard, not even Doyle, but it wouldn’t have changed anything if they were. He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t practice or work out and still makes varsity.
I came home from school and found my dad asleep on the couch again. He always snores so loud. I could hardly hear the TV over his snorting and wheezing. I grabbed the remote from his gut, making sure not to wake him, and turned the TV off. He had been watching the tape of the Holyfield-Lewis rematch. I was eight when we watched it live. It was right after my mom left and dad had to stop training.
I think he would have liked for me to learn. It always sort of seemed like he was waiting for me to pick up where he left off.
My buddy Addison came and took me to the shooting range. I got a 9mm and he took a rifle. “The louder the better,” he said.
We found two open positions next to each other and got set. He got one shot off before I put my earplugs in. I couldn’t hear but I saw—his mouth gaping, his chest heaving—he was laughing. The bullet didn’t even hit the target. I wondered how many gunshots it would take to make somebody go deaf and stay that way. How many times can your ears ring before there are no cells left to scream? But I didn’t say anything. I just plugged my ears, turned, and fired a burst of three shots.
Doyle’s dad is a lawyer, big time. Graduated from Harvard or Yale or one of those. All Doyle has to do is get Daddy’s signature on a college app and slip it in an envelope. Then he’s set. They’ll have someone else lick the stamp.
Muhammad Ali is everyone’s favorite boxer. If you ask someone who’s never seen a boxing match flipping channels who their favorite fighter is they’ll tell you it’s Muhammad Ali. Not “Don’t know,” not “Don’t have one,” just Ali. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. And they think they know how to fight just from that. Once I dreamt I was the other guy, tight and bleeding, taking it from the champ. I looked straight into his eyes, straight into Ali’s eyes. I remember thinking, “Maybe he is the best, maybe I’m staring straight into the eyes of the greatest fighter who ever lived.”
I used to get migraines when I was a kid. Sometimes they would get so bad that I’d throw up. Most of the time I would just curl up in my bed and hold my face in a pillow, gnashing my teeth and screaming through them at the top of my lungs. I remember being so angry, but I can’t remember why. Maybe it’s simple, I could have just been mad because of the headaches, because it hurt. Maybe not though, maybe it was the other way around. It could have been that I was screaming from rage long before the pain even started.
Addison doesn’t mind like I do. I asked what he thought of Doyle and he was pretty much indifferent.
“I don’t like his hair,” he said and chuckled. Addison had never been to Doyle’s house. “That’s it?” he teased, “You hate him ‘cause he’s got a big TV?”
“That’s not it.”
Addison shook his head at me. “You’re crazy.”
Ali’s still alive, but he’s sick. Even the mightiest of people can get sick. If you see him now he sways like water sloshing in the bottom of a bucket. He was invincible once.
My head hurt so I hit him. A thin track of blood traced down from Doyle’s nose and hung on his upper lip. His crumpled hand struck the side of my face and my neck snapped to the right, my left shoulder dipping toward the floor. I lifted up again and pulled my right hand around to hook him. His blood felt cool on my knuckles. I threw a left but he ducked away, coming up underneath me and unloading a blow on the flat space behind the point of my chin. One of the ceiling panels was crooked. My knees gave out and the room faded to black even before I hit the floor.
I walked in the front door to the sound of a cheering crowd. My dad was lying on the couch with his eyes closed, missing the end of a match he’d seen the first half of a hundred times before. I pressed the stop button on the VCR and flicked off the TV. The screen went dark and all the faint electronic droning stopped. I looked over at my dad, a beer in one hand, a V of perspiration trailing down the front of his gray t-shirt. He wasn’t snoring, and the silence got to me. I was scared.
My ears started their high-pitched whine, but it was different this time. It sounded more like birth to me, than death, the ringing. I never knew that complete, unreserved silence could do that to my ears, the same thing a blast of volume could do.
I lurched across the room and gripped his shoulders. “Dad, wake up!”
He flinched, blinking to regain his bearings. I looked into his eyes, soft and glossy as blown glass. “What the hell happened to your face?” he said, squinting—working to get me perfectly into focus.