There’s a glass tumbler in my hand. Then, there isn’t. It’s in a hundred broken shards, scattered across the floor. Everything is in pieces.
Coach only ever asked one thing of me. One thing. And when it mattered most, I let him down. So I threw a glass at the wall. What a man. Everything I worked for has come to nothing. Who I thought I was, bullshit.
Outside, Michael, my ex-college roommate, bangs on the door.
‘Roy, you okay?’
There’s nothing else to throw. Nothing in this shithole squat that isn’t already as broken as it can get. My knuckles are so bloodied and raw, I can’t even ball them into fists and fling them against a hard surface.
When I don’t respond Michael calls out again, ‘Are you okay?’
I thought I was so strong. So together. So above the shit I escaped when I left Kennedy four years ago.
‘Just go, Michael. Fuck off.’
For two years I tried. I thought I had my shit under control. I kept myself to myself and everything was copacetic.
Then the Coward’s letter. It sparked and something ignited. There emerged a flame. I became a moth.
I started failing my classes. I didn’t make it to Christmas, my Junior year. A temporary leave of absence with nothing temporary about it was offered and accepted.
‘Don’t take the easy way out,’ Coach said. But when have I ever listened?
My brain is like a radio. I tune in or out of any frequency that gets too loud on me. The kids in high school called me Faggot, called me Princess. Fuck them. Change the channel. Mayor Muir kept telling me to knuckle down, keep a low profile and come out the other end a high achiever. ‘Be the underdog, Roy. Then people will get behind you.’
What bullshit, father-figure crap.
I kept turning the dial looking for Megan’s station. Never found it. Maybe I was on the wrong bandwidth.
Jenny was way beyond radio-wave range. She was out there in the dark, black ether of the undiscovered parts of the universe. She wasn’t into communicating. She absorbed light and sound. Gobbled it up. So fuck her, mother or not.
Everyone else was just white noise. Yap-yap-yap. What-the-fuck-ever. All except Coach. He’d catch me glazing over during training, in the middle of a pep talk, and he’d shove me, coming right up on me. He’d be so far into my personal space it was impossible to ignore him. ‘Not entertaining enough, Roy? Am I keeping you from something more important?’
‘No,’ I’d bark back at this man who made me account for everything I did when I was around him. He never backed down and he never accepted excuses. All he asked was that I man up and take the hit, then find it inside myself to get back on my feet and get toe-to-toe again.
‘Whatever you’re looking for Roy, you’ll find it in the ring. Stay in school. Keep up with the program.’
He looked out for me. Even when I wasn’t in college. And I bailed on him when it counted most.
I am my father’s son.
by Ken Ward