The Busted Fighter
Dorian lay awake on the couch gazing up at the ceiling like a fallen fighter looking up from the canvass into the eyes of the referee who is counting him out. Dorian couldn’t smoke weed anymore since his urine was being tested every month and he was never much of a drinker, which left sleep as the one high that he could enjoy in his solitude. If he was asleep, he reasoned, he wouldn’t have to keep looking at his cell phone and checking his emails hourly to see if he had been hired at that construction site. All manhood is is a feeling, he thought, and it’s hard to feel like a man when you don’t have any income coming in. To make matters worse, he had been cleaning all day in an attempt to stay busy. He washed the dishes, waxed and mopped the floors, cleaned the toilet, vacuumed the house, and did laundry. All the while awaiting a phone call that he knew would never come.
He knew he wouldn’t get the position as soon as he saw the smirk on the face of the white boy who interviewed him. He was a chubby little guy who looked to be about 19 years old with a cluster of freckles on the bridge of his nose. When Dorian shook his hand he was taken aback by how soft it was, as if he had never worked a day in his life.
But Dorian didn’t panic, nor did he show any other sign of discomfort. He answered every question with a quick response and a bright grin. In fact Dorian was doing so well that he surprised himself. Everything was going exactly how he prayed it would go the previous night until the young interviewer paused. He looked at one page on the clipboard then at the next one with a puzzled expression on his face. Then after several torturous seconds he asked Dorian about the prolonged gap in his employment history. He responded to the inquiry by looking the young interviewer dead in the eyes and telling him without hesitation, or shame, that he had been incarcerated for ten months of his life. But, Dorian added, while in jail he had managed to earn his GED and during the three months he’d been out he had already began making regular payments on his restitution, and in addition to all that he was very qualified for the position. He knew how to work the machinery and he knew how to deal with the people because he had done it for the two years preceding his arrest at another site.
As Dorian spoke the interviewer nodded as if he was impressed but Dorian couldn’t help but to notice him lean back further into his seat creating the maximum distance between the two of them, however Dorian continued as if he hadn’t noticed at all. The whole felony thing was a mistake, a misunderstanding, his life had temporarily gone off track but that didn’t explain who he was as a person. Dorian smiled while the manager pursed his lips together even tighter.
The rest of the interview seemed to be a mere formality and Dorian felt as though he was being patronized for his time. He felt as though the interviewer was looking at him like he had a big “C” on his head—a “C” that could have stood for criminal, convict, or coon. It didn’t matter which one because as he sat there in his black cotton button up shirt, cheap tie, and five year old gray slacks that he was surprised he could still fit, he felt like an equal mixture of all three.
After the last question he shook the man’s limp hand and was once again repulsed by it being so smooth and without callus. Dorian continued with the empty formalities playing the naive optimist until the very end, feeling somewhat empowered by the increasing discomfort that his presence was causing this white man who now refused to look up from his clipboard.
“So when should I be hearing from you?” Dorian asked.
“Uh, we’ll make a decision by no later than Friday.”
It was a Thursday afternoon and Dorian knew better than to get his hopes up but they seemed to rise up naturally.
After a few more moments of self pity he logged onto Craigslist and applied for two more jobs that he was certain he would never get. As he glanced at the time in the lower right hand corner of the screen he noticed that Nicole was half an hour late coming home and then his mind flooded with shame for even noticing. Lately Dorian had been completely consumed with his girlfriend Nicole, which troubled him because he didn’t know if it was because of his love for her or because of his unemployment. There was no doubt that for the whole ten months he was incarcerated and the entire three months since he had gotten out, she had been the only positive thing in his life and he told her that as often as once a day. When he first got out this made her smile but for the past few weeks whenever he told her it almost seemed to agitate her, as if she wanted to say something in return but couldn’t find the words. He needed to get a job, not for himself, but to make her feel proud of him.
He slung himself back on the couch, turned on the television, and flipped through the channels until he saw a classic boxing match, then he stopped. He immediately recognized the bout as Oscar De La Hoya vs. Ike Quartey and smiled genuinely. It was his favorite welterweight fight of all time. It was De La Hoya’s left hook Vs. Quartey’s straight right; it was Quartey dancing around the ring Vs. De La Hoya’s come forward style; it was flashy Vs. consistent; it was heart Vs. heart with each man falling to the canvass and each man getting up again. To Dorian the fight symbolized what manhood was all about, you always get back up.
He watched the fight up until about the tenth round, dozing in and out of consciousness as each man tried to land his big shot, until he finally went to sleep. He dreamed of being a professional fighter himself and Nicole sitting ringside at all of his fights with about three, maybe four children sitting around her. After he won his third belt and unified the title she came into the ring with the children for the post fight interview and Dorian dedicated his victory to her. As the cameraman zoomed in on her she blushed and looked down at the bright blue canvass beneath her feet. As he leaned in to kiss his wife in the dream he heard Nicole, in real life, unlocking the screen door to the apartment.
He sat up just in time to see her dark silhouette in the doorway. Nicole took a few steps into the house, her heels lightly slapped against the white tiles in front of the door, then she stopped abruptly as if each step was causing her great pain. Dorian could now see from the glow of the television being cast onto Nicole’s face that her eyes were a deep red which meant that she had been drinking, but he could also tell from her still erect posture that she was not drunk. Her reluctance to come all the way inside the house took away Dorian’s wind like a right uppercut landed underneath the heart. He gasped for air then stood up, still woozy from his nap, still stinging from the blow but somehow he managed to ask;
She turned around and shut the screen door before shutting the wooden one, taking just as much time as she pleased. She turned on the light and said rather mournfully but with steady tone;
“We need to talk.”
A left hook landed to the ribs that nearly doubled him over and she was still coming forward.
“About what?” he shot back but he knew exactly what she meant.
Nicole took a deep breath and stepped into the middle of the living room.
“I just can’t put up with this shit no more,” she cried. “I mean I work way too hard to be supporting a grown ass man…”
“Wait hold on you act like I ain’t tryin…”
It was a fight that Dorian should have seen coming but he didn’t. He could tell that she had been emboldened by the alcohol but he also knew that it was not the alcohol speaking for her, on the contrary, she was using the alcohol to help release three months of pressure, perhaps even thirteen months of pressure, perhaps even more.
“Well god damn it you need to try harder! I mean how is it that I can get two jobs but you can’t get one? You don’t be applying yourself that’s the problem. You think just because you been in the pen the world supposed to feel sorry for your ass? Why? You the one that did what you did to get in there and it ain’t nobody fault but yours.”
He was hurt. She caught him with a straight right to the cheek that buckled his knees but he was too proud to clench. He loaded up a desperate punch, put his head down and let it fly.
“It’s a recession going on! It ain’t that easy!”
The blow landed but there wasn’t enough power behind it to back Nicole up. She went in for the kill.
“I’m sorry Dorian. I just need some space right now. I can’t do it. I need you to move out.”
Dorian was looking for another right but she dropped him with a left hook to the jaw. He fell forward onto his face and his body shook on the canvass. There was no need for the referee to even count—he was out cold. He would never be the same fighter, he would never be the same man, and the only positive thing that ringside observers could say about his performance was that he showed a lot of heart but he just didn’t have what it takes to be a champion.