As fire swept through his palatial home, climbing high above the black shapes of trees, taking every dream, Andre Rison did a curious thing. He went for a walk. He lowered his eyes to the ground and willed his legs to lead him.
He needed this: to make sense of the nonsensical, to feel his body work, to inhale a different air.
It was June 9, 1994, the day he would later call the worst of his life. His $2 million estate in the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta was lost, and now the woman he loved was facing arson charges for allegedly setting the blaze. That morning Rison had returned home at the odd hour of 6:30 a.m., after a night on the town with friends.
Police said that Rison had an argument with his girlfriend, Lisa Lopes, after which she retreated to a second-floor bathroom and ignited some cardboard in a whirlpool tub.
"I don't care anymore!" a witness reported hearing Lopes shout as the flames leaped skyward. According to police, Lopes also smashed the windshields and damaged the bodies of three of Rison's luxury automobiles.
Firefighters racing to the Wellington Road site could see the inferno lifting 200 feet into the sky. The mythic had been reduced to ruin.
Lopes, 23, is a rap star with a popular girl group called TLC, and Rison is the All-Pro receiver for the Atlanta Falcons. Even before this flay Lopes and Rison were a favorite item for celebrity watchers: the pretty, hip-hop singer nicknamed Left Eye, because she usually wears a packaged condom affixed to a lens of her eyeglasses, and the flamboyant football star who some believed was destined to be among the best ever to play his position.
All Rison was able to rescue from the 15,000-square-foot house was an armload of souvenir footballs. He had the clothes on his back. And he had a head crammed with memories: big, clean rooms, walls of glass, all the pretty furniture.
As he walked, he let himself cry, but not for the loss. It was for something less obvious. It was for being in the hole again, and for having to climb back up.
It was for having to convince everybody that Andre Rison wasn't the person they thought he was.