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DREAM OF LIFE, DREAM OF DEATH
Gary Smith
October 23, 1995
SUPER FEATHERWEIGHT CHAMPION GABRIEL RUELAS ALWAYS HAD A VISION THAT HE WOULD DIE YOUNG. THEN HE FOUGHT JIMMY GARCIA AND LEARNED TO HIS HORROR THAT SOMEONE ELSE WOULD DO THE DYING
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October 23, 1995

Dream Of Life, Dream Of Death

SUPER FEATHERWEIGHT CHAMPION GABRIEL RUELAS ALWAYS HAD A VISION THAT HE WOULD DIE YOUNG. THEN HE FOUGHT JIMMY GARCIA AND LEARNED TO HIS HORROR THAT SOMEONE ELSE WOULD DO THE DYING

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Of course, Gabe spoke from personal experience, having died as an infant and been resurrected. That's what his family always told him. They told him of his mother's all-night walk carrying Gabe to a neighboring town in search of a doctor, who had told her, "Why do you bring me a dead child?" They told Gabe he actually had been placed inside a coffin. They told him that a lady at the church had agreed to baptize the lifeless child, hoping God would accept the gesture even though it was late, and that Gabe had come back to life and let out a howl when the water struck his brow.

They told him, too, of his bleeding disorder as a little boy, of how his father and brother, Rafael Sr. and Jr., awoke and found themselves lying in a pool of blood in the bed they shared with Gabe. The blood was coming up in chunks; it was only because by then the village had a truck that they reached a hospital in time. El niño del milagro, they called him. The miracle child.

Perhaps it was the remembrance of those near deaths, more tissue memento than memory, that kept death's musk in Gabe's nostrils. It gave Leslie the creeps. "Don't you want to see Diego grow up, and his children?" she would say. "Oh, I won't be around for that," Gabe would reply. "I died twice as a child. AH this is just extra frosting for me."

But he woke up in cold sweats from the fear. He played chicken with it, too. He spurned his wife's pleas to wear a seat belt, loved to drive at high speeds. Once, as he sat in the passenger seat of his brother's new Trans Am as they cruised down a Los Angeles freeway, a car pulled alongside them, its driver itching to race. "C'mon, race! You drive like an old lady!" Gabe said, egging on Rafael. "Why did you buy this car, anyway?" With their father in the backseat, Rafa took the manhood bait and, completely out of character, floored the accelerator. Somewhere on the other side of 100 mph, the other car slowed...and the LAPD siren began to howl. In a heartbeat the two young Mexicans had guns pressed against their skulls.

"Don't move an inch!" hissed one of the policemen. Gabe couldn't stop himself. His hand went up to his scalp and scratched. "I've got an itch," he growled.

Perhaps, too, it was the death musk that made Gabe document everything, press every moment onto videotape or scrapbook pages, as if life was sifting through his fingers. He had 120 home videotapes, meticulously catalogued with titles such as "Diego Crawling" or "Leslie Snoring" or "Leslie and Diego Get Sick." "I want people to know I was here," he would say. His small mountain of scrapbooks included photocopies of paychecks and judge's scoring cards from his early fights, his first written autograph request from a fan, and almost every article that mentioned him, with each line that pertained to him painstakingly highlighted in yellow or underlined in blue. He loved to pore over the clips, hiding from Leslie so she wouldn't tease him.

The morning after a fight in 1989, his haste to read the newspapers was so great that he took a hard left out of a convenience store parking lot, cutting in front of an oncoming car. The impact drove the passenger door into the driver's seat, left Gabe bleeding heavily behind his left ear and paralyzed...and then, after several minutes, the feeling in the miracle child's legs, and his need to read the newspapers, came back again.

By 5:30 a.m. on May 7, the day after he fought Jimmy, Gabe already had the newspapers. It was true, right there in black and white, everything he thought he had dreamed the previous night.

He knew now, in the frail dawn light, that his midnight visit to the hospital wasn't enough. The river was wider than that. "I'm going back to the hospital," he said.

He had to talk to Jimmy, alone—not just skulk in the corners of the death room. He had to, but he froze in the waiting room when he saw no sign of Jimmy's father and brother. He sat beside Leslie and agonized for an hour and a half; then a nurse appeared. She needed Gabe to translate so she could speak to the Garcías—they had been inside Jimmy's room the entire time.

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