But there was no sleep at home either to divide the darkness and the light. His mind would keep him awake for hours, and then, at 4 a.m., the Colombian media—it was two hours later in Bogotá, after all—would take over the job. In honor of Jimmy, Gabe decided, he would do every interview—even with the reporter who knocked on his door at midnight, questioned him until 3:30 and then convinced him to wake up Leslie to pose beside him for photographs. "I watched him look every one of those reporters in the eye and talk about what had happened," says Leslie, "and I knew then that I had chosen the right man to be the father of my child."
It was torture, waiting for the phone call, the news about Jimmy. Gabe tried to go out and make his life normal again, but he couldn't. He couldn't go to the tire shop without the workers staring at him: What are you doing here? Didn't you just...? He couldn't drive to his parents' home, as he had been accustomed to doing virtually every day. There he could always be the child, keep compensating for all the motherless and fatherless years he had spent after an uncle had driven him in 1979, at the age of nine, across the U.S. border with a false birth certificate to live with an older brother and sister. If Gabe made the 40-minute drive to his parents' house now, he would have to play his family role, the clown who would sweep his mother or grandmother around the room in a dance (it gave him an excuse to touch them) or plant plastic bugs in their coffee or empty his mother's pot of beans and refill it with rocks.
He couldn't go there feeling as he did now. He couldn't let his father see him cry, any more than Jimmy could let his dad see him drop. Gabe never discussed the accident with his parents or his 12 siblings, who over the years had all moved to the Los Angeles area. Not even with his boxing brother, Rafael.
So he drove instead, only his anxiety keeping him awake, and he kept finding himself in places without knowing how he got there. Finding himself at a service station, getting gas, and suddenly closing his fist and punching his car. Or singing along to the radio, feeling happy, and then tearing at himself—no, no, you can't do that. Or sitting in a restaurant, eating food he couldn't taste, blinking up at a fan he hadn't seen approaching. "Hey, Gabe," someone would say, "you know it wasn't your fault. I can't wait to see you get back in the ring and kick some ass." Or, wiser still: "Don't take this wrong, Gabe, but I gotta ask you a question. How does it feel to kill somebody? Is he dead yet?"
Sometimes, when the longing to return to the other side of the river grew too sharp, he went back there in his mind. He could almost hear himself, back in his village, Yerba Buena, as a boy, calling the cows in the morning to come lick the salt, aaaaoooouuuu; could almost see himself shoeless and shirtless on horseback again, cantering along without a complication in the world. That's where he had nearly gone back to live four years before, when his elbow looked so hopeless that he thought he would never box again. He still couldn't bring himself to apply for U.S. citizenship; it would feel like he was spitting on that past, closing off that beautiful dream. He would be going back home to Mexico soon, anyway-Just bury him where he was born.
Sometimes, instead of the videotape of his fight against Jimmy, he would pull out a tape he had made of his visit to Yerba Buena in 1991, and he would sink into reverie. "It was so wonderful there," he would say. "I was good at everything there."
He remembered how useless he felt when he came to the U.S., how long he struggled to speak decent English, his trouble holding a job, his shame at being the smallest and nearly the worst student in his grade, shame doubled because Rafael, younger than Gabe by nine months, was so smart that he would graduate from high school a year early. And how that shame went away one day when he pivoted and coldcocked a larger kid who was tapping on his shoulder and asking why Gabe had chatted up his girlfriend—left the guy unconscious in the hallway and walked on, having barely broken stride, as all the kids nearby looked at him in awe. And how he dropped out of school and wagered his whole life on boxing.
And now his wife was gazing at him and saying the words that tempted and terrified him. "We don't need boxing anymore," she pleaded. "We can go to Mexico. We can be farmers. This is swallowing our lives."
The phone rang. They jumped; they jumped every time.
A funny thing about all those interviews. Gradually Gabe began to notice that every time he did one, the big clot in his chest, the one he wanted someone to reach in and rip out, dissolved just a bit. The scum media—can you believe it?—actually helping to ease someone's pain.