EVERYTHING ELSE SAT SILENT IN RAY LEONARD'S BIG HOUSE. The nine televisions, the theater-sized movie screen and projector, the 15 cameras, the video games and computers and radios and stereos and remote-control boxes were all shut down for the night. Only Ray's mind and his clocks chewed away at the darkness. Only time and consciousness whirred on through the hush.
He had tried to fall asleep on his left side and then his right, on his back and his stomach. He had tried with his legs scissored and then closed up, his arms tight to his chest and then spread. Sheets up to his throat, sheets down at his ankles. Listening to the night, and not listening.
It was just before dawn when he fell asleep, and he felt his soul sucked up into the sky. He gazed down at his body lying in bed, felt himself floating higher and higher. It felt so peaceful and easy up there, as if the hands of the most beautiful woman he could imagine were massaging his neck and his shoulders. All his life this was what he had wanted, to be far above everything, sailing.... Higher he floated, surprised at how sweet death could be...how seductive.... Oh yes, he had no doubt at all, he was fading away...he was dying....
A chill went through him. Hadn't his grandmother once told him that if you die in your dream you really die in your bed, that if your soul strays too far from your body it never comes back? He felt his hands scratching and clawing to pull his soul back down before it was too late, too late, before he.... He sat up in bed, gasping and sweating, his eyes wide the way they are in the ring.
Daylight came and then went away too quickly. What if last night's dream returns? he thought as it grew darker. What if my soul begins to float away again and the sweet peace comes and I fail to resist the temptation? He made a vow. He would not sleep.
He listened to music, watched TV, turned on the VCR. He sat down, stood up, went to the kitchen for a snack. Every few minutes, his eyes ran back to the clock. One a.m.... 2:20...4:05....
His head sagged, then shot back up. His chest hammered. Hold on, he told himself, it's nearly light outside, hold on. He pressed and re-pressed the buttons on his remote-control box, stood again, paced the hardwood floors of his house. Yes, this was crazy, he knew it, but he couldn't risk it, he couldn't let down his guard. Well, maybe...just for a moment...not to sleep...just to rest his eyes....
Again, it was happening again! Up and up he floated, so free and peaceful that he could not bear to interrupt it, further and further from the tension in his body, until he almost couldn't...oh god. He woke up, reaching and shaking, and bolted from his bed.
It was not quite dawn that day in 1986 when Ray Leonard decided—to end his retirement and fight Marvin Hagler, of course.
Just one fight. To do the undoable. Then he would leave the sport again, his fourth retirement. "I am not a fighter," he would say. "I am a personality." Yes, the one great boxer who chose to strike other men in the head, but didn't need to. The classy boxer—that was the oxymoron that pulled people to him. The fighter who could be invited home to dinner, handed the keys to the family car.