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Soon we're on our way to Lubbock, a place neither of us has been since 1988. It's about a two-hour drive north through little towns that pop up on the empty plains like discarded bottle caps. The ride gives me a chance to take Boobie's temperature, to see how he's really doing, because I worry about him and always will.
He's been working steadily. For about eight months he's tended lawns and helped clean up homes that have been foreclosed by the federal government. That's a great relief to me because so many of the times Boobie has called me since he graduated from high school with a wrecked knee and a worthless diploma, he has been unemployed. He and his boss like each other, refer to each other as brothers. The boss says Boobie is reliable, and Boobie says the boss is fair. But I know Boobie. I know about all the jobs that didn't work out in the past.
I am no longer an impartial observer of his life. I was when I wrote the book, stepping back to watch his hideous fate unfold, no doubt smacking my lips a little because it was the tragic stuff that we journalists can't seem to get enough of. But during the past six years, since the death of Boobie's uncle L.V. Miles, I have taken on a different role. L.V. was Boobie's rescuer, friend and confidant. When Boobie was eight and living in a foster home near Houston--where social workers had taken him after he was mistreated by his father--it was L.V. who came to get him out. It was L.V. who first taught him how to play football, who worked tirelessly, and not always successfully, to tame Boobie's impulsiveness and anger. It was L.V. who tried to offer him wisdom as Boobie made a difficult transition into adulthood, grappling with the fact that nobody much cared that he had once been a star high school football player in Texas.
I spent many hours with L.V. in his little house on Lincoln, a cruel name for a street on the side of town where black Odessans were cordoned off by the railroad tracks. L.V. was the most decent man I have ever met, and when I learned that he had died of heart failure in 1998, at 54, I could only imagine the impact it would have on Boobie.
"I wasn't ready for him to go," Boobie says softly as the car cuts through the dust toward Lubbock. "I think about him all the time." Boobie fell apart after L.V. died. He smoked weed and drank heavily. "I had nobody to help me with my problems," he says. "I didn't have a friend no more."
"Do you have anybody now?" I ask him.
He seems surprised by the question.
"I got you."
I am a poor substitute for L.V. Still, I have fielded phone calls from Boobie at all hours at my home in Philadelphia, and I have often called him. His loneliness without L.V. has been so palpable that I worried he might kill himself. I have heard him struggle with the rigors of being a single parent to his four-year-old twins, James and Jasmine, after his wife was convicted on drug charges, for which she's serving 18 months in prison. For much of his adult life Boobie has been an itinerant, working blue-collar jobs at warehouses, a machine shop, a prison and a Foot Locker, and living in a dozen apartments as he moved from Odessa to Dallas to Atlanta to Virginia, back to Odessa and now to Monahans. I have tried to guide him, to the extent that I could from 1,800 miles away. It hasn't been all sweetness and light, and neither of us has been a saint.
I have listened to him when the last thing I wanted to do was listen to him, particularly when he came up with excuses for not working or not having a car. I have helped him financially, though there have been times when I was tapped out and felt used--times when I told him I had three sons of my own, and he wasn't one of them. I have hung up on him after saying, "That's it! Don't call me anymore!" But we've always come back to each other. He has apologized, and I have apologized.