Jeff Lacy walked to the ring as the hottest prospect in boxing. he’d been compared to a rampant Mike Tyson, to Apollo Creed, to everything young and brash and good-looking about American sports. He’d been anointed the next big thing, and was almost un-backable in the betting room. Joe Calzaghe was older, slower, past it. Eight years as champion had taken their toll. His hands, never tools of one-punch knockout power, were brittle shells, particularly his left, which he’d broken in his last bout and was convinced hadn’t healed properly. You couldn’t find anyone in the American press, and few in the British, who gave him a ghost’s chance against a fighter predicted to dominate the super-middleweight landscape for the next decade or more.
12 rounds later, Calzaghe was elevated to the legendary status he would never relinquish. Lacy was a hollow shell. Hypnotised by the nearly 1000 punches Calzaghe had thrown, concussed by the 350+ that had landed, the victim of one of the rarest feats in boxing– a perfect shut out round, in which he landed exactly zero blows to his opponent– Lacy was forever beaten. Gone. Destroyed. More than his body was broken that night in 2006. His spirit was ruined. He was never the same boxer again, never the same man. The abyss had not only stared back, it had bitten his soul in two. It was one of the greatest beatings in boxing history, and the man who lost it was forever lessened.
What does this have to do with Blake?
It’s been four weeks since our boy took his own life. The funeral is behind us. The memento mori have been unpacked. His ashes sit in an urn next to Luscious’ side of the bed. The plaque from his casket has been framed and placed in our display space. The school holidays are over. The bereavement leave has run out. And suddenly, just like that, the world has come crashing back in and somehow we’re all supposed to get back to the business of being in business.
Grief crushes you from the inside. For several weeks after my first wife died, the most complex task I could manage was to get out of bed in the morning and walk to the couch in the living room. I would lie there all day, and when I noticed it was dark I would get back up and go back to bed. At one stage, about a fortnight after she died, I was disturbed by a hammering on my front door. It was my worried mother. I hadn’t answered the phone for three days. I’d been lying on the couch and forgotten about everything outside my head. I hadn’t moved for three lost days. If I hadn’t had a newborn baby that I had to, eventually, pick up from the hospital and take care of, I don’t know when I’d have found the path from my thoughts back to the outside world.
The commentators at the Calzaghe/Lacy bout quipped that for the rest of his life, Lacy would probably see Calzaghe every time he closed his eyes. Grief means you don’t have to close your eyes. The object of your pain is right there, dominating your vision, obscuring anything beyond it, twenty four hours a day. And as much as I’d like to pretend you eventually move on, and gather up your life and carry on, the truth is somewhat more complex.
Grief shatters you like a pane of glass. What is left of you, afterwards, depends on how many pieces of that pane you are able to recover, and what shape you can put them into. But you can never recover every shard, and even if you can approximate the shape of the pane, you will never recreate it perfectly. Even if you somehow could, the cracks would remain– you may resemble a pane of glass, but you will never again be fit for that purpose.
I am, literally, not the person I was before my wife died. In some ways, I’m better: I was an intolerant, arrogant bastard, and those who think that of me now (and there are many), see shades of what I once was. I tell people they would hate the me that existed up until I was 31, and they think I’m being hyperbolic. I’m not. I was a prick. In what ways I’m better, or worse — and there are as many of the latter as the former — I’ll leave to the few who have known me in both phases of my life to enumerate. But this is not my first ride with loss, and unsupportable pain, and the reformation of spirit. I’ve been here before.
My children have not.
Erin has come back to Karratha and thrown herself into her Year 12 exams. They give her a focus, something to push aside the internal vestments of mourning. But I can’t help but notice that she is spending more time away from the house: more sleepovers; more evenings out with friends; more general activity. I know her crash will come. I am left helpless in the face of her constant motion, only able to hope that she is still here, and hasn’t left us behind to begin her University journey, when stillness catches up with her and she is forced to confront her pain. Because if she’s alone, away from us, I don’t know she’ll be able to navigate her way through it.
Lord 14, who idolised his brother and was halfway on the path to becoming a V2.0 of the cool, hip, traveller of a million fascinations that he had become, is devastated. He is too young to deal with it all. Too young to have to deal with it all. He shivers. Constantly. If he stops moving for a moment he drifts off, staring into corners and forgetting the world around him. He tears up over nothing, constantly. His voice has lost all inflection, all life. I try to be there for him, but all is chaos. He meets with the school counsellor, he gathers his friends around himself, he does whatever he can to insulate himself from the full length and breadth of his despair. But he is young, and the load is too great for his shoulders. He suffers, and I suffer watching him suffer. What shape he will eventually reconstitute himself into, I only hope it contains those things that make him so special. I’m not sure. Not sure at all.
And Luscious. Luscious is not coping. How can she? There is no way she can ever be the same person she was before this happened. There is no Blake-shaped replacement to fill the hole where he fitted into her sense of self. My wife, who I love beyond all measure, is gone. What remains, right now, are shards, wrapped in a blanket of grief and mourning and pain that is too thick for her to see through, too heavy for her to carry, and too impermeable for her to escape. She has no capacity for joy, for happiness, for believing that anything will be okay ever again. And I could tell her that it will come, that those things can return to a life so badly crippled as hers is right now. But I cannot know for sure, and I cannot bring myself to offer her a hope that she doesn’t believe, and which may take years to arrive, if ever.
I could talk more about her, but honestly, I can’t. I am balancing my own pain with constant movement– I’m building Lego compulsively, have returned to the classroom with ridiculous energy, am running around doing all the things — because that’s the mechanism I’ve learned: to deal with my pain in tiny, manageable doses while using constant activity as a series of stopcocks to control the flow. Luscious has no control, and the flow of pain is too great to be stopped by any sort of stopcock.
I have never believed that “suicide is no solution”. Of course it is. It’s a really fucking effective solution for the person who completes it. What has no solution is the question of how those of us left behind cope with the aftermath. We don’t talk about committing suicide — you commit crimes, and fuck you if you think suicide is a crime– we talk about completing suicide. For Blake, it completed everything. For the rest of us, it has completed nothing. It has only created a world we have to try to live within.
Jeff Lacy, the brightest hope in American boxing in 2006, fought eleven times in the following nine years. Undefeated before Calzaghe, he lost five of those eleven. He was no longer fit for the purpose he had spent his whole life pursuing. His bio entries on the web show no other pursuits, no life reconstructed in a new image.
Right now, for Luscious and Lord 14 in particular, reconstruction seems impossible. Even coping is too complex to contemplate. All there is is waking up in the morning, going to bed in the evening, and somehow, without knowing how — or harder, why — navigating the endless hours in between.
If I have promised you something, please be patient. If you’re hoping to see me in print, give me time. If you’re owed some social contact, wait on us a little more. These things will happen again, I hope. Right now, all we have are broken panes of glass and no way to reassemble them.
Time is all we have, and I have no idea if that’s enough.