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The day had started like most others in my life. I rose well before my wife, Cindy, and son, Christian, were awake. I slipped quietly down the stairs of our suburban Dallas home and stepped into what I consider in some ways to be my safe haven -- my workout and exercise area. I got down on the floor and began my usual routine -- 2,500 sit-ups and 1,500 push-ups. I'd been following that same pattern for more than twenty-eight years, 365 days a year come rain or shine, feast or famine, on the road or at home. Only today, in the process of writing this, did I calculate what that all meant: 17,500 situps a week; 910,000 per year; 25.480 million since it all began back in Wrightsville, Georgia, as a chunky sixth grader. By my calculations, it will take me a little more than twelve and a half more years to reach 37 million -- the number of miles the Earth is from Jupiter. My allusion to another planet is deliberate; for a lot of my life, I've felt like an alien, and tried to put a great distance between other people and me.
After I finished my workout, I took a quick shower and then I sat and read the newspapers with the television turned to CNN, to catch up on the world's events, just as I did nearly every morning. That routine comforted me; my playing days were over in one sense but in many others they never ended. I folded up the papers and put them in the recycling bin. I brushed my teeth and checked on Christian before going to my home office, where I spent the rest of the morning. Cindy came in at one point to let me know that she was going out with some friends for lunch, and she'd be taking Christian with her. I kissed them both good-bye and returned to my work.
A few hours later, I was still seated at my desk, reviewing some paperwork I'd taken home regarding a potential deal I was hoping to make. I was determined to make Renaissance Man Food Services and Herschel's Famous 34 major players in a very tough industry. Since I'd stopped playing football three years before in 1998, I'd been focusing much of my competitive energy on making my many business interests flourish. Things were going well. I really didn't need to work, money was not an issue for me, but I'd been relentlessly restless for the last twenty-five years of my life, and I wasn't about to slow down.
I'd sat there checking and rechecking some numbers, when I glanced at the calendar on my desk. The date was February 24, 2001. In exactly seven days, I was going to turn thirty-nine years old. Hard to believe that time had passed so quickly. I'd enjoyed a stellar college career, won the Heisman Trophy, finished up my professional days as the number two player in all-purpose yardage (number one if you considered, which the NFL didn't, my yards earned in the USFL), represented my country in the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, been paid millions of dollars for playing a game, and earned millions more from endorsement deals. I'd been able to help family and friends, met with presidents and business leaders, was married to the only woman I'd ever loved, had a son I adored. Considering all that, what was about to happen made little sense to me then, and only now can I understand my actions at all.
The phone rang. It was my friend Robert Jones's wife, Natalie. When I heard her voice, I suspected what the call was about. I looked at the calendar again. It had been almost six days. Natalie and I exchanged hellos.
"Herschel," she said, "he's here but Bob isn't around. What do you want me to do?"
I felt as though someone had thrown a switch in my head. "Natalie, whatever you do, you tell that man not to do anything. He's to stay right there. He better not even think about unloading that car."
"Herschel, I'll talk to him, but -- "
I cut her off. "Natalie, I'm telling you, that man had better not touch that car or move a muscle."
"I'll see what I can do."
In one part of my brain, Natalie's frightened tone registered and made me even angrier. Not at her, but at the guy sitting in her driveway. He'd jerked me around long enough. I was going to put an end to that. What's right is right, and what this man had been doing was wrong. Way wrong. I could never abide by people taking advantage of someone else -- especially me. Another part of me felt bad about putting Natalie, an innocent bystander, in a tough position and for alarming her. That didn't stop the downhill slide I felt, the rapid acceleration of my emotions.
"I'm getting in the car, and I'll be there in twenty minutes. He better be there when I get there."
I slammed the phone down, grabbed a set of keys, and literally ran out of the house to the garage. I stood in the weak February sunlight, pressing the button on the key fob, listening for the distinctive blip that would tell me which car's keys I'd grabbed. I hustled over to the far bay and waited impatiently for the opener to raise the door. I was tempted to grab the handle myself; instead, I waited for what seemed minutes for the rattling mechanism to do its work. Sliding behind the wheel of my Mercedes E Class sedan, I felt like there was a war raging inside of me.
Natalie had called to let me know that a car that I'd ordered from a man in Philadelphia had arrived. I'd originally asked that it be delivered to Robert's house because I was scheduled to be out of town. Well, my trip had come and gone, and still no car had been delivered. Six days had passed, and this man had not honored our agreement. I'd spent three days sitting at home waiting to hear from him, expecting that he'd be honorable enough to at least keep me posted on the status of the delivery. And now this? He doesn't even return my calls, but instead calls my friend's house, completely ignoring my message that it should now be delivered straight to me? Was that any way to do business? Did this guy think he could get away with not keeping his word? I couldn't let him get away with that.
I could feel my jaw pulsing and my teeth grinding as I sped down Church Road toward Robert's house. I wondered for a moment if my Beretta pistol was still in the glove compartment. I'd been a licensed and registered handgun owner for years, had permits to carry a concealed weapon, and had even gone to the FBI academy during two off-seasons to do some training. I'd majored in criminal justice in college and had dreamed of serving in the FBI. The logical side of me knew that what I was thinking of doing to this man -- murdering him for messing up my schedule -- wasn't a viable alternative. But another side of me was so angry that all I could think was how satisfying it would feel to step out of the car, pull out the gun, slip off the safety, and squeeze the trigger. It would be no different from sighting on the targets I'd fired at for years -- except for the visceral enjoyment I'd get from seeing the small entry wound and the spray of brain tissue and blood -- like a Fourth of July firework -- exploding behind him.
Every few seconds, I'd hear a voice telling me, "No, Herschel, that's wrong. You can't shoot a man down in cold blood over this." Over that voice I'd hear another urging me on: "You've got to take care of business. This guy has done you wrong. You can't let him get away with that. Kill him." Over and over these two voices were shouting at me, each one pleading with me. As I made the turn south on the four-lane highway that would take me to the subdivision where Robert and Natalie lived, I began to pray to God. For even longer than I'd been doing my daily routine of exercises, I'd been praying. As a born-again Christian, I believe God actively and directly influences me to action. I asked that He help stop me from what I was about to do.
"Lord, Jesus, I do not want to kill this man. Please, dear God, somehow show me what it is that I should do."
My hands were crushing the steering wheel, and when I caught a glimpse of myself in the rearview mirror, I saw the veins and sinews in my face and neck standing out like rivers and streams on a relief map. My face was contorted and it was difficult for me to believe that the person I saw in that mirror, eyes darting furiously from the mirror to the road ahead, was really me.
Like the pulsing rhythm of a chorus, the two voices kept up a relentless beat. Simultaneously, I felt frightened, exhilarated, disgusted, at peace, and resigned. Motoring up to Robert's house, I felt as if adrenaline was being pumped by the gallon into my system. Everything came into such sharp focus. Every red petal of the flowering burning bush that lined the driveway stood out in stark contrast to the boxwood evergreens that squatted in front of them. Red. Green. Go. Stop. Do it. Don't.
I repeated my plea to God for guidance. As always, He was there for me then.
I stopped the car and slammed the shifter into park. As I was reaching for the glove compartment to check for my gun, I could see through the web of steel that made up the carriage of the auto transport trailer to the back window of the semi's cab.
SMILE. JESUS LOVES YOU read the sticker plastered there.
I had my answer. I sat in the car for a few minutes, head in my hands, giving thanks to God. The voices quieted and then fell silent. All I could hear was the ticking of my turn signal. Lord knows how long it had been on, but I knew that I needed to take a new direction in my life.
The Herschel Walker who had driven to that house with murder in his heart and mind was not the Herschel Walker I had been for most of life. Something was clearly wrong with me, and I had to figure out what it was. And quickly.
All my life I've faced life's battles head-on and at great speed. I was about to embark on a challenge I'd never thought I'd have to face, but one that I was determined to win. For a while then, and at various periods of my life, I felt like I was losing control, spiraling downward, acting out in ways I'd never thought possible. I'd been wondering if I needed professional help in answering this question: "Doctor, am I crazy?"
Before I would see a doctor, though, I had more push-ups and sit-ups to do. Why was that 37 million miles to Jupiter and the number of exercises I completed so important to me? Because for a lot of my life I've felt isolated from the rest of the world. I'd been running for most of life, from what only I really knew but seldom talked about. It was time to stop running and face some harsh realities.
Copyright © 2008 by Herschel Walker