Within every man there’s a boy who knows what it means to fight. How your own standing with the whole world depends on whether or not you punch Tyler is the face harder than he punches you in the face. The eternal dignity of your girlfriend, Brandi, whom Tyler called a bitch, relies on you kicking Tyler’s ass. How else will she ever have any if you don’t stand up for her?
God knows no one else is standing up for her. No one stood up for her when her father’s best friend had sex with her behind the decrepit family boat at age twelve. No one, not even she herself, could protest when he stood up, bloody dick protruding, smiled and said, “You liked that, didn’t you?”
So when Dillon’s little sister asks him what rape is, and he confirms that she has in fact been raped, he asks his father for help. “She did what?” In the next room, Dillon discovers that his sister is a whore; she dresses like a whore and she asked for what she got. When Dillon disagrees, his father turns fists toward him. Which is okay, because sister is safe.
So when Dillon connects a hard right hook to Tylers jaw and there’s a crack, Brandi gains a little dignity. And when Tyler falls on the ground and Dillon begins to kick him, little sister gains a little dignity. And when the man from the fishing dock runs over to save Tyler’s life, only to be pushed to the pavement and have his skull cracked, Brandi is more dignified than ever. And when Dillon finally caves in Tyler’s face with his boot, little sister is practically Lady Di.
Brandi is fifteen, a year younger than Dillon, but she’ll never get to walk with her knight in shining armor, the one who saved her dignity, because he’s being carted off the juvie as we speak. He’ll spend the next two years there, because Tyler won’t ever look normal again. After that, he’ll be put in a medium security facility with grown inmates, because Dillon be damned if every man destroys every woman.
Little sister will get pregnant before the age of seventeen, proving father right. But before it’s due, she’ll overdose on opiates and have an open casket funeral where the baby bump is showing. Father will continue to drink until his truck lands upside-down in the river. His casket will be closed.
In prison, Dillon will find religion and make peace with himself. On the outside, the world will be the same, but Brandi is still in town, with a child of her own. She is sorry to hear about sister, but not about father. Dillon agrees.
They will marry and vow to never be like the people they came from. But kids and bills will pile up, along with beer cans in the floorboard of Dillon’s truck. God will abandon him. And one night, at the fishing dock, Dillon will grab the gun from the console, put it to his temple and pull the trigger. He will piss his pants when the gun clicks. Empty. On the ground, breathing heavy, he’ll decide to change his life. The next day, he’ll drive to Tyler’s house and ask for forgiveness. Tyler will invite Dillon to go fishing. And they’ll talk until the sun goes down.
Brandi will move across town to her mother’s house, because Dillon will continue to drink. Dillon will tell Tyler that dignity in this town gets sucked into the void like a satellite into a black hole. He’ll say how there’s no room for anyone here to gain any self respect, because as soon as you do, someone will take it. If I can’t respect myself, you can’t either, he’ll say. Tyler will nod, sip his beer, and reel in a nice fish. “Ain’t that something?”
Later, when Dillon’s mother will die, he will acquire her house and quite a collection of fine jewelry. Dillon will move into her house, pay off his own, fix it up and rent it out. He will live comfortably and he will fish with Tyler. Tyler will get cancer in his middle age and die slowly, painfully, leaving Dillon everything he owns.
He will sell Tyler’s belongings, rent out his mother’s house, and move to the coast. He’ll get work as a cook on a yacht, and he’ll take up writing fiction. He’ll quit cooking to write a novel. When it’s done, he’ll close it in his desk and buy a lawn mower. Because he’s scared of it. Cutting his neighbor’s grass one day, he’ll find the old man dead in his recliner, having shit himself.
This will prompt Dillon to finally send off his novel to a publisher, fear be damned, and the publisher will love it. Dillon will make a lot of money telling the story of a sailor who lays down his own dignity to save that of his lover, Naomi.
Dillon will get a call from his son saying that his grandson is in the hospital after fighting over a girl. Dillon will drive back home to see grandson and tell the story of Tyler, and prison, and his sister, and Brandi. He’ll tell grandson to take his education seriously. He’ll say he was too cowardly to act different than his own father and grandfather. He’ll sob and plead with grandson to change his way of thinking.
Dillon will look grandson in the face and tell him about the void of dignity in which they all grew up. He’ll tell him stories of how to change the legacy of his family. Grandson will understand and want to change. From this day on, he’ll say to Dillon, our family name will be different.
Grandson will die in that hospital bed less than a day later, drowning in his own blood while sleeping. The boy who did it to him will go to prison, same one as Dillon, where he’ll spend the next twenty years. The boy will have a son on the way before he goes, and the cycle will seem to repeat itself indefinitely. Dillon will lose hope that the curse of dignity will never end. “No one is born or dies with dignity.”
Dillon will write another hit novel about a boy born into a life of generational sin, poverty, violence, and despair. But the boy fights his way through and out of the life to change his legacy. He doesn’t buy the dream. He lives his own life. Dillon is jealous of the boy.
But within every man is that boy who knows what it means to fight. And as an old man, Dillon will guide that boy to the right fights. Those of coming to grips with yourself, with death, and the inevitable loss of dignity. The fight of changing your legacy because you’re worth it.
Back on the coast, Dillon will tell Jerry all of this. And Jerry will nod, sip his beer, and reel in a nice fish. “Ain’t that something?”