“What is it called, that thing where you remember things that already happened?” Jarrell Robertson asked in his scratchy baritone, a voice hoarsened by too many years smoking Marlboros and too many years breathing in the dusty, West Texas air. The boy, Nacho, looked up quizzically at the old man and said he didn’t know. “Oh come on, it’s that thing when you feel like you’re reliving a moment for the second time, almost like you’re watching a movie and you know what’s about to happen.”
This time Nacho didn’t answer, preferring instead to entertain himself by pulling at a loose thread hanging from the cushion atop the wicker chair he sat in on the porch outside the Robertson’s modest rock house hidden a few miles east of Interstate 27 on a neatly cut dirt road dividing the cotton fields that Jarrell’s family once owned. The home was situated almost exactly halfway between Abernathy and Hale Center, Texas.
They were an unlikely pair, the weathered old man and the skinny little Mexican boy, yet still they sat, like they had so many afternoons during the long, hot summer, together on that partially covered porch.
“Oh it doesn’t matter anyway,” Jarrell said. “It doesn’t happen to me anymore, no how. Why do kids get all the good stuff?”
“Mr. Jarrell, my mom said I have to be home by six,” Nacho said. “Well you better get going then, it’s ten til,” Jarrell replied. The boy scampered down the porch’s three steps, picked up his bike and rode away. Jarrell watched the bike’s cloud of dust barreling down the dirt road back toward the highway and towards Nacho’s family’s trailer house about a half a mile away.
Nacho’s parents were most assuredly here illegally. They’d lived in that tiny trailer house for as long as Jarrell could remember where they did their best to provide for Nacho, his older sister and his two younger brothers. Neither of his parents could speak English, but the kids were doing as about as well as could be expected given the circumstances.
Jarrell had taken a liking to Ignacio “Nacho” Dominguez a couple of years earlier when the young boy knocked on his door and asked if he could mow the Robertson’s lawn for ten dollars. The plan fell apart when both realized that Nacho hadn’t the means—a lawnmower of his own—or the strength to handle the Robertson’s large machine. Jarrell appreciated the boy’s effort nonetheless and invited him to sit for a bit on the porch. And their unlikely friendship was born.
Much of this past August had been a blur for Jarrell and Evelyn, his wife of 54 years. Their youngest daughter, Emily, had fallen in love with a bad apple named Roy and both had gotten in trouble (again). As such, Evelyn agreed to take in Emily and Roy’s three-month old son until they could get out and get cleaned up. Jarrell and Evelyn knew that both milestones would likely never happen. So now here he was: 72 years old, sitting on the rickety porch outside a stone house with a tired bride and a new baby to raise inside. Jarrell lit a cigarette and watched the thunderheads begin to form to the southwest. It was early in the evening on Sunday, August 28th, 2016.
After a few minutes, Jarrell grabbed his copy of that morning’s Lubbock Avalanche Journal and flipped quickly through to the sports page. He scanned the headlines before settling on Don Williams’ piece about Kliff Kingsbury’s quickly approaching 4th season as head coach, and expectations for him going into the fall. Jarrell liked what he read, particularly the bit about new strength coach, Rusty Whitt. “No-nonsense, Iraq vet, push ‘em to the limit,” Jarrell said aloud to no one in particular. “I love it.”
For Jarrell, Texas Tech football was the escape and release that had often times made his hardscrabble life more bearable. From Dub Parks, to Donny Anderson; E.J to Gabe; Zach to Graham, Jarrell had been there, just north of town, to live through it all. He even scraped up enough to attend one or two games in person every year, and he was itching to get out and watch the 2016 version of the Red Raiders unveiled in just six days.
The heavy rain during the week leading up to the game was for the most part welcome, even if it did make the trek down the caliche road leading to the Robertson estate a bit treacherous. But it was funny to watch Nacho and his brothers and sisters attempting to fish from the bar ditch outside their trailer Wednesday afternoon. “You’re not gonna catch anything but a cold,” Jarrell yelled from the window of his old Suburban as he drove past the kids standing knee deep in water and red mud.
Evelyn was tired. The baby had colic and it’d been too many years since she’d been conditioned to keep up with an infant. But still she trekked on. Jarrell bit his lip when he saw her tired face because he knew a cross word from him about their situation, particularly his own anger at Emily’s inability to pull away from Roy’s orbit, would do no good. So Jarrell gave her a pat on the cheek.
“I can’t go with you to the game Saturday, I’m too tired,” Evelyn said, exhaustedly. “Do you want me to stay here?” Jarrell asked. “No, no, you go. Take Nacho. He’ll love it,” she said.
They sat for dinner and later struggled to get the baby to sleep before crashing to bed themselves.
On Saturday afternoon Jarrell picked up a red-and-black clad Nacho, turned left on 27 and headed south to Lubbock. Football season was in the air and Nacho could hardly contain his glee. The game itself turned out to be a rather one-sided affair. Kingsbury’s Red Raiders led by junior phenom Pat Mahomes and a revamped defense dismantled Stephen F. Austin 69-17. But neither of the rabid fans from just north of town in the south end-zone cared that night. It was football time again on the South Plains, and it was glorious.
The ride home was quiet. Nacho, coming off a self-induced sugar and adrenaline high, fell fast asleep so Jarrell was left alone with his thoughts. He was happy with the win, but couldn’t shake a nagging feeling that was difficult to put his finger on. For all his success, Jarrell had never been a fan of young Pat Mahomes. “Too much flexing and dancing. Too many deep balls. Too much running around,” Jarrell whispered to himself. “He needs more no-nonsense.” Jarrell shook the negative thoughts from his mind and into the night, feeling guilty for his anger but not really understanding why.
Jarrell made the turn off the highway and jostled Nacho awake while pulling up in front of the Dominguez’s trailer. “Thanks for taking me to the game, Mr. Jarrell,” Nacho said sleepily. “Wreck ‘Em Tech!” he then yelled, slammed the door and ran up the driveway. Jarrell chuckled and slipped the Suburban back onto the road.
As he approached, Jarrell noticed all the lights were on inside the little rock house and the front door appeared to be open. There was a car parked in the yard, engine idling. Something was wrong.