‘Til The Death of Me, Chapter 5: To Be New Again

Present Day

Now, as Meagan followed Damien Gray down the hall that would lead into the arena, she watched him. His walk, the white stubble on his chin, his serious, determined face, even the shine on his milk chocolate head made by the overhead lights. She loved the man like her father, and in fact he was the first and only person to date she ever loved, ever trusted, in a long time.

Well, maybe that wasn’t true. Maybe there had been Kat, too. The only thing was, Meagan had never been sure how she felt about her. Now, she was just a distant memory. Although, she did think of her from time to time, wondering where she was or if she was even still alive. Who knows, though? With more time, they might have been really close friends if things hadn’t panned out the way they had… For just one brief moment, Meagan allowed her mind to travel back in time:

To say that Meagan and her new father figure lived happily ever after — Damien Gray raising her up to be the woman she now was without any kinks, speed bumps, or even road blocks — would be a gross injustice to how things really happened. Damien and Meagan had struggled for her renewal as a person. For one thing, there was the pain and trauma caused by the fact that she had been sexually assaulted. Not only that, it was by men she had stupidly trusted for a good chunk of her life. That alone was a tangled-up and heart-retching mess Damien couldn’t begin to untangle as a man (well into his forties at the time) who had never experienced such a thing. Then there was the fact of the matter that it took her a little over seventy-two hours to come down from the meth high she was on before she realized what all had actually happened to her. It was at least relieving to know that, once sober, Meagan wanted nothing more to do with ice ever again.

During that seventy-two-hour-and-then some period, Damien knew he had to get the authorities involved. He did that immediately. Meagan went through the grueling process of having a rape kit done on her, speaking with the Special Crimes Unit of Chicago (SCUC) and going down to the police station to give an official statement and provide information to sketch artists. All the while, she was jittery and at times spoke really fast. She got up at random times to either pace the floor or resituate the cups and magazines on the end tables. Police and SCUC officials promised her that she wouldn’t get in trouble for being high on meth, so long as she promised she’d stay off it. They just wanted as much information as they could get, in detail, on her attackers — namely, on their main man: Carlos Santana.

As the months went by, Meagan learned that Carlos Santana had a long list of warrants and prior arrests between South Carolina and Chicago and there had already been a manhunt for him in his hometown. He was a child predator and registered sex offender. His “gig” was to lure vulnerable teens, a lot of them female, away and convince them to join his gang. To the girls, he deliberately caused them to fall in love with him, which had undoubtedly happened to Kat. She pictured him now, posing as a student at their school, lying about his age in order to have access to hundreds of innocent, unassuming teenaged girls. Inevitably, he would end up forcing his girls to have sex with him. If they misbehaved, he would hit them. And if he caught any of his girls looking at any other man — be it a member of the gang or not — he’d beat them until they were horribly mangled, and then he’d let his men have their way with them. After that, they’d be used up, so he would discard the young girls, some of them close to death.

One by one, he did this to so many girls. A lot of them ended up on TV doing an interview, with some choosing to remain anonymous. Meagan had been his last victim. She declined an interview with any journalists and let Damien deal with the press whenever they showed up at the door. Carlos, as result of all this chaos, had become one of America’s most wanted. “Bad boy” didn’t begin to describe him. He was Lucifer in the flesh. On the night of the assault, it is believed that Carlos disappeared with most of his gang, leaving behind some who either ended up arrested or killed. Meagan always assumed that Kat had gone with him.

In the meantime, the basics were taken care of first: Damien took Meagan to the local grocery store to stalk up on food. The very young woman had been practically nothing but skin and bones when he found her. Meagan learned about soul food for the first time in her life by way of having it explained to her, and then of course eating it. Damien was such a great cook, and Meagan had been so thoughtless over the years about how much she was starving herself, that eating his food had brought her to tears. She ate plenty of it, most of the time until there was none left, which was fine by Damien. The SCUC provided her with a counselor who specialized in trauma victims, and she went through sessions regularly.

After the first few sessions, Damien decided to keep the ball rolling and had a discussion with her on basically getting her life back on track. Meagan agreed to try, though her attitude wasn’t perfect. Lost and depressed, she just didn’t see the point anymore. She felt like it was too late for her. After going down to the local DMV to get an ID for the first time, Meagan hit the books and started studying for her GED. It took several tries, and many restless nights, but she finally passed the test. On a few too many of those late nights studying, Meagan, out of frustration, left holes in the walls. Damien didn’t get too angry with her and was able to patch the holes up without any issues, but it did get him to thinking…

That Christmas, with just the two of them celebrating together, he bought her a punching bag to hang in her bedroom. He also got her a speed bag and allowed her to put it up anywhere she’d like. She put it up in the garage. Over the years, she would have a weighlifting machine along with several different sizes of dumbells, and a treadmill as well, in there– Though, when she started working out a couple of years after living with Damien, she preferred to jog around the city.

Following her twentieth birthday, Meagan got a job. With a job came the responsibility of taking herself there every day — or night. She worked the late shift at a gas station. Damien was hesitant, but Meagan assured him he was being silly. “They let me use a gun,” she said. “Which I know how to use. And I’ve been in a gang for like, three years. No offense, old timer, but I think I can handle myself.” She gave him a cool smile and tapped him on the arm with the back of her hand.

Damien took her to work for the first week while in the meantime Meagan studied her booklet she had gotten at the DMV whenever she got a chance. When it came time for the drivers test, she passed it the first time with flying colors. It was, she would end up telling him, “the easiest thing I’ve ever done.” She would drive his car to and from work, while Damien drove it during the day to get to his job and took his bike if he needed to go anywhere afetrwards. Getting her lisence must have given Meagan a real sense of accomplishment, for it was the first time Damien saw her really smile. The next time was when she got her first check and went out that Friday night with her new friends from work.

“Don’t get into any trouble!” Damien called after her from his chair in the living room, reading a book by the end table lamp as Meagan slammed the door behind her. Of course, she did get into trouble, as it was easy in those days for Meagan to be influenced by her peers. Helping her make a fake ID, her new entourage snuck her into a bar, where some wise guy had eventually started in on her — trying to “get fresh,” as it were. As a winesses would later state: ” First she had warned him, ‘Leave me alone.’ When he didn’t, she gave him a good slap, and that didn’t make him too happy. So he tried to beat on her…” The man laughed. “Let’s just say, he never got close. She beat the crap out of him!”

Meagan was able to get off the hook for her charges by pleading self defense, but not before she was placed in a holding cell. The police called Damien, saying: “We’ve got a Megan here in lock up, says you’re her next of kin? Bar fight.”

When Damien went down to bail her out, he asked for a minute alone before they let her out. Meagan stood up from the concrete bench and approached the steel bars seperating her adopted father from herself. “Hey, pops,” she said, trying to feign enthusiasm. Damien had given up trying to keep her from calling him that. “Can you imagine? I was defending myself and they lock me up like I’m some kind of criminal!”

“Well,” Damien said cooly. “You’re just lucky that fake ID worked on the cops of all people. What has this city come to…”

“Yeah–!”

“So you like to fight, do you?”

“I told you –”

“I’ll show you where the real fighting is at.”

Meagan furrowed her brow, confused, then rolled her eyes. “What are you talking about, you old geiser.”

Damien grinned knowingly. “You’ll see.”

The next day, a Saturday, he took her to a local spot he owned that he never told Meagan about until that day. It was called “Gray’s Gym,” and it had a painting of a young, black man in a stance with boxing gloves and trousers on.

I know — very “Rocky” like, right?

The rest, as they say, was history. Winning enough small-time fights gained a lot of local attention, until before long Meagan got into the ametur Womens MMA league. Some of her fights she lost. Those fights she remembered most, and she was grateful for them. They not only humbled her but gave her more life lessons and character than winning ever could. The wins, though…. The wins were what it was all about.

And they had gotten her here: Ten years after running into Damien Gray, she was attending the most important fight of her career.

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