As a boy in Compton, Richard Perry raised pigeons that were bred to tumble in the air. Now, as he lay in a hospital bed fighting to breathe, drifting in and out of consciousness, he saw his birds somersaulting across the sky.
For the four weeks that COVID-19 tried to kill him, Richard had nothing to do but wander through his mind. Thoughts of death and leaving his wife and daughter to struggle sent him into a panic. So he traveled back.
He was playing football in the street with his brothers Ray and Ronald, waiting for their mom to call them to dinner. He was letting his birds out of his backyard loft, a burst of squeaky wings. He was building bikes from scrap parts with his best friend, Dwayne, trading rims for handlebars, a rusty chain for grips, riding to the old Pike in Long Beach.
From his hospital bed in the weeks after he arrived Jan. 5, he thought about working on his first car with his dad. The hours together wrenching on a broken-down 1965 Chevy Impala — the spare words and scraped knuckles — set him on the path to become the man he would be.