Dicky Eklund and Christian Bale from David O. Russell's The Fighter
Credit: Lester Cohen/WireImage

Dicky Eklund lives in a three-bedroom apartment on the first floor of a 19th-century Victorian that's seen better days. "It's a ghetto house," he warns me as we climb the steps. The screen on the front door is framed in wads of duct tape. The entry hall is bare but for two large photo posters: one of a sweaty Dicky hugging his bloody brother in the ring after a fight, and the other a faux fight poster from the movie. Dicky keeps apologizing – for holes in walls, raw Sheetrock with dangling electrical wires, the guts of a doorbell exposed in the kitchen – but it's otherwise spotless. "Dicky is an obsessive cleaner," says his girlfriend, Leslie Stephens, a 43-year-old former nurse. (She's on disability because of a hand injury.) "He'll come home with $100 worth of groceries," she says. "And it's all cleaning supplies." The couple has lived here for about a year. "Our house before this was nice," Leslie tells me. "In a nice area. You shoulda seen it." The new apartment is in a neighborhood known as the Acre. It's one of the city's oldest and most blighted neighborhoods. It's where Dicky and Micky grew up. The room is decorated in Bob's Discount Furniture. Scented candles line the mantel above the walled-off fireplace, flanking decorative photo frames that say love and family. Leslie says she and Dicky have been together for 10 years, though he claims it's more like four. "I used to chase him around when I was 18 and he was 28," she says. Dicky laughs: "There were thousands of girls chasing me then." Leslie adds, "He doesn't remember me." We are going out to dinner, and she's laid out Dicky's clothes, as she does every night. She lays out his pajamas if they're staying in, which she tries to get him to do as much as she can. "He's staying in more. He likes to go out once in a while, but he's finding there's nothing out there," she tells me, sounding like a proud mother. "He must be growing up. Some people think I'm too hard on him. They come to the door and I say, 'Leave him alone.' He's not going out because he gets the headlines, and they don't."

Their relationship isn't always harmonious. Two years ago, almost to the day of our visit, Leslie called the Lowell police. "My boyfriend just beat the shit out of me," she told cops when they arrived. According to the police report, she said Dicky had gone "crazy," pushing her onto the couch, climbing on top of her and choking her, alternately pinching her nose and covering her mouth with a free hand until she got dizzy. She eventually escaped and called 911. The police charged Dicky with assault with attempt to murder – a charge commonly applied when an alleged assault includes strangulation. Prosecutors later dropped the case after Leslie refused to testify.

The pattern continued last summer. Leslie called the cops and Dicky was arrested, but the prosecution could not go forward because she again refused to testify. (When I ask him about it, he says that Leslie had been chasing him out of the house and tripped while trying to prevent him from leaving. "I said I was going out, and she thought I was going out partying." He puts his hand to his head and makes a circular motion, the international symbol for "crazy," and then he laughs. "She thinks every girl in the world is gonna rape me.") Dicky's sisters told me that the two are bad for each other. Dicky has had trouble with other women as well.

Three years earlier, at 9 a.m. on a June morning in 2007, cops responded to a report of a man beating a woman in a parking lot. The victim told them that she and Eklund had been on a date the night before and that that morning, after drinking all night, they got into an argument. The fight led to Dicky punching in the driver's-side window of the minivan she was in and dragging her by the hair before fleeing in a Camry registered to his mother, Alice. The victim recanted her story – this time in a signed affidavit – and according to court records, the case was dropped.

An hour after we were supposed to have left for dinner, Dicky is still talking. He's excited about the "motivational" speaking engagements Ward has lined up for them, starting at some college in Florida. Micky has been doing these talks for years, and now – prompted, in part, by the agency that handles Micky's speaking gigs – Dicky will join him. It's a way to capitalize on interest in the movie and to help Dicky make a little money. "I don't know if I can deal with him," Micky confesses. "I tell him, 'You can't talk like you're talking to a bunch of street kids when you're at a major college.' It could be a train wreck. Or it could be great. Dicky has a great story to tell."

Dicky isn't likely to pretend his sobriety is anything but fragile, a day-to-day affair. "I don't like when people – whether you're clean one day or 10 years – are down on people who are partying," he says, "because you can be back there tonight. One slip, you can be back there. Worry about yourself; you can't help nobody else." "Oh honey," Leslie says, not taking her eyes off the flatscreen TV. "You're a whole different person."

"No," says Eklund, spinning toward her, annoyed. "I'm talking. I'm just telling some stuff. You can't go to those speaking classes I'm gonna do at colleges and say, 'Honey, you're a different person.' Imagine her," he says to me, "when I'm speaking? 'Miss, you want to be a part of this?' I get so into it and tell the truth. I don't want to glorify what I've done." He shuffles into the bedroom, where Micky's boxing gloves hang above the queen-size bed's headboard. Eklund comes back into the room, a brown polo shirt tucked into his slim-fit Levi's but still wearing his Michael Jordan shower sandals, over a pair of white socks. "Not bad for 22, huh?" he says.

At the restaurant, a Mexican-Irish mash-up called Garcia Brogan's, the bartender greets Dicky with a hearty handshake and a loud "Heineken?" Leslie shakes her head and shoots Dicky a look. Dicky winks to me and orders two Cokes. Leslie spends the dinner latched onto his arm. Everywhere Eklund goes these days, people stop him – or else stare and whisper. If he manages to catch them staring, he'll go out of his way to engage them. After dinner, he sees a table of twentysomethings glancing our way. He dance-boxes his way over and tells them that I'm in town writing a story about him. One young blonde asks, "Did you really jump out of a window all the time?" Eklund looks only slightly put off. "Yeah, but probably just once," he jokes. "It hurt, too."