Second Draft: Because It Hurts

by Tochi

Ivory skin, ebony, flecked with sweat that detaches from exposed limbs when the arm, the shoulder, the head swiveling on the neck, when all of it blurs, when each item, each limb, each attachment swings or bobs or weaves or hits. Reflections of the gangly, sinewy, spry, agile, fumbling, tentative, over-confident adolescents in the mirror as they try not to watch themselves box shadows, as they try to lose themselves in the combinations they learned last week, as they forget how to move their feet or when they should, as they forget their minds and allow their bodies to move with sublime and unconscious grace.

The faint odor of dog shit and the pungent trace of sweat, a cloud pierced whenever the front door opens and a latecomer sneaks in with his blue-and-black gym bag. When the door closes, the chill remains for a bit before the heaters banish it and the sweet and sour sweat-shit stench is back, bathing the older gym hounds as they wrap their hands and the kid working the heavy bag with his twelve-ounce gloves and the two kids practicing combinations with the older guys who have focus mitts strapped to their hands and whose palms turn into fogs of red and white and black against which the kids tap with their fists and meet with their shoulders and which they duck underneath when the fog lashes out a tendril aimed at their heads. On another bag, a young kid, shadowed by an older version of himself, this one with curled hair perfectly balanced to frame a sharp, angular, attractive face, hits the thing that barely moves, hits it slowly and with the stiffness that attends seldom practiced, recently-learned movement. First the older kid moves forward, the lithe, light-skinned kid, overflowing with confidence that does not need to try to make itself known, that is self-evident, self-contained, and rips the bag with a flurry, left jab, straight right, left hook to the body, that resounds in three sharp slaps, leather meeting leather, that reverberate for a moment throughout the place, cracks of the whip that the others ignore because they are busy with their own learning, but which the younger kid, the one being taught by his shadow, by his older self, gives all of his attention. The shadow moves behind him, wipes his nose with his wrist and watches as the younger kid tries again, moving marginally faster than before, but still too slow and there’s a new edge in the shadow’s voice as he tells the kid to do it again. And again. And again. Until his irritation becomes the kid’s and the movement becomes so rote that the kid dances into the combination, so angry at his shadow that he shuts him out and forgets his own hesitance and how his body usually moves and flows into the combination, left jab, straight right, hook to the body, after which there is a moment of silence between the two, the whip-cracks resonating in the space between them, after which the shadow pats the kid on the head, smiles, pulls him close in a half-hug and leaves the kid to his own devices, to do over and over and over this new thing he’s learned, this new way of moving with which his body has fallen instantly in love.

Other highschoolers lug in carts of Poland Spring bottles, cardboard bottoms of the carts bent beneath the weight, the kids’ shoulders stiff, arms rigid and ramrod straight with the load. They look to Brian for guidance on where to put the water, and Brian, who watches a younger kid, the kid’s extremely long ponytail swinging behind him, throw combos against an older Dominican’s focus mitts, nods in the general direction of the backroom and the parade of movers carries the cartons as ordered while somewhere towards the rear of the ring, where it meets a wall covered in scrawled inspirational quotes and worn-out covers of middleweight and heavyweight and welterweight fights that happened a decade ago, another kid sweeps out bugs and webs and trash and mold and any other unwanted things that might have accumulated while everyone’s back was turned. And others still toy with their handwraps, have them only half-wrapped around their wrists and the backs of their hands while they sit on boxes or overturned milkcrates or plastic chairs and talk and try to make sure they don’t attract Brian’s wrath, and I notice these kids who come to pass time and those other kids who come to train and I wonder if I can judge them, assuming one party has come to better itself while the other is content in stasis. In the end analysis, they all initially came here when there was no obligation to, when they didn’t have to, when there were other, perhaps more attractive, things waiting for them outside that door, jaws wide open, saliva dripping like rain from bared fangs, tongue lolling in anticipation of whatever meal a full-bodied youth, ripe with potential, pregnant with it, might make.

 

*

 

You love writing about boxing. One thread in the tapestry of that love is the trouble you’ve developed over the years in hitting another person. Domestication. You’d been de-fanged, de-clawed, but the energy is still there, the thing that powers the violence. Hate, yes. Anger, yes. Fear, yes. But not all of them and not always. You were never the professionals, those brown and black from-the-slums and to-the-Boardwalk types. You could never channel that into a cold and calculated brilliance that made people in the stands wonder what kind of pain and suffering had attended your growing up to turn him into such a beast, a monster, a tactician all at once. Where did that ice-cold shard of glacier come from? Where was the rest of the iceberg? You know people would ask themselves, leaving the stadium or the Garden or the Casino whether or not the boxer brought his work home with him, whether he beat his wife or his girlfriend or the whores drawn to his animal-ness and his money, whether he was the same whirling dervish out of the ring that he was inside, whether he walked around casing joints and giving people the once-over and deciding immediately how to pick apart their defense and lay them on the canvas with two well-timed, well-placed punches. You lived vicariously through him. Through them.

Seeing the act lived out to such organized and tangible effect thrills you, the contradictions captured in a man’s human-beast continuum made electrically visible. You remember when you used to hope to see Gennady Golovkin fight live, where, even if it was in the nosebleeds, you could watch a man be a beast, a monster and a tactician all at the same time.

His June 2013 middleweight championship title defense against Matt Macklin still flashes across your eyelids when you daydream yourself into a quick nap. Third-round stoppage, that was. And part of you wondered, when the fight was announced, why anyone would slap gloves with the most avoided fighter in the world of boxing.

When Gennady fights, he doesn’t necessarily load up on his power shots the way you would notice with others, the ones who swing wildly, whose hooks take the scenic route and only occasionally crash home to their intended destination, but usually just glance off neck or crown. Gennady’s hands sing. Short, sharp notes that split outsides and rupture insides.

You thought you’d be disappointed with the fact that the fight ended with a body shot, but then you remember the shot: short, pistol-fast cannon-fire to Macklin’s liver that, when you watch the skin ripple out, seems to tell the tale of an internal organ in extremis. You remember Macklin turning over the ropes to the cameras and spectators on the other side, and you remember the visibly pure anguish on his face as he fell. You remember watching him writhe on the canvas and thinking initially that he was just trying to get back up, that he was trying to rise and do that thing that boxers do that makes people talk about courage and heart. But, really, you know it is just flailing. Aching, agonizing convulsion.

The other moment of the fight you hold close to your heart and at which you grin murderously is the beginning of the third round where, after getting off his stool, Macklin drops his mouthguard. It bounces on the canvas and, pearly whites exposed, Macklin straightens out of his stance and looks to referee Eddie Cotton. Maybe he was asking for a timeout to put in another mouthpiece or maybe he was just clawing, trying to entangle, trying to entrap a few seconds’ reprieve to gather his wits and summon a little bit of courage. And when Cotton tells the fighters to ignore the mouthpiece and continue fighting, you remember the look of moon-colored, bloodless despair on Macklin’s face.

Golovkin’s fight with Rosado awakens you out of your nap and plunges you into a full-blooded waking dream, the conflagration having earned a place in boxing lore simply for the amount of carnage it elicited, blood on the canvas and blood on Rosado’s face, a thing which bore more resemblance to a pair of worn-out red Chuck Taylors than something fitted to a man’s skull. You remember your friend lamenting to you at the time that she would never be able to unsee Rosado blowing out a bloodied snot-bubble between rounds. You remember Rosado’s trainer during that fight turning to Rosado’s father, who had been watching from ringside, and telling the man “Your son’s gonna die” before throwing the towel into the ring. And you remember realizing that the man was not speaking in hyperbole.

The Rosado fight had been one of the most gruesome displays of bravery you’d ever seen, and afterwards, you feel guilty for how much you enjoyed it, how much you enjoyed retelling its moments, how much you enjoyed writing about it.

But then you remember some of the other stuff. You think about the boxers when they’re not in that thirty minutes of crucible and when they’re passing through other storms. Another friend tells you a story, handed down from his own father, about Muhammad Ali coming home to Louisville after the Olympics, shiny gold medal around his neck. The friend tells you how Ali walked into a whites-only luncheonette, strolled in not just like he belonged there but like he owned the place, and the friend tells you that Ali, grinning a little bit but trying to keep a straight face, thought he’d put them on the spot. So The Greatest That Ever Was sits down to eat and asks for a meal. The friend doesn’t tell you whether a waiter was there already or whether he’d just shouted it out so all the patrons trying to ignore him had no choice but to acknowledge the melanoid demi-god who’d just strolled into their meal spot. The friend makes the point again about Ali having the gold medal around his neck, out there for everyone to see, for surely, even in Louisville, they knew what the Olympics were. And they tell Ali that they don’t serve niggers there, and, without missing a beat, Ali says that’s okay ‘cause he doesn’t eat ‘em. You laugh, the two of you, even though you both know what’s coming around the bend. You don’t have to have heard the story before to know what happens, how it ends. The friend tells you they put Ali out on the street and, afterwards, he took his gold medal and threw it into the Ohio River.

You think of the fights you used to watch with your hookah buddy when you would stop in Brooklyn at Barclays and watch all the undercards. Lower seating, just behind the ringside seats. What fascinates you about the earlier fights in the largely unpopulated stadium is that most of the supporters seem more akin to family or neighborhood friends than the spectators and the arm-chair boxing coaches that flood the place as the main event draws near. What they bring with them, this later genre of fight watchers, are markers of the increasing commodification of Brooklyn. The place is being turned, right before your eyes, into a t-shirt, a fitted cap, a monetary item of affiliation. At first, it’s cool and innovative and inspiring, then it becomes disheartening to watch. People can buy “Brooklyn.” Not the place, but the memory of what it meant. Maybe this is perhaps the goal of the Barclays Stadium, you think, akin in certain ways to how Palestinian identity opened up in the 1970s and ‘80s to anyone who picked up an AK-47 under the guise of Liberation. A democratizing or elasticizing of identity. But you can’t help wondering how local denizens feel about it. Those, in particular, from Brownsville and East New York who are known, not for headquartering literary magazines and tech startups and organic farms, but rappers and a tragically high crime rate. You can’t really put those on a t-shirt. One of those people walks in and you don’t hear cash registers cha-chinging the same way as when someone in a Brooklyn Nets jersey enters.

It’s Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillan having the gap in his teeth fixed after he won his first championship title and wept the first genuine tears you’d seen in a very long time on that JumboTron for everyone who’d paid the price of admission to see.

It makes you think of the Philly gym wars mythology and Bernard Hopkins coming out of that and his 1993 fight with Wendell Hall where, during the third round, Hall’s trainer, just like Rosado’s, threw the towel into the ring.

That towel…

That towel that the referee has the power to throw back out, that towel that the referee can disregard completely, that towel that signals nothing but the powerlessness of the man being beaten and the corner trying to save his career, and maybe his life, knowing that after having been brought to that point, he may never punch again like he did that night, or that he may never fight at all like he did that night. The towel always seems to come in too late. And when it does, it is a mosquito buzzing in the referee’s ear.

 

*

 

“Snap your hips into it,” Brian tells me. “Snap your hips into that right. Connect the dots.” He was only a little taller than me, moved around enough to be convincingly ex-military and used curse words like commas. I’d only known him for about a week before he took me into the ring to help refine my one-two, a left jab followed by a straight right. “Snap your hips, back foot leaves the ground.” I throw the combo. “Yeah, just like that.” I do it again, this time ducking beneath a swing from Brian’s focus mitts. Brian’s eyebrows lift in approval. I can’t keep from beaming. He shoos me out of the ring with instructions to work the heavy bag for a few rounds, keep practicing my movement.

The gym itself smells like dog shit, likely from the two large mutts that can occasionally be seen scurrying about, pawing at coils of discarded Everlast handwraps. Many of the bags had been taped around their middle, and they hung not from the ceiling but from holes in it. Quotations on character were scrawled in magic marker all over the walls between posters advertising (light) heavyweight bouts between Chad Dawson and Glen Johnson, Tyson and Foreman, and pictures from Golden Gloves competitions that had starred kids from this gym.

The place reminded me of the abandoned Stanley Works factories Dad used to drive me past on my way to school when we lived in New Britain. Reminded me of the smoke billowing from the stacks at the processing plants in Bridgeport, the ones I would see from my window-seat on the Metro-North trains a decade and a half later, going in to NY for grad school classes in a city I’d drunk my way out of.

There’s this horizontal heavy bag, hangs by two chains and you hit it differently than you would a regular heavy bag because it pivots and catches you in the head if you’re not paying attention. You can either block and swing or pivot and riddle it with punches. And on a bad day, a kid bullied by peers or a man bullied by the cosmos, struggling with something outside that door to the gym can turn into a whirling dervish, blocking be damned. The bell sounds, another round ends, and I’m cleansed. I was able, for three minutes, to give voice to that demon coiling inside me, that monster that domestication had shamed me into hiding. That atavistic agent in my soup that watched Heath Ledger’s Joker set fire to that massive pyramid of paper bills and saw in him a kindred spirit.

 

*

One of the Puerto Ricans, a lithe, skinny kid in a baggy t-shirt, holds his gloves by the wrist-straps, a shadow of a mustache over his lip and his curly hair shiny with the sweat he’s barely broken. He’s one in a crowd of them, a few of them dressed for here, most of them having come straight from school in their Polo’s and chinos or khakis or cargo shorts. One or two of them have gym bags or older brothers with gym bags that the older brothers loan out or that the younger brothers steal, and that they bring to school with an attendant braggadocio or swagger, a signal to their classmates with lockers next to them that they’ve got business after classes; that they’ve got to go and learn how to be dangerous or disciplined, that they’ve got a heavy bag to bully and that’s why they don’t take it out on you, that they’ve got to train, to do the heavy and hard work of self-improvement so that when they step into that ring for the Golden Gloves tournament, they are suitably armed, not only with their blue or red helmet and penny and shorts but with courage and restraint and a learned, practiced, orderly violence.

 

*

 

Occasionally, when working on the heavy bag, I’ll punch at the wrong angle and delicious, actualizing pain will shoot through a poorly wrapped wrist. Common sense or self-preservation or something else entirely will tell me to rest a little, to lay off that hand and let it heal. But I’ll punch anyway.

To live out a dream? To play out an impulse? To dance towards that place in the sky where Dad’s waiting for me? To nudge an eyebrow raised in approval from him?

I didn’t know, still don’t, but whatever it is that I feel when that damaged wrist or those damaged knuckles or those searing tendons accompany me on my walk home feels earned. It feels deserved. And it feels realer than anything promised to me by anyone alive or dead.

If it doesn’t hurt, I’m not doing it right.

I forget sometimes that what initially drew me to boxing was its beauty.

 

*

 

When Sergio Martinez dropped Paul Williams in the second round of their WBC Middleweight Title bout with that left hand, it was like watching a magic trick. An instant that defies the laws of physics, the commandments that govern the normal range of human movement and impact. The slap of glove against temple is fiercely audible. The way Williams collapses as though all life has left him is a testament to the power in that glove, and the fact that it all happened in less than a second a tribute to the force of every muscle in Martinez’s body that fueled that hook.

The referee gives Williams the ten-count, but the crowd is already on their feet. Martinez is already standing in his corner, arms raised, mouth agape in a wordless victory roar. And the commentators are already declaring that punch the knockout of the year.

One of those moments, the potential for which exists in almost every competitive sport, where the strictures of normal human being are bypassed, transcended, in an instant of glorious physicality.

It’s the Eddie Hazel solo in Maggot Brain. It’s Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa. It’s a sentence in a John Crowley novel. And it happened in less than a second.

As much as bloodlust and transgressive emotional baggage may fuel my love of the sport and the honor I feel in being able to participate, however minimally, in it, knowing that such a thing as that left hook exists, has existed, will exist again, is itself a consolation. A reminder of what a human being can be capable of. And, even in the postmodern gladiator pit that is the boxing ring, that it can be a thing of beauty. Like that solo. Like that painting. Like that perfectly crafted sentence.

You think of Micky Ward and Arturo Gatti.

The beautiful brutality of the sport when it’s performed at its peak, that thing that has also made you wonder anew what precisely about that brutality you find beautiful.

Watching Arturo Gatti outbox Ward in the first couple of rounds feels much like watching beautiful passes thrown and caught, like watching reverse layups or a crazy off-balance backhand across the court. And those solid punches that land well, the really powerful ones, are like the touchdown, the windmill dunk, the ace serve.

But your heart does something funny in concert with your stomach when, in the middle rounds, the thing dissolves into a slugfest. It becomes a brawl and you’re enthralled. Frozen in your seat, unblinking, gut clenched, teeth frozen in what you later realize was a rictus smile. It’s more than sport at this point and less at the same time.

You’re watching two men utterly destroy each other and you want to see it keep going. You wince at the especially heavy blows, and when Ward lands that vicious lightning-fast combo of about 14 flushly-landed punches near the end of Round 5, you feel a grimace peel back your lips. Ward’s trademark left hook to the body that drops Arturo in that infamous Round 9 has you nearly doubling over in shadow pain for Arturo, an empathetic burst that reached through history and the screen of your laptop and, however momentarily and ephemerally, links you two. After a point, it hurts to watch, but it’s, at the same time, like watching a magnificent fire, a bloodied, bruised, sweating, cut-open conflagration.

But at the end of the 10th and final Round, both men turn their clinch into a hug. They fight two more times, Gatti winning both bouts, and throughout that time, they become close friends. A retired Ward even ends up training Gatti for his final fight. And you’re left trying to figure out why that makes you so incredibly happy.

What happens to a man when he steps into the ring with the intention to dismantle and injure the man in the opposite corner? Without malice, without hate. With perhaps only a clinical disregard for the other man’s humanity. And if both men are left standing at the end of the contest, no matter the results, it would seem, you imagine, for the good and honest ones, there’s a respect that ferments between them.

It’s the pain that compels you to watch, but it’s the surviving of it that compels you to keep watching. Every time you’ve watched a fight, especially one as brutal as the Ward-Gatti battle, you’re left with admiration for what the human body can endure. And because the meat-puppet is nothing without the mind, you’re left with even more admiration for the mental war waged between the two men. Even with the moral conundrum that ever-increasing speed and strength in athletes has made of combat and contact sports, you can’t help but gaze in wonder at what’s forged between two men who endure and dish out and are still standing at the end.

That 9th Round was murderous. And in its fires, something beautiful, almost-lusting, lasting is forged. You want it back. It’s gone. Forever. But you miss it, and you want it back.

 

*

 

On October 3, 2013, I’m a day away from 26. In another gym, my profile reflected in another mirror, bouncing on the balls of my feet on another dirty floor.

It’s been a decade and a half to this day since I last saw my father, cleaned-up, serene face, eyes closed, staring up at me from inside a coffin.

I’m faster today.

This morning on the heavy bag, everything was connecting more rapidly than ever. Originally, I was hung up on the left jab, straight right, left uppercut, right uppercut, both to the body, then a left hook up top. Occasionally, I could piecemeal it, do the uppercuts or just the jab and the straight, but the whole combination was my only real firecracker.

Over the past few weeks, I’d taken to shadowboxing with handweights to begin each workout. At first, familiar pain burned where the deltoid met bicep, and I discovered just how much I lean on that left jab. But, yesterday, I boxed southpaw for the first time, trusting my body when it put my right foot forward and my left foot back for balance and push-off.

Moved faster than I expected and my jab had more stopping power. And I could now swing hooks with both hands.

These little breakthroughs have been happening almost every morning, having arrived at the beatdown Washington Heights boxing gym where the guy who runs it and his son or nephew sit in front of a TV watching a Pixar movie, having wrapped my hands, having danced around the bags a little bit.

They happen without warning, without preamble. I’ll find myself capable of something I couldn’t do before. Some new way of moving.

Fifteen years ago, the world around me, for all intents and purposes, had ended. I’d blocked my ears against the whole thing, and only later did I let my hands drop and listen to the debilitating silence left in the wake of the apocalypse.

Fifteen years later, I still struggle to figure out how to do this day properly, if there even is a way to do this day properly. Some commemoration or thing done in remembrance of him, some evocation of his magnitude or some pondering of the magnitude of the loss of him. Some way to track my progress in the sometimes unconscious, sometimes intentional quest to approach him. And, all this time, I have no idea what to do today of all days.

Maybe it’s too much to hope that my body will have stumbled on that epiphany before my mind does, that my spirit will precede thought and find a way to contentedly celebrate and meaningfully mourn what happened on this day. Of all days. Maybe it’s too much to hope that one day I’ll know what to do, or that I’ll know that whatever I do, it’s the doing that matters, the movement.

Maybe it’s not too much to hope for such things.

 

*

 

It’s your first time. You just finished sparring today at that New Haven gym. Your asthma is the harpy ripping your lungs to shreds and your arms hang like titanium pendulums at your side, that bit between bicep and deltoid burning with hellfire. You have to say, that’s the second most educational ass-whooping you’ve ever gotten. You got in a few good body shots and figured out the other kid’s style pretty quickly. Only problem was that when you were done doing all that thinking and figuring out, kid had you dead to rights two rounds to one. And it was all you could think about afterwards, even when you were working the two-chained heavy bag with renewed ferocity. You weren’t angry. It was a fair fight and you were proud of the punches you landed and the ones you’d dodged. You weren’t confused. You knew pretty well why and how things ended up the way they did. You guess you were galvanized. The desire to get better at this thing flared in a way it hadn’t over the past couple of months. Most of all, though, you feel cleansed. (The bad mood that had captured you before you’d walked in just went and evaporated.) It was a baptism by fire. Things seem to have come full circle. It started with the fights you would have with other people. Then it turned into the fights you wanted to have with other people and couldn’t. Now, you’re in the ring learning how properly to combat the person across from you, damage them in organized sport. To think but not overthink. To trust your body, yourself. You had nursed the notion you wouldn’t do as well as you’d want your first time around, but you’re not disappointed. You still feel like you’re moving forward.

Which is, itself, progress enough.

 

*

 

A friend had me hit him once.

We’d been high school roommates, were at the time. And we were standing in the outside corridor of our school’s arts center. It was just us and I forget how we ended up there, but at this point in our lives, he was getting ready for West Point. He was an affable kid, big and muscled and well fed off of a steady diet of Kentucky-Mississippi affluence. More Biblically inclined than I was at the time (the third Matrix movie was all about the Christ), but firmly rooted in a terrestrial, lived-reality Republican-Christian optimism. White kid.

He’d been training for what he expected to be a physically grueling entry and wanted to get hit in preparation for that entry. Must have figured it would happen plenty once he alighted onto that campus.

So he asked me, then he planted his feet and stuck his chin out.

I hadn’t hit anybody in a long time, and I asked him if he was being serious. He had tendencies towards the outlandish. But after a little back-and-forth, I obliged.

I didn’t cock back because I didn’t want to hurt him, but my fist shot forward and caught him right on the left side of his jaw. When he fell, I felt more satisfied than I had in entirely too long. He had the dazed look on his face that Curtis Stevens would have after that first knockdown against Gennady Golovkin in their November 2013 fight at Madison Square Garden. He blinked a few times, brought himself back to reality, and stumbled to his feet. He shook his head and told me that was a good shot, and I swear it felt like he’d told me I’d gotten into Yale. His eyebrows were raised in approval when he said it too.

 

*

 

The thing about boxing and about writing about boxing is that the sport is so easily like everything, like this and as that and symbolic of the other thing. A keyhole through which the entirety of American masculinity can be passed. A mirror against which a man can examine himself, check his own reservoir of things like courage and heart when hypothetically thrown into a situation where his success depends on how badly he can hurt the man across from him. The rise of a fighter from humble origins, the fall of a fighter from the promontory of his fame and prestige and power, the struggling to get back, the fighter who has fought too long, who recognizes his own slowness and is either too punch-drunk or too hungry or thirsty or addicted to let go of the hope of the last fight, the pain being the high and the high being the pain.

But you realize you’re adding nothing new at the end of the day. The same things you’ll write about the kids at that New Haven gym who break out, that crop of fighters, were written about the last crop, the Adrien Broners and the Andre Wards and the Gennady Golovkins, the same things that were written about Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, the same things that were written about Tyson, the same things that were written about Joe Louis and Joe Calzaghe: that marriage of man and brutality and what it says about all the people watching. For a boxer never boxes in isolation. Even a parking lot fight draws a crowd. Even a vendetta fight in a back alley has an audience, albeit sometimes one of feral cats and sewer rats and garbage bags and piss water.

You know there’s beauty in it somewhere. The sweet part of the sweet science. And sometimes you check yourself and your bloodlust and remember to look for it, for that exhibition of magical physicality that you see in every other sport. Sometimes, it’s the balletic footwork. Sometimes, it’s the perfectly timed counterpunch. Sometimes, it’s the shoulder roll that dodges the shot aimed at the head and has it bouncing over the shoulder. And sometimes that beauty is what happens off the canvas. Sometimes, it’s Ali throwing his gold medal into the river. Sometimes, it’s Tyson and Cus D’Amato around a kitchen table gathering and imparting the type of wisdom one carries in one’s pockets while throwing a haymaker and while taking the subway. Sometimes, it’s friends and family cheering from the otherwise empty seats in Barclays as the kid they know, their brother, their son, their uncle, has his first fight in Brooklyn’s shiny new stadium. Sometimes, it’s that trainer in a gym in New Haven sweeping a floor in a gym where he coaches highschoolers trying to stay out of trouble and provides them with a body to hit on and a voice to listen to when they’ve tired of their teachers and single parents.

You tell yourself this. You tell yourself this because you need to. Because the alternative frightens you more than you can ever imagine.

 

*

 

The gym could be any gym.

There’s no carpet, only the rubber flooring against which your sneakers stick when you don’t lift your feet high enough. Lights flicker on in rooms further down, illuminating the heavy bags for your hooks and the pear-bag for your uppercuts and short jabs and straights.

Rusted weights rest against walls where yesterday’s folks neglected to hang them back on their pegs. The air is stale but not all the way gone. Yesterday hangs like a fog around you and the owner as he goes about checking the place to make sure none of the weight stations are broken or too rusted over to work.

The bags are utterly still and so are you.

The day is still beginning and neither of you has been hit yet.

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