February 04, 2009
The boy’s blow echoed within and I felt the resistance and then none and I registered the broken nose. My left hook pressed the issue and the boy moved back and in that moment he seemed scared, which shouldn’t have been because I was too old and too weak and too inexperienced and he was young and strong and enjoyed fast hands and true aim. Earlier, before the blows and the blood came I had walked the empty ring and it seemed small and more naked than its fighters and when my shoe marred the white canvas I felt guilty. But after I owned it I didn’t care about the mark or the blood or the sweat and it didn’t feel empty or small. I had wondered how I’d respond to the blows and since all men must know such things I faced the boy who already knew and I prayed for good character. Ships and boxing rings turn around their centers of gravity and I sought the middle, but no battle plan survives first contact so we waltzed a great circle, boxer and puncher, until the last bell when I stopped caring about the blows or the boy or the blood because I knew myself.
The host of this amateur pugilism set the event in an old Air Force Gymnasium. Though untested, I auditioned and made the cut and began to train. My wife said I was too young for a mid-life crisis and my best friend’s wife called me insane. But my best friend, David, and my brother understood my desire and David became my “corner man.” At the end of twenty-four fights that evening, seventeen ended in knockouts and seven fights went to the final bell. Six of those decisions were unanimous. I lost the split decision.
After, I hung my blood-stained towel over my head and walked to the fighters’ room. David asked if I was OK and I grunted. The other fighters would tolerate losing but not gracelessness and I wanted solitude before the evaluation. So while David sought water and ice I entered the bathroom and locked the door. My broken nose was purple and swollen and askew. Adrenalin and drying sweat made me pale and cold. I noted my unclear thinking and I wondered if all boxers felt disconnected after a fight. I was dizzy and nauseous. I threw up. Though I doubted a concussion since I had worn headgear and sixteen-ounce gloves, which are like pillows, I switched the light off and then on and I watched my pupils dilate evenly. I vomited again and then I blew my nose, which sent blood splattering across the ivory counter. After three rounds of mental effort and nervousness and physical abuse and swallowing blood I welcomed the nausea and the purge. When David returned he expressed his concern through a closed door and I faked cheeriness and assured him that I was well. Still wrapped with the enviable white tape and gauze of a fighter, I used my hands to wipe the blood off of my face and the haze off of the mirror and then I placed one hand on either side of my nose – index fingers tight along the sides and middle fingers meeting across the bridge – and I pulled down as hard and as far as I could and then I straightened my separated nose and let it retract. Swelling, exhaustion, and nervousness deadened my pain perception but not my hearing and it was the crunching and grinding sound that echoed through my sinuses and bothered me in the same way that sand between my teeth causes my body to shudder. As my hands steadied and the nausea left and the pain arrived I wiped away the blood and left the bathroom to return to the fighters’ room and to receive David’s gifts of ice and water and beer.
The second fight was a knockout and the loser was sitting alone and shaking and moaning while his shattered nose gushed blood and his eyes swelled with tears. I sat down and David began to cut off my wraps and I looked at the kid.
“I think my nose broken. Is it broken?” His eyes darted and his voice was shrill and he began to cry and I realized that more than just his nose was broken and I hated him and his crying as I saw the other fighters turning their backs and leaving the room. I told him that his nose was broken and that he should pinch it and lean his head back but he wailed and panicked and started to sob and he didn’t pinch his nose so a large clot fell out and onto his shirt.
Before the ring and the bell and the blows and the blood I had worried about my character. But after I knew my character and I knew the kid’s character I did not want to be near him because we were not the same because he had failed and I had not. The kid asked for a medic, so when David finished cutting one of my hands free he looked for a doctor and I handed the kid a bag of ice and left to rejoin the fighters and to find David.
As I walked toward the door, another fighter stopped me. “Hey man, good fight. Make sure to hold up your head out there – you did good.” Then we both looked back at the kid who was sitting alone.
The disgusted fighter turned away. “Pussy.”
“Yeah.” And I headed to my seat, feeling younger than I felt the day before.