Sunday, February 11, 2007

Boxing in the Floodplains, Part III

After several practices I had come to resemble a boxer-in-training. My jab was tight - twisting on contact to inflict the most damage, my crosses and uppercuts were solid and strong. The heavy bag swayed wildly under my combinations, a satisfying change from the slight tremors my first few punches inflicted. The boys laughed less at me and instead mocked the fat kid that started practicing with us. At him they laughed silently, because he was an Indian and they didn't know what to think about that. This I know because they never mentioned it. They made fun of him for being fat, for wearing hiking boots, for drinking generic Coke, but they avoided the obvious difference. Just like they had with me. They mocked me for hopping, for getting my head caught in the bob-and-weave rope, for sucking at the speed bag, but no mention of my gender. I wondered while I jabbed, how did these boys know tact? I began to think of them like small people then. True teammates of mine.

So I was getting into this groove and I looked forward to each new practice with an excitement I hadn't felt since inter-collegiate athletics. I was part of a team, I was doing something incredibly challenging and I was becoming powerful. I pulled up to our practice shack one hot summer Tuesday and in addition to the coach's beat-up Suburban, there was a motorcycle in the gravel yard. A crotch rocket, they were called, with a slick black helmet resting on the seat. I took my time putting my hand wraps on, sitting in the cab of my pickup. I wasn't ready to commune with a big time boxer, as that's what I anticipated. I knew about the inane behavior of Mike Tyson - the bravado, the psychotic episodes, the facial tattoos. I wrapped the canvas around my scuffed knuckles thinking of all of this.

When I stepped into the dark shack I was not prepared for the tidy young man shadow boxing with the boys. He was wearing a pair of nice jeans and clean white t-shirt. You wouldn't call him particularly big, a lightweight fighting at 132 lbs. But he was a Golden Gloves winner, and he was adored by the boys. They climbed on his back and tried to sucker punch him while he talked to our coach. He grew up fighting in this little shack and the coach didn't fawn, although he very well could have. This manchild had done good, and was looking at a professional career. He had come back to talk to the boys, and to spar with them. Us, I mean. To spar with us. He shook my hand and looked me in the eye when we were introduced and after suggesting I spar with him later, he respectfully noted that the wrap on my left hand was a little loose.

I'll cut to the chase: he hurt me. I watched the boys go their three, three-minute rounds, a flurry of tanned arms and giant leather gloves, and I vowed to be methodical. Look for my openings, defend myself, bob, weave, box smart. But that's not what happens. Troops go into war trained and tight, then it all goes to hell when bullets fly. It's the same. Jesse, that was his name, he held his hands low, inviting me to jab at his nose. He didn't even wear head gear. So I did. I jabbed at that pretty nose of his like a crazy woman, and each time I did, he slipped my punch and tagged me full in the face with a tap. He pulled his punches, tapping me, as you would tap a person sitting in your seat on an airplane, only his taps produced a trickle of blood from my nose. He apologized and was genuinely sorry, and I was too. It was the most humbling experience I'd ever had at a sporting event. At any event, in any venue. The disparity in our skill, strength and speed was Happy Gilmore vs. Bobby Fisher. Roseanne Barr vs Mary Lou Retton. Not only was blood trickling from my prissy little nose, but my arms again experienced heretofore unkonw levels of fatigue. And I don't think any of my punches touched him. Pain and humility, again.

Before I left, Jesse shook my hand again, and encouraged me to continue training - he said I had a nice quick jab. It's a compliment I still carry with me like a rabbit's foot. The boys were also floating from his encouragement, and we all left the shack that day basking in the glow of Jesse.

(Part IV, The Finale, up next)


Anonymous DD said...

I eagerly await the finale.

now... back to work!

2/11/2007 10:23 PM  
Blogger Oh, The Joys said...

Wow. I could never do it. I have wimpy arms.

2/12/2007 5:26 AM  
Anonymous TB said...

Wouldn't that be the Main Event?

2/12/2007 9:05 AM  
Blogger meno said...

i really like the part about teasing, but ignoring the main, obvious difference. That rings very true.

2/12/2007 7:34 PM  
Blogger Tink said...

My God woman... You write beautifully.

2/13/2007 11:04 AM  
Anonymous kathie said...

Hey, Mignon, I started to read this and stopped. I'll stop back tomorrow to start at the beginning. What I did get through looked awesome! Can't wait to read more.

2/13/2007 6:36 PM  
Blogger mamatulip said...


2/14/2007 4:39 PM  

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