I got home at 10:30 pm and my bottom lip was swollen and dark, my shoulders aching just a little. The tide of fear ran high in me again Friday night and I had to put my thoughts on lockdown in order to make it to ringtime. Just one more small step up this ice-covered mountain, just one more step; I’ll be damned if I let it defeat me. I love being in the ring but I hate the waiting.
I got in with Mark, who is known for his fast jabs and the high explosive sound he makes with his breath with each punch he snaps out there. The way he turns his left over as it accelerates out from his chin is a thing of beauty. He has several years of experience and is a sparring partner whose time you definitely appreciate.
I didn’t feel as heavy and slow as I did last Friday night, but nothing I had matched the lightness of his feet over the canvas. I kept finding myself squared up rather than in position, and my breathing was off. He threw jab after jab after jab in my face; I faded back from a few, ate a few, let a few slip left or right. They didn’t stop, those relentless left jabs. My shots were constantly interrupted, not by tidy parrying, but simply because they encountered a continuous spray of jabs. A few of my own left jabs popped home but his poured out like stormwater from a flooded culvert. One caught me clean and heavy on my still-healing nose and I startled like a deer. “You arright?” Mark slurred through his double mouthguard. I did a mental check.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m good,” I mumbled, feeling some small amount of surprise. I was okay. I was taking heavy fire to the head but I hadn’t allowed a single serious body blow, I had a little reach on him, and I could do this. In fact, I had some shots of my own to deliver. I started leading with my power right, even throwing in a couple of right hooks, a shot I try not to rely on – it’s just too dangerous and leaves you exposed if you’re in with a better boxer.
“Bite down on that mouthguard,” I heard Bonnie shout to Mark from the side. Hah! That meant I was landing a few clean. I bit down on my own mouthpiece and barreled in. The anxiety started sloughing off like sheets of ice sheering off an iceberg. We worked.
My trainer must have caught the feel of my heart rising up because there was only one moment in that hard field of labor when I really shone. Just one, and she was the genesis: “Parry that jab,” she called from the side of the ring, “and return a straight right.”
This is a good combination for me, one that I love, and if I’m quick and thinking and I see or anticipate the jab just right, I can get juice off this move. Serious boxing joy. My whole body wants this one simple gift.
The din and chaos of the gym – the frantic thump of hip-hop in the speakers, the televisions, and the calls and talking of my team ringside all slowed in my ears as Mark’s left white boxing glove floated out like a dove. I tapped it lightly to the inside with my right to slew it off course, and quick as a snake, struck home with power, my hip turning in, my right heel rising up, and my whole body behind the punch. This is what boxing is supposed to be, this is what I’ve been working for. This is right and good and holy.
And the rest was like breaking rocks in a field with a sledgehammer. Just damned hard physical labor with no beauty to redeem it. But I had the moment, I had it in my hands and heart and it sang to me. And it was enough. Enough for one night where I showed up, bit down, and slugged my way through my rounds.
But it isn’t enough for another night: I want more than one moment. I want two, ten, dozens.
I want to get back in the ring.