(published in Rose & Thorn Journal
My dad bought me a pair of red boxing gloves when I was seven. I would put them on and stand on my bed and pretend I was somebody who would kick somebody's ass. Mostly I was not somebody who would kick somebody's ass. I'm still not. But sometimes I hurt people close to me by accident. I once gave my best friend a black eye with an Atari gaming apparatus. Years later, at my wedding, I got the same friend to put his hand on a scalding hot snifter full of Sambuca. He's still got the scar today. But here's the thing: I stuck my hand on a burning snifter that night, too. Because, you want to know a secret, (which really isn't so much a secret)? I'm best when I'm hurting myself. Pain's always sweetest when it's self-inflicted. And you do it by being careless. Or irrational. Or both. And sometimes there are innocent casualties caught in the crossfire. What I'm trying to say is, if I hurt you, it's not intended. It's just because you were standing too close. Knowing me has consequences.
Around the time I got those boxing gloves, I had a lot of anger about things I had no control over. Like the reality of too-short visits with the one person who made me feel like myself. Two-day bursts of self-affirmation followed by weeks of doubt. Mementos would be purchased when we were together. They weren't necessarily intended to be mementos. But they always turned out that way. And they'd remind me of him for days and days. Like those red boxing gloves. And somehow putting on those gloves helped me feel more powerful and less small. And at the same time they made me sad. And at the same time they made me angry.
And one morning when I was upset because we were about to leave each other again, I put the gloves on and sat on my bed and smacked them together. And he came in that morning and he sat beside me and he smiled the way he did and he made jokes. And I was trying to tell him look, I don't want leaving to be something we do anymore
, like I did every time I was with him. I was trying to tell him, I'm scared of this kind of pain
. But that wasn't a language he spoke. Because he was in the business of letting go. He was in the business of reality. And me, I just had those gloves on. And because I couldn't look at him without crying, I kept looking at the gloves. And he said, "Do you want to hit me?" And I shook my head. And I said, "No." But I did. I did want to hit him. And he fucking knew it.
I still like being careless and irrational, though I'm rarely either. I still like hurting myself. Or finding the right people to do it for me. But I've also learned the language of letting go and how you can use it to fight. It's a language that comes easy as soon as you study it. The grammar. The proper way to construct a sentence. The way this verb fits with this noun. The use of idioms. You start by learning the rules. And then, like with any skill, you learn how to break them. This way, you make the language your own. You develop your own combination of jabs and hooks. One-two-three-cross-hook-uppercut.
You learn what works and what doesn't. You develop a style.
It wasn't hard telling Monica
I was leaving. It wasn't hard saying the words as I packed up my shaving gear. It wasn't hard telling her I had no idea when I would be back. That I wasn't even sure I'd be back. She spoke this language, too. And she had her own way of throwing words and landing punches. And we tried a few combinations on each other to see which ones worked and which ones didn't. And it turns out: We were both good at throwing. We were both good at blocking.
Today, I have a pair of boxing gloves I bought myself. They're black. And they don't remind me of anything except the satisfying sound of glove hitting bag. Two or three times a week, I put them on to prove my body can still give and receive punishment. And I'm no longer scared of the kind of pain I used to shy away from. I stand and face it with my lead foot in front. And I throw my shoulder into every jab and cross. And I use my stomach muscles for the body punches and hooks. And even though it's bad technique, I practice with my guard down. Because fuck you
It makes me feel tough. To inflict this hurt on you. On me. In the end it's mostly about me, though. I'm the one who's going to feel it later. And you're just standing too close. And the truth is, it doesn't hurt that bad when we're doing it. Does it? It's a good kind of hurt. The feeling of movement. Of affecting change. The carrying out of a combination. The spitting of breath and words. It's always a couple of days later that I'll feel it: the real
pain. The real
ache. From the ghost touch. The missing smell and closeness. The unsaid words and the absent smiles and jokes. And it never hurts as bad as that.