Thursday, August 21, 2003

when the gloves come off
for Rita (2-3 2KO)

They had called me a man once, for wanting to fight, to fight for money. I remember the first time they let me into a ring against another person. It was a guy. I was the only woman in the gym. I didn't do this for the "exercise." I wasn't a part of the kickboxing cardio class. I wanted to fight. It's about the competition. It's about picking yourself up, about fighting past the pain. He didn't want to hit me. He was a good kid. Got raised right by his mama not to hit girls. He let me have a few blows, but when I stunned him with a right cross, the pools of light in his eyes shifted. It was about honor, about manhood, about not getting beat by a girl. Each hit came down in a deep thud. It was all I could do but ride the ropes and take it.

I don't remember the punches hitting. I don't remember the sweat stinging my eyes. I don't remember the sounds of the crowd. I don't remember seeing his face. I don't remember leaving the ring. I don't remember the doctor. I don't remember the ice bag. I just remember lying down in the locker room feeling like I fell out of the sky, like the fallen angels.

Later, complete strangers would show grave concern over my slightly closed eye. "Are you having problems with your boyfriend?" "Here, this phone number is completely anonymous." "How long has this been going on?" I didn't have the heart to tell them, "I told him to hit me."

My partner knows the routine of the 3 "I's": ice bags, iodine, and ibuprofen. Even the slightest touch from her softest hands makes my body wince. In the ring, my body was numb, but here now it retells each blow and I cry like watching a good drama serial. I know she wonders "why?" and the only answer I can give is, "because I have to."

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