Emmet Penney '11
And you’re back in it again. Maybe you’ve put on a few pounds since your last bout, but you’re not completely out of shape. You step out of the Boston cold and down the steps, past glass cases of trophies, medals, belts, samurai swords, photos of impossibly muscled men still on the follow-through while their opponents lie limply on the ground at their feet. You shrug off your coat, hang it in your locker. Already, the smell of sweat, the buzz of the boxing clock.
Cripplingly sore. Your whole body throbs on the way to the bathroom. You shower, make coffee, eat a light breakfast. This week you will start to watch footage of your opponent. Your trainer tells you he’s already fought in Vegas, that his body knows not to let the levy break and curse him with the deceptive gift of adrenaline. Over and over you watch him take hits to the face, knees to the stomach; he parries, chokes, and, once, with extreme precision, snaps an opponent’s right-side floating rib in a single concussive kick. But this is nothing, your trainer assures you, Nothing.
On Monday, you step back into the weight room. Your training partners call you bitch, call you pussy, call you faggot or fairy, and threaten to bend your mother over her living room couch and have their way with her—all this to make you heave impossibly heavy weight over your chest, or lift twice your weight up off the floor only to set it down again. Friday afternoon, you wobble out of the weight room for two minutes and vomit in the bathroom. After wiping your face without looking in the mirror you return to their frothing mouths, their violent begging for more.
Without notice, your body has shed its fat. More quickly than the last time. As you peel off your rash guard, then untie your shorts, you see yourself in the locker room mirror. Your thighbones bedight with tear-shaped muscles, your stomach like shards of stained glass cobbled together. Viewed from the front your back muscles flare out like a cobra’s hood. That Thursday your trainer says a single word all day: Anaconda. You practice choking one man after another until you choke someone so hard he pops every capillary in his right eye.
Every morning you take the T from South Station to Alston. A few people gawk at your split lips and black eyes. Some women are repulsed, some are not. You know what kind of woman wants you, but you wonder about the ones who refuse to look at you. You imagine the softness of their bodies, the way they their backs might arch as you trace your tongue along the length of their ribs, or how their lips might kiss every callous accumulated on your palms or every scar cut across your eyebrows. Your trainer demands to know what the fuck is wrong with you when you somehow forget to keep skipping rope when you are supposed to be skipping rope, and why do you keep fucking around with your jockstrap, you ape-ish fuckstick.
This week, your trainer tells you, is shark week. And your training partners begin shark-baiting you on the mat and in the cage. They stroke your ego with feigned weakness, then hammer you with knees to the face or stomach. They threaten to snap your forearms backwards with quick armbars. On Tuesday, the new kid tricks you so badly you almost black out. Your trainer locks you in the cage on Saturday and feeds you a fresh fighter every round—men who resemble your opponent in size, shape, and style. You toil in the shark tank and go weak in the knees in the final round. Without showering, or changing your clothes you head home and pass out in a pool of your own sweat. You wake up in a corona of dried salt in your sheets.
You help your mother with what small amount of handiwork you can. She asks you how the boys down at the gym are doing, though she refuses to watch you fight. But your face. My son’s beautiful face. What if you get hurt? and she holds your face and kisses your forehead. After dinner, you sit in the cold on her front step and recount all the fistfights you got into growing up, the first time you learned to hit back. There are some kids you grew up with you haven’t seen in years. For the rest of the week, you think the name Danny McCoy, and can’t put a face to it until you’re working the heavy bag late one night. The boxing clock goes off—Danny hustled pool in high school and got himself shot up in a parking lot after someone caught on to his scam.
The time in the weight room stops, but now you run stairs at Harvard Stadium with sandbags thrown over your shoulders. You run wind sprints with a snorkel in your mouth until your heart pumps acid. Something’s wrong with the fingers on your right hand—they won’t stop shaking. When you wrap your hands the next day you suck air in through your teeth and try not to wince. The pain in your stomach must be from all the Ibuprofen, you tell yourself.
Now your trainer’s talking travel arrangements to Vegas, organizing hotel rooms with the manager. Still, he sits you down and forces you to watch more videos of your opponent. You’ve seen them so many times you’ve memorized the swirl of black ink around his right shoulder, his daughter’s name across his left ribs, the hand grenade pulsing on his thick neck. When he steps forward like that, your trainer whispers in your ear, just catch ‘em with an overhand right. You practice this: a haymaker, a fist driven hellward.
Your left knee has swollen. An unhealed, torn blister puckers up at you from your hand. You take Monday off, see a doctor who tells you what you shouldn’t and shouldn’t be doing. Nothing’s really wrong, you’re just pushing too hard. Then he tells you when you can expect the bill. First thing on Tuesday: your trainer has you take a sledgehammer to a tractor tire, then push his car around the lot. Posted on your door Wednesday morning: Your rent is overdue. That night you knock out a friend’s mouthguard. He convulses on the floor, unconscious, as you stand panting above him.
No food or liquid after five p.m. Cut the unnecessary carbs out of every meal. No booze. You weigh yourself everyday. All anyone wants to talk about is how much of a pussy the other guy is and how brutal you are. You once folded a man’s thigh onto itself like a piece of licorice; left one fight with another guy’s tooth embedded in your knee. You’re unforgiving. You’re a monster. You’re evil, a Spartan, a psycho, you’re diesel. And you can’t stop looking at your hands wrapped in red, encased in five-ounce gloves.
On the flight to Vegas you can’t stop touching your lips they’re so chapped. When the stewardess offers you water your trainer says no for you. For the past two days you’ve been living on fruit and protein shakes. On the night before the weigh in you don three hoodies, winter gloves, three pairs of sweat pants, and two beanies. Your trainer shuts the sauna door behind you. For two hours you beg, and after three hours total you make weight. The rest of the training camp makes sure you don’t eat. At the weigh-ins, you do the interview, stand on the scale, flex your muscles, stand toe to toe with your opponent. This is all foggy except for the five gold teeth glowing in your opponent’s smile
In the first round you took what he gave and kept coming, picked him up and slammed him down on the canvas—you descended upon him like a Biblical plague, swift and suffocating in your brutality. In the second, he rammed you against the cage and split your eyebrows open with his elbows. You spent the rest of the round holding him close to you, not believing what had just happened. Now, you sit and watch the minute clock. Someone washes the blood out of your mouthguard. The cutman does what he can with your eyebrows, but I ain’t gonna make any promises, kid. And your trainer says this: You’re a hardass, you’re the undertow manhandling the other guy’s ankles, your fists were forged from the flat ends of cinderblocks. His breath hot in your ear, he tells you you’re everything I’ve worked for. And you know that no mouth could ever cradle your name so delicately—not like his, not like now.
About the Author: Emmet Penney '11 was born in Chicago, IL. He now lives in White Creek, NY and spends most of his time reading and writing.