Last week, I again practiced some defense against The Most Interesting Man in the World. While his technique is pretty well all over the map and I’m not allowed to hit him back, the flurry of hard hits was useful in that I was able to work on shelling up and being a moving target. Also, he’s the only person I’ve moved around with who comes close to delivering truly, literally stunning hits, which is probably good for me, not just for working on avoiding those hits, but for not getting off my game when they happen. (Or it could be that it’s just feeding my Jake LaMotta impulses, but let’s not assume that’s what that is.) See, TMIMITW is not practiced at pulling his punches, and he’s a big guy with a martial arts background, so everything he throws …well, it hurts.
After our fourth round, I was starting to figure out what I needed to do, and I wanted one more round. TMIMITW was okay with that, so we got back into position. Naturally, that was the round in which he managed to sneak a wild uppercut right through my defense. I knew it was hard because I teared up and felt my nose start to run a little. Then a second later, my trainer stopped us. Yeah, my nose was not actually running – not the way I thought it was, anyway. I still didn’t quite get it until I looked down at my shoulders and gloves and realized I looked like I’d just been standing in the backsplash from those elevators in The Shining.
In at least one boxing memoir I’ve read, there are multiple sparring scenes where someone gets clocked in the face and there’s a big crunching sound and massive gushing, which suggests that this is something I may have to look forward to as my sparring gets more intense (on the other hand, I watch a lot of pro fights and while there’s almost always blood at some point, something that extreme pretty much never happens in the ring, so maybe these scenes were exaggerated for dramatic effect). But my own first blood was not that. My nose is not broken. Blood was in splotches and dabs all over me, but there wasn’t actually that much of it coming out of me. The bleeding stopped in a minute or two and I felt fine the whole time, and I spent a couple of minutes in the locker room scrubbing it off of my gear, and that was it. My trainer seemed a little horrified, and the guy who hit me was even MORE horrified, but I was relatively sanguine about the whole thing (if you’ll pardon the pun). A few times over the past week it’s started up again a little, and my trainer got it going again this morning with just a light tap, but I’m none the worse for the wear.
I think I already knew this, but what this all points to is a sense of fearlessness that I think is one of the most important things I’ve been grasping at since I’ve been boxing. When I was a kid, I was a very anxious and afraid kid, regardless of whether or not there was any actual danger. I’ve always wanted to not be afraid, and to know that I could handle it if someone DID hurt me. I got punched in the face and bled all over myself, and I basically just rinsed it all off and went to work. Life continued exactly the same as it would have had I not been punched in the face.
All of this served me well this past week when I was forced to confront my number one worst fear of living in New York City. Last Monday, we were served with a notice that our apartment had bedbugs. We hadn’t seen any bites or other signs, but (after I spent most of the first evening drinking and crying) we spent our weekday evenings, and our Labor Day weekend, dutifully laundering and bagging all of our clothing, packing our possessions into plastic bins, and generally T.C.B. in preparation for the exterminator. I had an action plan drafted within 24 hours of receiving the news.
I feel like maybe a year or two ago, I might have responded to this catastrophic news not with a sense of purpose and direction, but with several more days of crying and drinking. But this time I knew that I had to take the thing that was staring me in the face and defeat it, and going through it would certainly suck, but someday it would be over and I would have defeated it. I’m not saying I didn’t have moments of feeling overwhelmed, or that we didn’t need to take frequent breaks over the course of the weekend, but overall, we did not shy away from this confrontation. We took the hit, we kept on moving, and we did what needed to be done.
After several days of cleaning and packing fury, as well as several hundred dollars’ worth of bedbug prevention supplies, the exterminator and dog returned to re-inspect. Turns out the few dead bugs we’d seen were carpet beetles, and neither man nor dog could find a single sign that there were any other unwanted guests in the place. But it isn’t to say that our efforts were wasted. Our next-door neighbors, we learned, weren’t so lucky, so we’re still taking every precaution for a few weeks just to be absolutely certain the bugs don’t move over to our place. For now, though, I am cautiously optimistic that we have defeated my most feared enemy and will continue to hold them off.
I’m not afraid of being punched in the face. I’m not afraid of any goddamn bedbugs. Life will go on.
(Oh yeah, and today’s my birthday, and I’m not afraid of getting older, either.)