All I could hear was my breathing. Like a bull, trapped, trampled, stuck, my breath in and out, in and out.
For one second I wondered if that’s all anyone else could hear. But then Heather threw her first punch, and everything around me fell away. All the cheering, all the friends, the strangers, the cars, the sunset, the humidity, it melted away out of the corners of my eyes, until there was just a blur of darkness at the edges, Heather in front of me, and my breathing.
I threw up twice yesterday. I cried twice, too. The discomfort of knowing I had committed to something I didn’t want to do, in my mind believed I couldn’t do.
A boxing fight, three rounds, 2 minutes each.
Weeks ago when my coach approached me I took it as a moment to grow, to step outside my comfort zone, to use my body for good. But as it crept closer, that tight knot in the pit of my stomach began to expand. My coach told me it was going to be technique only, no face hits, relax, don’t worry. Then he told me, days before, that’s it’s good for me to do things that scare me, that give me that sinking feeling in my stomach. Sometimes he won’t let me talk, he demands what’s right, and that’s that.
So all day yesterday as I tried to think of ways to bail, nothing came to fruition. I couldn’t do it, couldn’t quit, even though that’s all I wanted to do.
So I cried. Twice.
And puked. Twice.
It reminded me of when I was in high school, giving one on one presentations to the teachers because my fear of public speaking was too big. Then, years later, giving talks to churches around the north east, each time my arms going completely numb, a tingling coming over my whole body, threatening to shut it down. Someone had told me once, “so you’re afraid? Ok, cool, so do it afraid.” So I would go up on stage, on the verge of passing out, and talk about Haiti. It sprang up from my heart and out through my mouth and that was that.
So last night, with my heartbeat pounding in my chest, I did it afraid.
We boxed hard. We put everything into it. Body punches and shoulder punches and hooks and jabs. The occasional slip to the head (my jaw is still popping a bit), and fast feet, circling, moving. Time would be up and we’d sit in our corners, my two coaches squirting water into my mouth, ice on my back, their words sliding over my nerves as they told me what to do next, that I’m doing great, that it’s almost over.
I could hear then so many of my friends and family yelling my name. A stranger to my left points at me while I’m panting, frantically trying to catch my breath, mouths you’re doing incredible. I stare into my coach’s eyes and forget to hate myself. His belief in me pours into me, his confidence, his calm. There’s no tugging at my shirt to hide my belly, no swatting my sweat away, no fixing my pants. It’s just me, and this body, here.
We do this for two more rounds, each time my arms getting heavier and heavier. When it’s over, and they lift my arm and say my name and tell me I won, I fight the urge to cry. Not from winning, but showing up. For allowing myself the chance to win, or to lose. For doing something while absolutely petrified.
Heather and I hug. We’re sweaty and exhilarated, bruises already forming on our bodies. She whispers she’s so proud of me, and then I do cry, a single tear that slips down and lands on her shoulder. I tell her I love her, because she’s the kind of friend who wants to see her friends grow and succeed, and suddenly I’m overwhelmed by how good this place is, this gym and these people and this opportunity to not live within the confines of my own mind.
As I fall asleep, my body sore and exhausted beyond what I’ve ever known, I listen to my breathing. It’s ragged in and out, crackling from my faulty lungs. And a deep gratitude sinks into me, warming me to sleep. This body did that. This body, is good.