Shadowboxing

I start with the handwraps. It always starts there.

Sometimes before stretching and warmups, sometimes after. But always, when I’m up in my room, preparing to go down and do it, I look at the wraps, almost feel them around my hands, and the anticipation builds. Of physical exertion, of release, of… what else?

The wrapping is routine, is rote, is part of that preparation. I can almost hear it then, as the tape goes around my wrists: the sound of glove on bag, the almost savage ‘whack’ that seems so out of place anywhere else but so right, there, in that moment.

***

I have a punching stand downstairs. It’s weird mentioning this to people, and I get why. I’m not exactly the spitting image of a man, let alone someone as physically imposing as a boxer. About a hundred and fourty pounds soaking wet, and best described as ‘wiry’ (term and accent copyright Colm Meaney of the Replacements).

I could give you the straight answer about it being a fun way to work out- which it is, don’t get me wrong- but as with a lot of things, it’s not as simple as that.

I’ve been fascinated by the idea of boxing as a literary device for a while. A character I’ve written used it as a release, as an outlet for frustrations he couldn’t express elsewhere. As a quiet, thoughtful sort, I’ve wondered about the ramifications of this, chewed it over since I got it last year.

Was it life imitating art when I got it? Or was the character an expression of something I was looking for an outlet for? Was he my frustrations, embodied in prose?

***

I slide the earbuds for my iPod into my ear, and close the door. It’s strange that I always close the door, because the sound probably travels. I can’t imagine a scenario where Colette doesn’t hear it if she’s downstairs, or even Dennis up at the computer, the deep sound resonating through walls in some form.

Is that the illusion of privacy, as I stretch out, letting the music drown me, in that room? Do I need to feel sealed away, apart from the world and it’s trappings, from the man I am out there?

I close my eyes as I sit down, and reach for my feet, feeling the tightening pull of muscles not used to exertion, to being pushed further.

***

“You’re quiet,” she said. She wouldn’t be the only one to say it that weekend.

“Yeah,” I told her, with a smile that didn’t quite fit. I was overthinking things, as is my wont. Work and life had drained me, to the point where I could barely muster conversation on a Saturday evening.

It’s another thing that draws me to boxing: the simplicity of it. I don’t overthink there. I can’t possibly. It’s simple: Punch once, or twice. Left, or right. High, or low. Feel the primal rush of an impact (against a punching stand that, admittedly, didn’t do much to deserve it’s fate).

Let things go for a while.

***

Stretch, and warm up.

You don’t go after the bag right away: that’s not how you do it. Anyone rushing into any kind of workout like that is going to botch it.

You start slow- weight on the balls of your feet, light as you dance around for a bit.  Punches are deliberate, and against the air at first- extend, elbows in, straight and true. The shadow on the wall moves with me, faster as we get loose.

I’m not practicing to really box, to be in a ring. I’ve no intention of being in there. I prefer it this way. Here, I’m only fighting myself.

***

I got a variation on the “You’re an awesome guy, but…” speech from a gal the other day.

I’m not sure how I was supposed to feel. Sad, for certain… this was a relationship possibility that wasn’t THERE, per se, but something I wanted to get there. That was something we’d both wanted, at some point. There was no wrong about it: certainly a lot of reasons we weren’t going to work right now. In our recent exchanges, we spoke of time and commitments and distance and all that, reasons for not doing it that were correct, rational, and logical in every way possible. It wasn’t an end, as I’d seen in prior relationships. It might be, but that wasn’t certain.

The handwraps weren’t as tight that evening when I went downstairs, numb in some ways, even as I’d been bracing myself for that possibility for some time. It wasn’t with the bare frustration of helplessness, of not being able to do anything about it. I’d felt that before, with this, and this wasn’t it’s place. So what was this, when I went to work the bag that night? Did it signify anything? Would the writer in me find the meaning?

Or was this just another round?

***

The gloves come on, and I clench my hands inside, testing the fists. Tap the gloves together, check the distance to the bag. Gloves up, eye level, and I stare it down.

Then we go. Left. Right. Then, left AND right, in succession quickly, in rhythm. The impact of it is a satisfying feeling, in a way I can’t adequately explain.

I feel the burn in my arms after a while, and I step back. Perhaps shifting, sliding on the carpet, as if I was in a ring, ducking and weaving from an opponent I would see there. I work the bag off and on, varying the workout and intensity as I go, not wearing myself down. I’m still the skinny guy, after all.

I squat for a while, letting my arms hang and loosen again. I can see my shadow, lower now as we catch our breath together. Here, the thoughts almost catch up with me, with the intensity having dropped.

I stand up to begin again. Tap the gloves, move to the bag, my hands up, starting with the left. There will be time enough for the thoughts later.

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