I told everyone I could about the first time I got punched in the face. I was excited because I was tired of people telling me I wasn’t a real boxer until I took a hit.
I can thank the double-end bag for helping me hit the milestone. This tiny little devil is a melon-sized bag full of air and humiliation. One of my favorite pastimes is watching the new cocky brodudes try to hit it and see their egos crash harder than a fratboy after his 10th jager bomb.
The bag is both the best way to improve hand eye coordination, as well as the best way to disorient oneself so much that one ends up accidentally punching herself in the face. Which is precisely what I had done.
But no one needed to know that I was the one who punched me in the face. I was working hard to cultivate an air of toughness about myself, which is hard enough to do when you’re typically the only woman in a warehouse full of shirtless ripped dudes.
It was easy to forget that there was a time only a few months ago when I was plenty tough just for simply showing up, considering I was so nervous that first day that I nearly shat myself on the bus ride there.
That first day getting off at the right bus stop provided no comfort, because Google Maps was leading me to a seemingly abandoned warehouse with a sign on it that read Beauty Supply Wholesale Cash & Carry.
Finally realizing that the gym was inside beauty supply warehouse, I walked in to find an industrial fan, a ring, 8 punching bags, a very graphic advertisement for a lotion that reduces ingrown hairs, five shirtless guys doing push ups, and one 50-something-year-old white haired man with a torso built like a brick wall who grunted at me when I said hello.
Despite being terrified both of boxing as well as not knowing where to put my eyes when all around me were shirtless sweaty dudes, (I have a newfound empathy for hetero guys in yoga classes), I knew I had to stay, and had to keep showing up. My doctor had recently diagnosed me with “homicidal rage”, a new chapter in the ever-fun journey that is living with PTSD, and told me I had to find an outlet for my anger before it consumed me.
And beating the shit out of the bags was, indeed, an incredibly effective strategy for managing my homicidal rage. It was so strange and beautiful to be in a space where my anger was no longer a liability. I wasn’t expected to be pretty, friendly, or frankly, even cordial to anyone, I was there to liberate myself through physical exhaustion just like everyone else. It is important for me to note my privilege as a white woman in being able to own my anger, as I have the privilege of not having to navigate the really shitty racialized stereotypes of “the angry black woman” or the “fiery latina”.
I know it’s more polite, especially as a wealthy east coast liberal elitist jewess, to say that zen came for me with the accomplishment befriending the trainer, a not easy human to befriend (which I did, love you Dave!), or with the accomplishment of being able to go four minutes in the ring without feeling like I was going to vomit (which I could).
But really, I can tell you exactly when I found my peace, and there’s nothing polite about it. It was a moment six months in the making.
When I initially came in for my first workout ever there was one other person who happened to be starting that day as well, Alan. Alan had been brought there by a fellow bro who had been boxing for a few months. As I nervously did arm stretches I remembered from middle school PE class waiting for instructions from the trainer, I overheard these two nincompoops say to each other, “How is she planning on box with those boobs?” And then they giggled. Like a bunch of buttheads. And I never said anything to anyone about it.
About six month later, Alan showed up at the same workout as me and I watched him for a few rounds. I realized I could beat the shit out of him. I imagined being in the ring with him, and it became immediately clear how quickly I would dominate him and give him a real whopping.
And I didn’t have to say anything, or do anything. I wanted to hurt no one, including Alan. But in realizing that I could beat this kid’s ass, I had found power. And in my power, I finally found my peace.
I’m never going to fight Alan, hell at this point it wouldn’t even be a fair matchup, but knowing I don’t have to always run and hide, that I have the capacity to slug someone, even if it is accidentally myself, feels like freedom to me.
When it all falls down, I’m a free soul now, can’t nobody take that from me.
For a year, I have listened to this song every day as I enter the boxing warehouse