'Twas the night before Christmas, with yesterday spent boiling a mouthpad--twice, to sink those molars--and being hit, and hitting. Not your normal holiday preparations, but then again today is hardly usual for us. A sick kid is in the next room. Your average winter cold is ominous for the diabetic, and we had communicated with the on call endocrinologist twice before lunch. Next stop is the ER for IVs, he said. Merry Christmas.
The line up was such at boxing class that I'd be sparring the teacher. "Oh man," Chad exclaimed, knowing what Emily could be like. "You're in for it." I had figured I'd be up against either a smaller, older man in the class or Emily, and it's saying something that I preferred the man.
The preparation for being alone with your opponent and your wits requires people: the boxer is helpless to put on the gloves or the headgear. I stood as a fellow classmate pulled the headgear down over my face, was able to do nothing about the uneven squeeze, unable, even, to point it out, my mouthguard hindering speech.
Emily began gently, as she had done with each pair (I was last to spar, and had already endured 15 stair runs, an ab workout, and several rounds on the bags). Typically sparring shouldn't take place for many months of training, but we wanted to finish our eight weeks with a bang, if without thorough lessons in strategy.
Just your jab, she'd say, then two jabs and a cross. The other pairs negotiated, whereas I would punch Emily's gloves, as she had gone without a mouthguard in order to talk. I carefully followed directions, punched away her jabs, circled with her, and then she came after me.
If I know Emily, she was teaching me to slip and get away, to keep my guard up, but she was doing this by thumping on me. Without a clear view (I was without my glasses, and getting punched), I started swinging her way. Forget technique, was my approach, I need to put an end to this.
I had wondered how my instincts would present themselves. Take a beating? Cower? Lean into my opponent's punches like I did the first class? Proudly I can report I did no such thing. With form and power but lacking still in strategy, I deflected what I could and tried to hit where there was an opening.
Emily allowed me to go for her ribs. Two--three--four. Hooks to the body are unlike hooks to a bag. Stuff in the way! Gloves hitting back! I did my best. And then came the next beating.
The round ended with Emily asking, "Do you have anything left?" and my answer "I don't know." (George Foreman on his 1974 bout with Ali: By the seventh round, I was tired. I hit him in the stomach and he said, "Is that all you've got, George?" And I’m thinking, "Yup.")
What a question, what's the answer? I'm employed in the fitness department of a gym; I know words like endurance, conditioning, anaerobic exercise, but I don't have a way to describe what boxing does to me. Did I have anything left physically? It was hard to breathe, and all systems were starting to shut down; I felt like crying from exhaustion. And mentally? Everything in me wanted the suffering to stop. I wasn't hurting from being hit, but rather from the work it takes to throw, take, and deflect punches. You can see how boxers get to the point of asking that the gloves be cut off.
She motioned for David to remove the headgear and gloves he had put on me just a few minutes before. How long ago? Chad came up to me and said, "She made you spar longer than anyone. You were out there over five minutes." There's a reason for three-minute rounds, but Emily has this philosophy of taking people to their brink, then asking for five more seconds. In my case, this totaled out to five minutes.
After I sat in a daze for a few minutes on the floor, I was fine. In fact, I was unsatisfied with the feeling I hadn't been entirely spent, as after a typical class, so I headed down to the weights and did my back routine. And I wondered: why is easy not enough? Why is being pushed to the max attractive? The next session of this class wouldn't start for a few weeks, leaving me to wonder what I'd do without the chance to dangle over the precipice of what's left.
Easy never feels right to me. Comfortable is not comfortable. The boxing--no one's making me do it. The diabetes, however, has been forced upon us. Not easy or simple, it's an opponent without fear. Dancing round the ring, mocking, in the three-minute round that lasts a long, long time.