Standing Eight

By Kevin Brown

Originally appeared in subTERRAIN

After commission approval, my right hand is out flat and Sam is wrapping twelve yards of two-inch wide bandage through my fingers in a standard figure eight.  After this, he tapes it up with twelve feet of inch-wide surgeon’s tape, and, with a commission representative watching, makes sure to stay an inch from the knuckles.  He says to make a fist, then sticks a tube of nasal spray in each of my nostrils, squeezes, and tells me to breathe.  He smears a wad of Vaseline over my cheekbones and around my eyes to keep punches from twisting skin and cutting.  With me this is necessary, since I’ve become what fight analysts call a “bleeder.”

Three fights ago, I’m 38-0 with thirty-one knockouts.  I’m IBF/WBA World Champion in three different weight classes, then I catch a head butt in the third round against Napoleon Forrest and score a draw on the cards.  In the next two fights, I’m knocked out in under nine rounds by fighters I’d usually forget.  I go from what the newspapers called the “best pound-for-pound fighter in the world” to what they now call “diminished.”

Before she moved out, my wife told me, “Those papers don’t know how right they are.”

The representative initials my taped fists and Sam slides on my ten-ounce gloves.  I start to shadow box in front of the mirror, and after a few minutes, the Vaseline heats up and gets slimy.  Sam walks over, his palms held out in front of him mime style, an arm’s length away.

“Jab, jab,” he says.
I throw two left taps at his right hand, jab, jab.
How I feel tonight is how I felt three fights ago.  I shed the fifteen pounds I’d gained to fight in the Light Heavyweight division, back to one-sixty to qualify for the Middleweight class.  Where my career started.
“Jab, right,” Sam says.  “Jab, right.”

My wife Michelle, she left me six months ago, the day I signed for this fight with DeCorey Sims to get my title back.  She took a few bags, the Navigator, and our daughter, Asia, to the cabin in North Carolina.

Why she left, it’s what we’ve been fighting about since the first loss.  The standing eight count of my career.

“I had to tell our daughter her daddy wasn’t going to die,” she told me, after my last defeat.  “Though, to be honest,” she said, “the way your head bounced off the mat, I wasn’t so sure myself.”

And since the scar tissue forming around my eye sockets, since I’ve started to open up every time a glove grazes my face, she told me anymore, I’m not so handsome.

“Your face,” she said at dinner one night, “it’s starting to look rough.”

I smiled and winked at Asia, her eyes barely reaching over the plate, and said, “That’s okay, real beauty’s on the inside.”

“Deep as those cuts are,” Michelle said, getting up, “they’re hitting inner beauty, too.”

Sam, starting to sweat, he says, “Jab, jab, right,” and I tap, tap, hook.  Sam says, Duck, duck.

Since training started, I’ve heard from Michelle twice.  The first time was a response to a letter I’d written her from the gym.  What I said, I reminded her I was a Golden Gloves winner in ’86.  A silver medalist in the ’88 Olympics.  That, according to the HBO boxing commentators, I had the best right to the body in the last twenty years.  I told her I came in at the bottom.  I didn’t want to go out that way.

One afternoon during a sparring session, her reply came in the mail.  On it was a crayon picture of our cabin with the lake stretched silver behind it.  On the porch steps, three stick figures were smiling and holding stick figure hands.  At the top were three questions:

What about what the doctor told us?
What about Post-Concussion Syndrome and brain damage?
What about going out a father and a husband?

The second time I heard from her was this morning, when her lawyer handed me a manila envelope at the front door and walked away.




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