Third Place Winner, 2015 Livershot Memoir Contest
About the Writer
Erica Naone’s fiction has appeared in Storyglossia, Every Day Fiction, and more. She owns a wide variety of gloves intended to be used while punching, but sadly has no garage where she could hang a bag. She prefers Girlfight to Million Dollar Baby.
The first time I saw my dad hit someone, the movement was too fast and too slow at the same time. One moment, he was walking, and the next there was blood all over the hallway from the other man’s nose. The blood shone against the white tile floor. I stood there forever while it spread, and the sound of pain the other man made struggled through the thickened air to catch up to me.
In martial arts classes, it seemed like the first thing most girls had to learn was that it was okay to actually hit something. Strike shields aren’t brittle or made of glass. You don’t tap them, you snap your hips and drive right on through.
I never had to learn that, because I already knew.
When I used to call my dad in the middle of the night, he’d tell me about his workout routines. Thousands of sit-ups. Minutes and minutes punching the bag. He suggested plans for me, too—ultimate, impossible, obsessive. I sat down with a calculator to figure out how many hours the sit-ups alone would take.
Later, at the boxing gym, I panted through one-minute rounds, ready to collapse after each one. I could feel the will in my chest, burning down my arms, through my elbows, and into my hands. Still, it only took seconds for my gloves to weigh down my fists, for my feet to stick to the mats beneath me, for the punches I threw to slow down.
I bet my dad didn’t think before he hit. Maybe his hands did it for him, moving as they had practiced to do. That might be what you need to be able to commit crimes, to really hurt people.
“Who are you angry at?” the boxing instructor asked me. My face heated. I’d gotten caught up in feeling the bag rock in the wake of my punches, in feeling the force vibrate all the way up to my teeth. The girls around me weren’t sweating like I was, weren’t grunting. They hadn’t yet learned how to let go that much.
I shook my head. I didn’t feel angry. I felt free.
My dad liked to say he had never been knocked down. He said he’d once been offered a large sum of money to be an extra in a TV show, but when he learned he’d have to fall when the main character punched him, he refused.
Nothing makes me feel stronger than being knocked down.
When I told my dad I’d been going to the boxing gym, he made me promise I wouldn’t get in the ring. I never have.
But I do let people beat me with canes, paddles, floggers, hands, a meat tenderizer converted to an unexpected purpose. I wrap my fingers into fists and don’t move, and later when I look at the purpling evidence of my ordeal, I feel invincible.
When my dad died, I found a pair of pink women’s boxing gloves he’d bought for his girlfriend. I used them at night in the garage, flies buzzing around me under the harsh light of a single bulb. For a moment, I could have been him, shrugging sweat off my forehead and onto the sleeve of my T-shirt. I tried to hide the gloves when she moved her stuff out, because they felt like they should belong to me.
“I don’t hit people,” I always used to say. “I hit things.” No matter how many punches I’ve thrown, my hands don’t move by themselves. I wish I was a badass like my dad, but it turns out I’m a pacifist. I don’t think I’d fight back if attacked, even though I’ve trained enough to have a chance of holding my own.
Then I strapped sap gloves onto my fists and felt a familiar hunger, a contact high I used to get off my dad. The steel-shot weight over my knuckles, the plate reinforcing the palm—I bruised my own body savoring their multiplication of my ordinary force.
I drove home dreaming of finding someone who wanted to be punched, someone who would squeal but smile when I laid into them. Someone who wore a size small like me, who might take a turn with the gloves after I wore myself out.