The Limits of Control

Southpaw Still

They call this dancing, what you’re doing, but they’re only partly right. He moves left, you move right—no, left—no, it was right.  Most of the time your two bodies are in a sort of harmony, until a gloved hand makes hooked contact with your lower jaw. You bet that’ll look impressive in slow motion: lower jaw starting to move before the rest of the skull, which itself can be seen moving just slightly before the skin attached to it, letting people see its real shape for once; then the expanding ripple across your face (you really are seventy percent water, aren’t you?) sending your lower lip careening around in the same arc your teeth now trace, but at a bit wider radius. This is not the time to be thinking about this, though, right as he’s about to—yes, exactly, footwork footwork footwork.

You’re on the brink, aren’t you? This is what you’ve agreed to do, though. You’ve agreed to throw the fight. Typical. Why did you—oof, you may want to get a quick PET scan on your liver when this is all said and done. Get him with a few quick jabs. May as well make it look realistic, and besides this guy seems like a bit of a dick anyway. Why they had to pick a guy you could walk over any other day… As if it’s not bad enough that there’s more for you in losing than winning. This is you at your most useful: an assistant, a footstool for someone’s success. And you know it, and he knows it, and so do they.

God that’s loud. You now have one minute, before another three. Enswell on the cheekbone, cold wet towel around the eye, swab of adrenaline, you watch your cornerman make exaggerated gestures as if he’s encouraging you, while in a low, steady, unfeeling voice you hear “remember what you’re doing, and why. Focus on the long game. This is better for you in the long run.” You try to remember. There was some sort of moral imperative that made this the right thing to do. Someone somewhere is probably counting on you. Or is it better to focus here and now? Somebody somewhere would probably be disappointed in you. Don’t worry. This is probably just a metaphor anyway.

You’re back up, you realize a second after his first punch. This is the round. A whole lot of people get rich if you go down now, and you’ll make rent. You keep thinking about other things (like this). It’s coming faster than you thought, the brink. You know you could beat him, and so does everyone that matters. It’s not that sort of pride that makes this scary. Bob and weave, yells an ignorant spectator. It’s that for this to happen you have to let yourself get to a point where you couldn’t win. You will be in control until that point—you’re the one choosing to go there—but beyond that you’re staring down the barrel of whatever this guy decides to throw at you, and as you’ve already decided, he’s a bit of a dick. You let an uppercut through. It has no nerve endings, but your brain probably pressed into the sharp part of the skull behind the eyes. He feels more than an arm’s length away. He’s not.

Again you realize, this is it. You get to find out if you can let this happen to you: if you can let yourself not be the one letting anything. If you can watch this straight right come in at eye level and do nothing. If you can watch the canvas race toward you, and convince yourself: it will catch you; it will all go quiet, and there’s no more pain, no fear.