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Paula Sophia Schonauer, LCSW, continues a serial memoir. If you haven’t read the earlier parts of this series, follow the links at the bottom of this page.

“Force has no place where there is need of skill.” 
– Herodotus 

Later that week, I rode my bicycle by Michael’s house and saw him lifting weights in the driveway.

He had pulled his bench press outside of the garage and was laying on the bench getting ready to lift the bar loaded with three big weights on each side of the rack.  Another high school guy from the neighborhood stood over him to spot the lift. I watched from the edge of the street, not wanting to interfere, afraid of the other guy, who I thought might be hostile to my presence. 

Michael lifted the bar off the rack while his buddy made sure Michael could balance the load before attempting a full bench press. Michael breathed in and out three times, exhaling audibly. He lowered the bar to his chest, groaning as he attempted to push the bar back to the starting position. The bar did not rise very fast, but it made steady progress until Michael made a defiant grunt, pushing the bar until his elbows locked. His buddy guided the bar back to the rack. Once secure, Michael released the bar, sat up triumphantly, and clapped his hands.

“Damn, Donut! That’s three hundred,” the spotter said.  

Michael was known in the neighborhood as Donut, presumably because his last name was Doughty. To me, the name Donut seemed like an insult, nowhere near appropriate for a guy as big and athletic as Michael. 

Since the confrontation with Tommy, I had a sense of hypervigilance when I went out and about in the neighborhood. Tommy was almost never alone, either walking with his older brother, Tim, or hanging out with the junior high boys who had bullied me so much during the school year.

I glanced down the street and saw several boys walking off the front porch of Tommy’s house. One of them pointed my way, and they turned as a group, walking in my direction. 

I had time to ride my bicycle home, but I didn’t want to hide in the house while the boys taunted me to come outside, risking Dad’s complaints or interrupting Mom’s nap, arousing her anger. Then, I remembered Michael’s offer to teach me boxing. I rode up the driveway, cautious to make sure I had enough room to turn around if Michael and his buddy looked bothered by my presence. 

A chorus of voices raised a protest from down the street. “Smear the queer! Smear the queer,” they chanted. The junior high boys ran to the edge of Michael’s driveway, yelling and taunting, beseeching me to meet them where they stood. 
“What’s up with them, Donut?” Michael’s buddy said.

“Just a bunch of jerks.”

I dismounted my bicycle, legs straddling the top bar, ready to jump on the pedals, but Michael waved me over, a smile on his face. “Are you ready for your first lesson?” 

“Um… yeah,” I said, anything to keep me away from Tommy and his bunch of hoodlum friends.

To be honest, I was very unsure about taking boxing lessons from Michael, afraid he might knock me out or pummel me like the boxers did to each other on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. But, it seemed I had nowhere else to go. Tommy and his friends dared not advance onto Michael’s property, but they kept raising a ruckus, that is, until Michael and his buddy walked toward them, yelling for them to “scram” or get their “assess beat.”

Though they disappeared from the edge of the driveway, I was very sure they lurked nearby, waiting for me to leave Michael’s protective territory. I made mental calculations about how to make it back home, three houses down the block and across the street, contemplating a ride through backyards, over to old man Benson’s driveway, and then darting straight across the street to my house. The danger was palpable. 

Michael must have noticed my discomfort, my darting eyes and shallow breathing. 

“You still afraid of them?”

I nodded. 

“Then, let’s get to work.”

The first thing Michael taught me was how to make a fist. It seemed obvious, but there is more nuance than my ten year old mind could apprehend, at first. I folded my fingers and tucked my thumb inside, thinking that would make my fist more compact, but Michael shook his head.

“Don’t do it that way, you’ll break your thumbs when you hit someone.” 

I opened my hands and refolded them, this time with the thumb outside. 

“Now, your thumb is sticking out too much.”

Discouraged, I lifted my hands and shrugged, ashamed I didn’t know how to do something as simple as making a proper fist. 

Michael took my right hand, folding my fingers into my palm, tucking my thumb beneath my folded fingers, making the part below my knuckle flush with the outside of my folded index finger.. He had me hold my fist out, aligning the knuckles of my index and middle fingers with my wrist, my wrist with my forearm, straight all the way to the elbow. 

“When you hit, you’ll have more power if everything lines up. Otherwise, you’ll hurt yourself.” 

So much to learn, I thought. By the time I get to actually box, I’d be twenty years old. 

Michael placed my fisted right arm near my face, thumb knuckle close to my right eye, elbow tucked close to my side. He took my fisted left hand and placed it further in front, aligning it with my left eye field of vision, again, elbow tucked inside. 

“Don’t flare it out,” Michael said. 

He then told me to put my left foot out front, not too wide. He adjusted my back leg, forcing me to bend my knee slightly, leaning my body forward, left knee slightly bent also. He walked around me, nodding and making approving grunts before placing his hands on my shoulders. 

“Relax, dude.” He forced my shoulders down, jostled me until I was more flexible, not so stiff. After that, he stood in front of me and gently pushed me backward. I almost fell over. 

So awkward. Learning how to fight was not something that was coming natural to me. I envied the guys who seemed so fluid in their movements, like they were born to move that way. 

“I’ll never learn this,” I said, trying hard not to cry. 

Michael smiled. “If you keep practicing, you will. Everybody has to learn it, just like walking and running and riding a bicycle. Did you ride your bike without practicing first?”

I shook my head. 

“And so you’ll learn how to box.” 

Michael’s friend nudged me on the shoulder, but this time I wasn’t so nervous and mostly not expecting it. His hand rolled off my shoulder as I slid to the side, slightly, without losing balance. 

“Good job, that’s the way to do it.”

I wasn’t sure what I had done right, but I was glad to get the praise. 

Michael introduced me to his friend. His name was Jeff, a tall lanky boy with short brown hair, freckles on his face, and braces on his teeth.

“Jeff is a basketball player. Don’t be like him.” 

Michael and Jeff exchanged a couple of friendly shoves. They were so physical with each other, rough with their friendliness. It was something I didn’t understand, and I wondered if some of the rough and tumble interactions I had had with other boys was just playing around rather than bullying, or if the bullying resulted from me not wanting to play like that, marking me a target. It was so confusing. 

Guys insult each other, punch and push each other as a manner of play, and they insult each other, punch and push each other in serious confrontations. It seemed the whole business of being a guy was about fighting. 

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Last Updated August 20, 2021, 9:04 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor