Things I Learned Getting Punched in the Face
And why it took me so long to stop
I was 29 years old — old enough to know better — and I stood in the blue corner of the ring with my heart pounding and my gloves taped to my wrists. My headgear muffled the voice of my coach and the shouting crowd, though I couldn’t have heard anything over my own heartbeat. Why I had bothered taking pre-workout was beyond me — my adrenaline might as well have been rocket fuel. Fighting to slow my breathing, I clenched my jaw around my mouthguard, but I struggled to draw enough oxygen through my half-healed broken nose. I might pass out before this nightmare starts, I thought.
I’ve heard great athletes talk about that moment of clarity before a competition when their mind quiets, and they visualize their muscle memory in action. I visualized faking a seizure.
If I’d said yes to boxing because I dearly loved the sport, this might be a different kind of story. I’d always been an athlete, and my siblings each excelled at their martial arts of choice. To this day, grappling, wrestling, and ground-fighting are the love languages spoken among us all (usually while we’re standing in line at Starbucks).
I wasn’t a bad boxer. My timing was sharp, I was strong for my weight class, and my amateur record was three and one. But I always knew that my drive to fight was rooted not in passion, but in pathology.
I grew up in Los Angeles where fitness and beauty were status symbols. My parents were actors; my mom was on the TV show Family Ties in the ’80s, and my dad did TV and Shakespearian theater. To say my dad wasn’t emotionally stable is an understatement; he was downright dangerous. But beyond his violence and volatility, it was his misogyny that was most scarring. Between L.A.’s expectations of women and my father’s, I got some rigorous training on what made women valuable or dismissible.
To my father, a woman’s body was an outward demonstration of her internal character. Being thin was a marker of superior self-restraint. Muscle tone showed dedication, and body fat indicated poor discipline. That piece of cake I was eating? I should just tie it under my chin because that’s where it would end up anyway. Maybe Mollie…