restricted access Scuffmarks Left Behind
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Scuffmarks Left Behind

Terry, my trainer, loves to pit the men against the women, creating interesting, but altogether unnecessary, gender divisions. Tonight the men are working on endurance, and the women are working punch combinations. The guys pair up and congregate at the far end of the gym, their testosterone slowly wafting in palpable pulsations through the stale gym air. They are going to outclass each other, kick their own partner’s ass. Some shadowbox, examining their form in the floor-to-ceiling mirrors in the front of the gym, while the women gather in a seemingly peaceable circle in the boxing ring. The ring is elevated four feet from the ground like a monument Terry tucked way in the shadowy corner of this abandoned warehouse-turned-gym. I’ve been boxing since I was 15, and at 17, the intensity of the training regimen that used to intimidate me now fuels my sweeping left uppercut and makes each punch pop with enough gusto for the ring itself to jiggle in response. In the ring, each woman is determined to hammer the focus mitts harder, more precisely than the woman next to her. Better form, faster fists. The peacefulness of the circle fades.

When the bell rings, chaos erupts. Techno-dance mixes rattle the antiquated stereo speakers. Karen, Terry’s wife, is screaming, clapping her hands and stamping her feet at the men who are playing “horsy,” a game Terry concocted in which a karate belt is wrapped around one person’s hips while another person takes the reins, applying as much resistance as possible. A test of endurance, a race against the guy next to you, and a battle with your partner, who is trying his damnedest to keep you from moving an inch. The burgundy-color indoor-outdoor carpeting is torn in places, frayed and threadbare like the white belts each man secures around his hip. While the men take the ground war, the women are battling it out on higher ground, in the sweet sanctity of the ring. [End Page 59]

Terry stands in the center of his gaggle of women fighters, rotating from one to the next. His body jerks just slightly with each turn, as though he is a tin man in desperate need of oiling. The focus mitts come together hard and loud. The thuds come faster as each woman furiously attempts to outdo the others—faster, harder, with more verve and style. As Terry shouts odd punch combinations, we are intent on pounding the focus mitts into Terry’s hand, molding cloth and flesh with the heat and ferocity of our punches. The ring, elevated like a shrine, allows a comprehensive view of the men, who groan and grunt their way across the gym. In the ring, Terry occasionally offers a quick jab of criticism—“Don’t wind up so much,” or “You’re dropping your right hand”—before moving on with practiced ease, the ease a doctor uses to slide from patient to patient throughout a clinical day.

Another day, another appointment, another waiting room. This one is equipped with complimentary coffee and huge potted fig trees. Floor-to-ceiling windows allow sun to shine directly onto the indoor flower beds and sprawling ivy vines that crisscross the room. I am Dr. McDonough’s first appointment, and the waiting room is empty and unflinching. The office staff arrive one after the other and frantically scramble to stow their belongings and get their own cups of coffee. My mother and I sit quietly in our seats by the coffee pot, trading expressions of surprise at the staff ’s early-morning tirades. Like a ringside audience, we are splattered with the sweat of someone else’s hard work.

“Ms. MacNamara?” A shrill voice reverberates through the empty waiting room. This woman’s voice circles me like a hawk, and I am half-tempted to sit quietly and pretend the name she squawked is not mine. Perhaps she would think I am hard of hearing and shout my name louder; after all, I’m in a doctor’s office. There has to be something wrong with me.

Dr. McDonough literally bounces into...


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