18 months ago you entered the boxing ring an eager new athlete. He is your coach. You are ready and hyped, your new boxing gloves shining, your robe not yet stained with sweat. You've been studying and you want to knock out your opponent in the first round. You want her out of the way. He suggests that you go slow, but you do not listen. Your opponent is swift and is way more experienced. Her leather gloves have a patina from years of fighting and her robe is tattered and you are envious of the stories they tell. You go down immediately with her right uppercut followed by a powerful left hook. He encourages you to stay with it, to keep fighting. He tells you that you are stronger than you realize. He tells you that you are safe. So you get back up, you are still in the game. He is a good coach. You are learning with every new punch. You are learning new words for things and you are starting to understand the dance, the pattern, the defense. You are bobbing and weaving and swaying. You are getting a little stronger so you take some big chances. A relationship ends, you quit your job and go full-time with your art. And your coach is still standing in the corner ready with your towel and water, encouraging you to keep fighting.
The blows keep coming and they seem to be coming from 6 fists, not two. And there is the audience that you didn't notice before. They seem to all be watching you and it makes you paranoid. You wonder why your coach sticks with you and you wonder why are all these people watching? You ask yourself Why am I even here? Sweat and blood mix together forcing you to spit out the salt and you think your nose is likely broken. Your opponent senses your weakness and has taken full advantage of you. And just like in a dream, you are no longer in the ring, but in the middle of a deep ocean at night. You are naked and the water is cool on your bruised skin. It is calming here, the water takes the weight off your sore body. Infinite dark water and an infinite star filled sky. You have been treading water and are overcome with exhaustion. You realize that all you have to do now is to let go. So you stop treading the water and for a moment you float, and then the world goes quiet and the stars disappear. A heavy silence fills you with peace as you gently sink. The water envelops you and your breath leaves your body. It is like no other peace you have felt before.
You wake up in the boxing ring, choking, grasping for breath, drenched in salt water. He is still in your corner and he offers you a small piece of cake as if you were Alice. He says if you eat the cake, when you go to the ocean next time, there will be a raft. So you eat the cake. You trust him and at the same time you don't. He is your coach, but sometimes you question his intentions. You do not understand why he wants to be your coach when you keep getting knocked out.
You are in the middle of the ring now, dry and calm. It's just you sitting on a small stool at your little wooden table. The only light is a warm yellow glow from a desk lamp and you are writing feverishly on a yellow legal pad, ripping the pages out when they get full. You feel you must get your words on the paper so that they can be released from your head. You are filled with an intense energy and you must write. Papers are piling up all around you. The ring is filling up with yellow paper. Words are everywhere; on the ceiling, on your skin, in your glass of water. You share your writing and the crowd cheers. You like that. You share more. Then you wonder if you have shared too much. You start to see faces in the darkness surrounding the ring. They are all watching you. The faces are expectations, obligations and judgments. Then you realize there is no audience at all. It's just a bunch of mirrors. You looking back at yourself. You pick up all the papers and stuff them inside yourself, back where they came from. You have no more words. Blinking cursor. Stillness. You are uncomfortable here. Your worth is wrapped up in your production. You feel you have been fooled. And standing right next to you is your inner child and you cannot look at her. You feel hatred towards her. You have no empathy for her. You are told to speak to her, but you have nothing to say. You know she is just an illusion.
You return to the ocean where you can sink back into the muffled quiet darkness. There is no raft. He told you there would be a raft. You become suspicious. Maybe you should not have eaten the cake. You are not sure of who you are anymore. You are a mother and you need to get back to the ring and fight because you have to fight for your son. But this quiet place, there is so much relief here, even if it's hard to breathe. When you return, your brain feels soft, like a beach ball on a hot summer day. It's hard to form sentences. You don't feel like fighting anymore. You stay low on the mat. You tell him you don't want to fight anymore. But your opponent shows up strong, ready to fight, every single time. So you just leave your body in the middle of the ring and let her do what she wants with it.
You are supposed to be watching a red dot at the end of a stick as she moves the stick back and forth slowly across your vision. She asks you How do you feel in your body? And when you notice the pain, you just leave it behind. You do not know how to stay with the pain. So, like you always do, you leave your body and the pain and you watch yourself from above. You see yourself there on the mat, pretending to follow the spot. You return when the chime rings and you feel shame for leaving when you were supposed to stay.
Your coach is still in your corner. He tells you that he can't be your coach forever and you feel rejected. He is going to leave just like everyone else does. You tell him that you are scared and he reassures you that he isn't going anywhere. So you keep showing up to the mat. You trust him as much as you can.
It's 5:47am and you've just finished lifting weights at the gym. It's dark outside and you see yourself reflected in the glass window as you walk uphill on the treadmill. Your mind plays tricks on you and sees things that aren't real. It makes you freeze up and it makes your heart race. You do not understand what is happening. It's 3:30 in the afternoon and you decide a bath will relax you, but when you dip your toes into the warm water, your heart begins to race and your body tenses up. You hear yourself say out loud you are safe, you are here NOW and that makes you feel like things have gone too far. You feel crazy. You listen to the bubbles slowly dissolve on your skin. It's 1am and you awaken paralyzed from a dream, terrified of your own imagination. This is ALL just a dream. None of this is real. Everything is a lie, a construct.
You can't trust him and you can't trust yourself. You eat more cake. You want the cake to save you. You eat the cake until you are full and one day you wake up and you are in the middle of the ocean, floating on the raft, an umbrella protects you from the sun. The sky is blue and crisp. You can see land and you feel safe and protected and hopeful. You relax and smile. You are filled with ideas and are excited to reach the shore. You have plans for the first time in months. You wonder where you have been all this time. Your ideas make you feel high.
When you reach the land, it's just the boxing ring again. Your opponent laughs at you. It was her who threw you all the ideas at once, like breadcrumbs, knowing you would pick them up. It was a trap. She filled you with a false sense of joy only to lure you back to the ring because she thrives on the fight. She has been waiting in the ropes for you, watching you wear yourself out. She is cunning, but she is also threatened by your willingness to keep fighting. Behind her laughter is intimidation. You keep getting slammed back and forth between the ring and the ocean, the taste of saltwater always on your lips. Paranoia, embarrassment. Regret. Confusion. You wonder, have I regressed? You keep showing up despite yourself.
You keep showing up. He isn't there as much as he used to be, but he is still around. You know he has other athletes to coach. You know you need to learn how to do this on your own. You keep getting your face smashed in. Your opponent is amping up her game, throwing insults at you that you have heard over and over again, convincing you that you will never win. Through your swollen black eyes you notice he has returned to your corner and you watch his lips say this is your choice.
You are numb. You are questioning why you are doing this to yourself. What's the point? You seem to have lost your way. But the numbness lets you take more hits. You have filled your water bottle with gin. It gives you instant relief, a deep sigh, a letting go. It's like sinking, but you are just sinking into the mat. You are getting punched over and over and you look towards him again and again and he says this is your choice. You are choosing to numb yourself. You are choosing to let her win because you are afraid of not knowing yourself without her beating you up all the time. He tells you it's your choice to continue to be defeated and you are suddenly filled with anger. You do not want this to be your choice. You are getting beaten up and you want to be saved. You want to be a victim. You are not in control of your opponent. He shakes his head....yes you are.
So here you are again, alone in the middle of the ring. Early morning darkness is pierced by chirping crickets, the end of summer is nearing. Your alarm goes off, but you have already been up since 2am. You are not sure where you are at, besides right back where you started. You are licking your wounds, startled by an early morning dream that jolted you awake with rage.
Recently he asked you a question that irritated you and you investigated the agitation. You are always trying to understand where it all comes from. But sometimes the constant questioning, the researching, the swaying, bobbing, the parring, blocking and clinching- you don't know how to let it all go. So you just keep holding on while your opponent picks you up and slams you back down, treating you like a rag doll. Your body goes limp. You feel defeated once again. She waits in her neutral corner with a smirk on her face. He is still in your corner but you question for how long. You imagine he is getting just as tired as you are. You glance over and without looking directly at him, you see him nod his head...this is your choice. She is not going to stop fighting you unless you take off your gloves. Do you have the strength and the courage to take off your gloves and step out of the ring?