This was the first scene I cut from the book. It was also my favorite scene! So why did I cut it? Well, mostly because I had already established Josh’s propensity towards violence. And since I had already decided against the subplot where Josh wonders if his own mother had abused him at some point, the Oedipal overtones of the scene just weren’t necessary any more.
In retrospect, I could have easily kept this scene. But now it gets a second life here on the internet. If you read this scene, you’ll probably also want to read “Josh’s Post-Boxing Session with Dr. Kennedy,” “Josh Has Shooting Practice,” and “Post-Boxing Session, Part II.”
The boxing scene comes right towards the end of page 67 in the hardcover edition, where Josh thinks about the New Age therapist his parents had him see.
A year or two into the whole mess, they even signed me up for boxing classes at the Rec Center, thinking that it would help me get my aggressions out. That’s exactly how Dad put it: “He needs something to get his aggressions out.”
Clueless. How clueless.
I was decent at boxing. Not the best, but not the worst, either. I see how it can be called “the sweet science,” because there really is a science to it. The dancing, the taunting, the jabs and feints — there are formulae to all of them, proscribed and prescribed rituals and motions. It was like astronomy and math, in that respect – the planets move in certain orbits, with predictable perturbations and translations. So I liked that part of it. I liked the challenge of matching wits and instincts and reflexes. I didn’t like the Neanderthal attitude of most of the other guys, including some of the coaches and trainers.
Most of the trainers were cops; the Rec Center is lousy with off-duty cops. I think the local barracks encourages the state troopers to volunteer there, and I guess it makes sense — a lot of at-risk kids participate in Rec Center events, and this way the cops are there to guide and mold some of those guys, if they’re willing to be guided and molded. But it was always weird working a speed bag or sparring and seeing a bunch of state troopers and a bunch of town cops hanging around, either waiting on shift change or taking a break from cruising the mean streets of Brookdale. It made you feel like you’d either committed a crime or were about to commit a crime, no matter what you were doing. And especially at that time (this was only two years after Rachel ran screaming from the closet; I was fifteen), I couldn’t help but to think one of those cops was going to walk up to me with news about Eve: Escaped. Paroled. Killed in prison.
I don’t box anymore, though. I was asked to leave the program.
The last time I got in big trouble — trouble beyond just a suspension or a slap on the wrist from Roland the Spermling — was the time I beat the shit out of a cop.
Rec Center boxing took place two days a week after school and once on the weekend, during the baseball off-season. I used to walk to the Center from school and Dad would pick me up on his way home from work. But on the weekends, Mom would drop me off and pick me up.
One of the things about kids is that they have a license to act cruel beyond the imagination of any adult. Kids will say things gleefully and at the top of their lungs that the average adult would never consider saying, or at least would have the shame/decency to mumble.
Most of the kids at the Center didn’t go to South Brook Middle, where I went. The Center was sort of on the line between South Brook and West Brook districts, so it was a lot of West Brook kids, kids I didn’t know very well, but who knew me. Everyone knew me. I would get some razzing in the locker room — choruses of “Hot for Teacher” on occasion — but I tried to treat it as good-natured ribbing. I kept my head down in and out of the ring.
I focused on the science: jab, dodge, jab, jab, feint…
On weekends, the comments about Mom would start. Typical guy crap. Check out the MILF. Stuff like that. Again, I kept my head down. I guess I was supposed to leap to her defense and say, “Don’t talk about my mom like that!” but it just seemed pointless. It would just give those guys more ammunition. It would just confirm for them that they’d pushed my buttons. What’s the point of that? You ignore them long enough and they’ll get bored because it’s no fun poking the bear if the bear doesn’t move.
One Saturday Mom was early. I was sparring in the ring with a big middleweight from West Brook High — he was only a year older than me, but he seemed gigantic. That’s OK, though; I was working on my footwork, mostly. The trainers were on the other side of the gym, doing drills with some other guys, and a knot of three or four cops were standing around near the door, watching us all box, killing time until their shifts started, I guess.
Mom came in and the squeak of sneakers and the thud of gloves on bags hiccuped while most of the place checked her out. I was in the middle of a breather, checking my headgear, so I saw her check her watch and then check the big clock on the wall. She frowned and came over to the ring.
“I guess I’m early, sweetie,” she said. “I’m going around the corner for some coffee. Back in ten minutes, OK?”
I didn’t think anything of it. I nodded, secured my headgear, and pounded my gloves together as I stepped back into the fight.
“Sweetie,” the middleweight cooed as he danced in front of me. “That’s so cute. Sweetie.”
Guys spout all kinds of trash talk in the ring to rattle their opponents. I ignored it and offered him a lazy jab that he dodged easily. I tried to follow it up with a right hook, but missed by a mile. I didn’t have that combination down quite yet.
He called me “sweetie” a few more times, easily sidestepping my blows, hauling me all around the ring and generally making me come to him for the dubious honor of landing a couple of weak blows. He puckered up his lips and blew me a kiss as he dodged my left jab and then socked me with his right. It was a clumsy hook, but with all his power behind it, it didn’t matter. It rocked me back on my heels and made me see stars, planets, and galaxies that the Hubble telescope would have to squint to perceive.
The timer we’d set before the match went off. Saved by the bell. Or buzzer.
He crawled out between the ropes and held them up for me while I did the same, panting and exhausted and pissed at myself for screwing up that left-right combination every single damn time. Three or four other guys clustered around us, lining up for their turns in the ring.
“Look at you, man,” my opponent said. “Look at you. You’re sweating like crazy. I got you all worked up, didn’t I? You’re sweating like your mom did when I fucked her.”
A low whistle went through the guys in the immediate area. MILF comments and staring at my mom’s ass while she walks away is one thing; that’s just guys being dickheads. But saying that you fucked my mother? Saying that?
“Not cool, man,” I told him, forcing my voice not to waver. A flume of rage had spurted inside me, and I was almost trembling with it.
“I guess your dad doesn’t think it’s cool, either,” he said, smirking. Hoots from the peanut gallery.
“OK, you had your fun. Now knock it off.”
“Damn, man. Don’t get pissed. Just sayin’ your mom’s hot, is all.”
“That’s great. Let’s not talk about my mother, OK?”
Someone else chimed in: “Why are you pissed? We already know you like older women.”
I froze. I flickered.
I don’t know what I look like when I’m flickering. Other people tell me that I’m spacing out or that I look like I’m about to faint. Whatever it is, though, it just egged these guys on.
“Yeah, you and the teacher, man.”
“Saw her on the news when they locked her up,” someone else said. “If I’d been hitting that, I wouldn’t have let them take her away.”
“Shoulda fought for your woman, man,” another guy said.
“Maybe he didn’t need to. Maybe he traded up.”
“Maybe,” my opponent said, his smirk growing, “he had a better deal at home. Know what I mean?”
There were maybe five guys standing around me, but the “Oooooh!” that rose up from them sounded like it could have been from fifty.
“Shut up,” I whispered. My hands tightened under the gloves. I was outnumbered. Outweighed. I didn’t care.
“Got a thing for older women…” he went on. He turned as if consulting the crowd. “Whywouldn’t he be fucking his mom?”
I don’t want to say I lost control. “Losing control” implies that I didn’t know what I was doing, that I didn’t want to do what I did. But I knew every step of the way.
In the ring, I was only decent. But this was out of the ring. This wasn’t about science anymore.
I let loose with a wild yell that exploded from somewhere deep down in my gut and cut a haymaker at his face just as he was turning back from receiving his props from the guys around us. He saw it coming — but he saw it way too late to do anything about it. His head jerked to the side and his whole body came up off the floor for a second before he collapsed into two other guys. They were the only thing that kept him from hitting the ground.
“Fuck!” someone shouted.
I waded into them, swinging my gloves, pounding everything that I could reach. In the ring, you’re inhibited because you have to think defense and strategy. But out here, I had the element of surprise. And I wasn’t worried about protecting myself. I didn’t care. I just wanted to pound the living shit out of everything in my way.
Which is what I did. Five guys standing around, plus me and my sparring partner, who was now occupying two of those guys by flopping in their arms like a fish just yanked out of the lake. The other three guys jumped back, startled, and I just picked one and lunged at him, loving the fear in his eyes, howling in rage, swinging both gloves. Bad form, but great fucking contact, believe me. It felt good to pound his face.
Someone grabbed me from behind, one hand around my waist, one trying to pull my right arm down from the shoulder. I shook him off, spun around, and kicked him in the gut. Boxing is great, but this was brawling. This was anything goes.
Whistles started blaring — the trainers at the other end of the gym telling us to stop. The other kids were starting to pile on now, but I didn’t care. I just kept swinging and lashing out with my feet. I stomped on someone’s instep and loved the bellow of pain I received in return. Trainers yelled. Sneakers squeaked on the floor. I kept swinging.
I don’t remember the cop grabbing me and spinning me around. I just remember seeing him in front of me all of a sudden, just at the same time that I realized I’d been tagged, that my nose was bleeding, and suddenly there he was in front of me, blue shirt, badge, the whole nine yards, and I didn’t care. He was trying to stop me. He was trying to stop me and he had no right and I swung at him as hard as I’ve ever done or ever will and he dodged it, but that’s OK because suddenly my mind was clear and the science was back on line and for the first and only time in my life, I executed the combo perfectly, bringing up my right glove just as he dodged the left one, smashing into his face, combining the momentum from his dodge with the momentum of my fist into one beautiful moment of crushing pain and violence.
His face distorted for a split second, as if there were no bones beneath it, just flexible plastic. His mouth and nose gushed blood and I howled to the sky, to the world, and jabbed him in the solar plexus, kicked him in the balls, shoved him down and climbed on top and pummeled at him until the end of the world.