For Christmas during my fifth year of life, my parents bought me a pair of boxing gloves. My mom would lace them up for me and I'd stalk through the house, baring my teeth menacingly at every reflective surface and taking fierce swings at imaginary foes, flattening them with a single blow. Somehow I understood that the girl from across the street, a blond named Patty, would be there when I landed one of my seismic punches, which made my imaginary victories all the more sweet even though most of the time I found her to be quite disturbing.

The gloves would stay on until I needed to use the bathroom, at which point I would frantically seek out my mother and dance anxiously in front of her while she picked at the knots on my wrists.

My next-door neighbor was a boy my age named Brad, and it turned out he, too, had received boxing gloves for Christmas. (There must have been some sort of sale, because neither one of us had ever before expressed any interest in pugilism.) When we discovered this, he suggested the two of us box.

"You mean hit each other?" I asked nervously. Even at that age, I had begun to develop a strong aversion to being socked in the face, a phobia which persists to this day.

"Just on the gloves, we'll only punch each other's gloves," he explained.

Well, that seemed reasonable. I dashed inside to suit up, the brave prizefighter being readied for the match by his mommy.

My father was reading the newspaper in the living room with my sisters and, fatefully, Patty. "Brad and I are going to box!" I blurted.

I always measured the degree to which my words impacted my father by the distance he lowered the paper to peer at me over its top edge. My announcement apparently interested him a great deal, because he dropped the sports section a full eight inches. The only time he'd reacted more strongly was when I'd asked him how hard it would be to fix "some scratches in the car," at which time the paper fell to the floor.

Brad was waiting for me in the front yard. He didn't notice that my entire family had gathered at the picture window to view the sports spectacular.

Our gloves were larger than our heads and seemed heavy as bowling balls. We began to circle each other, the giant bulbs dangling at the end of our ganglia-like arms. "Just our gloves," Brad warned, lifting his hands so I could tap out a few soft punches. I glanced at the audience, noticing Patty in the center of the crowd.

Seized with an impulse I didn't fully understand, I suddenly cranked back my right arm, nearly toppling over. Brad watched with interest. I employed every sinew in my body to halt that boxing glove's inertia and haul it forward, grunting with the effort. It moved slowly at first, then gathered speed, hurtling forward like a freight train. Brad's jaw dropped in alarm as his small brain calculated the trajectory of the huge fist of leather. His wire-like biceps contracted, trying to lift his weighted hands to block the blow, but it was far too late.

At this point, my entire body mass was involved in the punch, which caught Brad right in the middle of his betrayed expression. The only way I could keep from falling over was to push myself off of Brad's nose, and even then I stumbled forward. Brad went down as if shot.

I looked to the window. My family was cheering wildly, and Patty had her hands clasped together in the universal sign for "my hero." Brad, on the other hand, was regarding me with something short of adoration, and I nervously began to contemplate what would happen when he got back up.

Fortunately I was (as they say in boxing) "saved by the nose" -- Brad's, that is, which began to bleed furiously. At that age, blood was the color of panic, and when he saw he was bleeding he jumped up and ran off crying.

When I glanced back at my family, they were still cheering.

- Bruce Cameron -

[ by W. Bruce Cameron Copyright © 2003, (bruce@wbrucecameron.com) -- {used with permission} ]


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