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Amateur: A True Story About What Makes a Man by Thomas Page McBee

Amateur: A True Story About What Makes a Man by Thomas Page McBee

Author:Thomas Page McBee [McBee, Thomas Page]
Language: eng
Format: azw3
Publisher: Scribner
Published: 2018-08-13T16:00:00+00:00


What If I Fail?

* * *

The qualifying spar took place at the very edge of winter. If I couldn’t win, I told myself, as I walked through Chinatown early on Sunday morning, at least I wouldn’t die.

I knew I was of particular focus: I started late, trained less, sparred next to not at all, switched coaches the week before, and was matched at the last minute with a guy who had at least ten pounds on me. Danny reminded me, daily, that my only job was to “put on a good show.” But we both knew that if I couldn’t hold my own, I wouldn’t be cleared to fight.

When I arrived, Haymakers had shut Church’s down, so the regulars were gone. It was just us charity guys in our fancy gear, half-jacked and mostly male. Guys bounced on the balls of their feet. A lot of fighters talked cheerfully to their opponents, and coaches shot the shit along the walls, hanging back and watching.

Eric arrived and I made a split-second assessment: He was definitely heavier than me, though shorter, which meant I probably had better reach—an advantage. We both sported beards, and he wore a backward baseball cap. In contrast to the jovial mood, he sat by himself in stony silence. I, meanwhile, tried not to look as scared as I felt.

The vibe was strange, as most of the fighters seemed to struggle with the masculine expectation that required they both not take things too seriously (the “civilized” take: “It’s a charity match!”) and that they prove to the other guy how serious they really were.

Errol was also there, looking more somber than the rest of them, with Larissa. When he texted me to ask what he’d done wrong, I was sorry for the casual way I’d told him I’d found a new coach. It didn’t cross my mind that I was, effectively, firing him, and I hadn’t even had the decency to tell him why.

I was surprised at my own thoughtlessness, and the foreboding I felt seeing him. I’d assumed, as I’d been trained to, that he’d shake it off. He was a guy, wasn’t he?

But I could see, in his striving and perfectionism, the way he also did not quite belong. He’d been hard on me, but not unkind: he’d called me “champ” and checked on me when I was sick. He was even, when I’d dropped him, arranging a sparring session with a coach at a different gym, no easy task. It was easy to tell myself a story about how he’d let me down because he didn’t see me, but that wasn’t quite true.

Watching him huddled up with Larissa reminded me of the moment after our core drills, a week before our last training session, when Errol stopped me on my way to the locker room.

“If I was a bit of an asshole just now, I’m sorry,” he said. “I had a tough day.”

I’d been so stunned, I hadn’t responded. I could count on one hand how often a man had apologized to me, for anything.



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