a small concussion
by j.b. hogan
The Boy's Club gym was so bright coming in out of the late December night I had to squint to see. And it was so warm inside it made me sleepy. I tagged along behind my brother Dave as we walked along the side of the basketball court. Out in the middle of the court was the boxing ring, set up for tonight's fights. There were foldout chairs on three sides of the ring and there was a good crowd already.
We looked for our brother Jim but it wasn't his fight yet. Jim was a really good boxer. Our sister, Mary, kept a scrap book and had pasted all the newspaper clippings about Jim's Boy's Club and Golden Gloves fights in it. The stories liked to mention that Jim would smile at his opponents when they hit him real hard. They said it was like Jim was showing the other guy that whatever he hit Jim with, it didn't hurt him.
Dave and I worked our way to some seats about three rows back where we had a good straight on look at the ring. The other fight was in the third and final round and was a pretty good one but we were all excited for it to get over and it to be Jim's turn.
Lately Jim had had some trouble because in one fight he had taken too many punches and had what our doctor said was a small concussion. Before Jim had the small concussion he used to play a game with us after his fights. He would come home hanging his head and looking all sad and then just about the time we would all be saying how that was too bad and he'd do better next time, he'd break out grinning and holler out: I won. Then the whole family would yell and cheer and jump around and hug him and stuff.
It was a lot of fun, but since the small concussion Jim had stopped doing that. Win or lose, his head hurt too much to joke around much. Our mother wanted him to stop fighting till he got completely well but Jim wouldn't have none of that. That would have been too sissy he said. So he kept fighting with his head hurt and mom had asked me and Dave to go tonight to make sure Jim was okay and come home with him after the fight.
After a few minutes break it was time for Jim's fight. The first round went okay. Jim moved in and out, kept his left jab in the guy's face, bobbed, danced, landed a few good rights. The other guy stayed with him pretty well, even landing a pretty good left hook which brought Jim's famous you didn't hurt me smile to his face.
All in all it was a good round with Jim maybe taking it 10-9 if you were judging on the ten-point must system. But in the second all heck broke loose.
They had fought about a minute into the round, when the other guy managed to slip in a hard left jab followed by a really strong left hook. We were expecting Jim to get that smile on his face again and punch his way out of trouble but what happened caught everyone, especially the guy in the ring with Jim, off guard.
The guy's punches must've hurt Jim's head, hurt his concussion. You could see the pain and anger in Jim's eyes and then they glazed over, real scary like, and he went after the guy like a mad animal or something.
Jim began throwing punches so fast and hard it took your breath away. There was a big roar from the crowd and I remember hearing Dave whistle and say something like man, oh, man.
Jim threw punch after punch: left jabs, uppercuts, and a whistling left hook that dropped the guy. The ref had to push Jim away to do the count. The other boy got up at eight, let the ref wipe off his gloves and then it started again.
Jim flew at him and knocked his mouthpiece out. The boy slumped over but Jim held him up and kept punching until the ref got between them. Jim lunged forward anyway and knocked the guy down. The guy barely beat the ten-count and the ref had to push Jim away again to keep him from hitting the boy when he was down.
Jim's very first punch after the count rocked the guy again and he feebly tried to cover up. Jim cut loose with everything he had. Lefts, rights, uppercuts, jabs, hooks. Finally the other guy stumbled, fell backwards and for just a second one of his knees hit the canvas.
In his mad way Jim kept slugging the boy so hard that he drove him right through the ropes and out of the ring onto the first row of spectators. The place went wild. Dave yelled and yelled. I may have been the only one quiet in the whole club. I was so scared I just shut up completely. The crowd roared.
At first the ref held up Jim's hand, ruling it a TKO. Jim's seconds rushed into the ring and led him back to his corner. The other guy's people helped him back into the ring. He had no idea where he was. Then something started happening. The ref was talking to the judges. You couldn't hear them but you knew something was up and that it probably wouldn't be good.
The ref hollered something over to Jim's corner that really got his seconds stirred up. Then the ref went over to the other boy's corner and held up his hand in victory. The crowd booed. The other boy was still out of it but Jim, even in his blinding pain, understood he'd been disqualified for hitting the guy when he was down.
As the crowd got quieter, we could hear Jim yelling at the ref. He was cursing. Now I had heard Jim curse before. When I was five, he was punching holes in the lid of a can and put an ice pick through that fleshy web between your thumb and forefinger. I heard plenty of bad words that time, but they were nothing compared to what he put together now.
Swearing at the top of his voice and pointing at the ref and at the beat up guy, Jim was hustled out of the ring by his seconds before he got himself in big trouble. I remember watching them lead Jim away from the ring, away from me and Dave, out across the gym floor.
At the end of the gym closest to us, there was a stairway that led to the locker room. Jim's seconds took him towards the stairs as fast as they could. All the while, Jim kept up his cursing. For a moment, when they got him to the stairway and helped him up to the second floor, you couldn't hear anything. When they reappeared, Jim was still yelling at the ref and he kept it up until they got him into the locker room.
In the excitement, I somehow lost Dave. I remember staring at the closed locker room door up on the second floor and feeling like I was completely alone in the building. I had never seen anything like that - either the fight or what happened after it. A couple of minutes later Dave just sort of reappeared at my side.
C'mon, he said, let's go.
We're not gonna watch anymore fights? I asked stupidly, as if I really wanted to.
We gonna tell mom? I asked.
Tell her what? Dave said, frowning. 'Sides, she's at work.
Oh, yeah, I said.
You ain't gonna say nothin' about what happened, are you? Dave asked me. I didn't say anything right away. Well?
Heck no, I said. I won't.
You better not.
I said I wouldn't.
Okay. Let's go home.
Ain't we gonna wait for Jim?
No, he's too mad for that. We better stay out of his way.
Oh, I said.
Outside it was very dark and the cold wind whipped right through our worn jackets. We hustled away from town and down the big hill that bottomed out three or four blocks from our house. I remember having this empty feeling in me as we walked home. Empty like the hungriest you ever been or empty like maybe a hole was where your heart used to be or something.
I hadn't ever felt that way before and it made me want to walk faster in the chill night air. I was glad Dave was with me and I hung by his side, quiet, hurrying my steps to keep up, not saying anything else, not one word, all the rest of the way home.