Monday 24 September 2018

A Warrior's Heart

by Rich Rurshell

bitter lemon

I'd just come second place in a boxing match. Tommy "The Animal" Rogan had beaten me by unanimous decision in my challenge for the world heavyweight title. My head ached, my arms ached, my jaw hurt, my nose hurt, my ribs hurt, but I was still on my feet and had stayed that way for the duration of the fight. He'd hit me with some bombs, but I saw it through. I'd hit him with a few of my own, but he wasn't the champ for nothing. He was a tough customer. There was no disputing he had won the fight, but I was the first man he had failed to put on the canvas. There were times in the fight when he had looked at me in surprise, having just landed his best shot seemingly without any effect. I knew how much they had hurt, but I wasn't going to let him know. Tommy was known for belittling his opponents, both before the match and afterwards. He'd been rude to me in the build up to our fight, but he’d had nothing but respect for me after the referee had raised his hand. That felt like a small victory for me in itself.
I made my way back to my dressing room with David, my trainer. He had been in my corner. As we reached the door, David pulled out his phone.
"I'll catch up with you in a moment, Dan,” he said, looking at his phone. He walked off down the corridor as I pushed open the dressing room door and went inside.
Several of the other fighters from David's gym were waiting for me and they greeted me with handshakes, pats on the back, and words of encouragement. John offered me a chair, but I refused it, so he started cutting off my handwraps as I stood talking to my training buddies. Looking back, it was just foolish bravado that made me want to continue to stand. Tommy Rogan couldn't take me off my feet, so no one else would. Before the fight, I had been warming up and training in this room. Now, my trainers and fellow fighters were packing things away, ready to head to the hotel. John finished with the handwraps and I thanked him and washed my hands in the small basin at the back of the room. Once I had dried my hands, I started to do some standing stretches, the beginning of my warm down. The door opened and David walked into the room. He put his fingers to his lips and whistled. The buzz of conversation ceased and everybody turned toward him.
"Alright, everybody. I need to speak to Danny Boy alone, so if you could make your way out of the room please. Thank you." There were murmurs around the room as everybody picked up their things and made their way out. Once it was just the two of us, David closed the door and turned to face me.
"Well?" I asked. David just looked at me, silent. "Dave?"
He had a look that I hadn't seen before. He seemed lost for words. This wasn't about the fight. Something was wrong. Finally, he spoke.
"Your mother called."
"My mother?"
"I'm sorry, Dan. She asked me to get you to call her right away. It's..." He paused.
"What is it, Dave?"
"Your father passed away."
Bang...For a moment, my head swum and I became overly aware of the silence in the room. I had heard what David had said, but it was as if my mind did not yet comprehend what he’d just told me. Like a punch, it's the one you don't see coming that gets you.
"He's dead?" I already knew the answer.
"I'm sorry, Dan."
I suddenly felt sick and my legs turned to jelly. I dropped to my knees.
"Dan?" David knelt beside me and put his hand on my shoulder. "I'm real sorry man. Is there anything I can do?"
"No... Thanks though, Dave,” I replied, but struggled to say his name, the lump in my throat past the point of no return. I started to blubber, tears blinding me. Ashamed, I leant forward, burying my head in my hands. David continued to pat my back.
"Ok, Dan. Get it all out. It's alright, you do what you gotta do."
I sat back upright again, composed myself, and apologised.
"You ain't gotta apologise for nothing, Danny Boy. You fought like a warrior tonight. The fight didn't go your way, but you were a warrior in there. You got a real warrior's heart, Danny Boy, but it's still just a heart. It can be broken just like anyone else's. You're now in dark times, but you'll get through it Dan, I know you will." I took David's hand in both of mine and gave it a squeeze.
"Thanks, Dave,” I managed. David smiled.
"Now, I'm gonna leave you to it. Give you some space. But call me if you need anything, I'll be around." He slapped me on the shoulder and left the dressing room, locking the door behind him.
I thought about calling my mother, but I wasn't ready for that yet. I then thought about her sitting by the phone waiting for me to call and I burst into tears again. I imagined her sitting by the phone in the armchair that she had always sat in. Opposite her, the empty armchair that my father sat in ...used to sit in. I thought about the little table to the left of his chair, which more often than not, had his mug of tea on it. His mug with the little map of Jersey printed on one side, that I had bought him when I was a young boy. He'd always used that mug despite there being plenty of others in the house. I leant forward again and sobbed into my hands. I wondered if the mug was there on the table as I knelt there crying, and whether it was full or empty. I like to think it was empty.
Your father passed away. David's words echoed in my mind.
I'd taken a hundred and seven punches of the three hundred and fifty five thrown by Tommy Rogan, and yet I'd remained on my feet. I'd taken sixty nine power punches across the twelve rounds, and still I was standing when the final bell rang. But just four words had brought me to my knees. The thought of fighting the unbeaten Tommy "The Animal" Rogan had not scared me. His flawless record and knockout ratio would have intimidated many men, but not me. But just thinking about my father's mug with the map of Jersey on it had me sobbing like a child.
It is said that "actions speak louder than words"... well, not today they don't.

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