Nearly six months. Such a long time. Such a short time. Six months, and I still wake up in the middle of the night with the memory of your last night—the night that I failed you even as I held you and told you over and over that it was okay and you were so loved—so fresh it’s like it just happened. Then during the day I suffer the jeers and slurs of everyday life: people kill one another, and ignore one another, and on occasion I fail other people, and on occasion they fail me, and on occasion life is just being shitty, and sometimes that makes me want to lash out. But I don’t. I won’t. I can’t.
For too many years I lived like the world was a boxing ring. The bell would ring in the morning and I would come out dancing, one hand up to protect my face and the other swinging and jabbing and ready to connect with whatever—or whoever—might hurt me. Nobody got to get too close because I always had the longer reach, and if they tried I would knock the wind out of them with a wild roundhouse punch. Some well-meaning people ended up with bloody noses and bruised souls. They never even knew what hit ‘em.
But always being in a defensive stance is exhausting and lonely, and a decade ago I decided to retire from fighting; I hung up my gloves. A few years ago I began trying to unclench my jaw, let down my guard, and throw open my arms, and six months ago I doubled down and vowed to lean into the life I have left no matter what. I may still be in the ring, but I’m refusing to fight. Because here’s the thing: if you’re always concentrating on how everyone telegraphs their punches, you never see their spontaneous laughter. If you’re always looking for the threat, you can’t see the kindnesses. If you approach every encounter like it’s a prize fight, you miss the chance for a friendship. So now even when the universe throws a hard jab, I don’t raise my hands. When fate lands a perfect right hook, I just take it. My jaw is not glass, and my big shoulders can absorb the force, but I’m going to be honest: after six months of body blows I am getting a little punch drunk. And it hurts.
A wise friend has reminded me that sometimes being brave can hurt a lil’ bit, but some days it hurts a lot. And I reach for the gauze to wrap my hands, and I think about lacing up my gloves. My emotional muscles instinctively move me into a crouch: protect your soft middle, guard your loving face, and hide your tender heart behind a flurry of punches. But I don’t. I won’t. I can’t.
Because along with yellowing bruises and split lips, these six months have taught me how fragile and fast each round is. Even going the distance isn’t really that long at all. When the time comes—the fatal illness hits, or the plane goes down, or the car lurches out of control, or, this being me we are talking about, when I knock myself unconscious on a door frame in my own house—I don’t want to be remembered as a fighter. No martial metaphors for me, no images of me going down swinging. I want to be remembered as a girl who improbably kept getting up and embracing the world. I want to be known as a girl who loved so much and so well that she didn’t need to go into battle. I want to be a person who earns her TKO with hugs and kindnesses, not punches and blows.
So, World, bring it on. I’ll just be over in my corner, wearing my bathrobe, sitting on my little stool, scribbling valentines while you’re warming up. And when the ref asks us to shake, I’ll give you a big ol’ bear hug.