Sunday, February 16, 2014


My Dad kinda thinks I’m a fuck up. I mean I’m not saying this to make people feel sorry for me, or make him out to be a bad guy, but given his past and his perspective of life, he thinks I don’t do much in with mine. In some ways, when I’m really honest with myself, he’s right. I never know what to say when people ask ‘what I do’ or what to write as my ‘occupation’ when I fill out a form for any sort of official business. 

Technically, I’m a licensed real estate broker in Washington state, though I haven’t sold or bought any houses. I tell everyone I meet that I’m a writer/photographer, but at best, I’ve produced a mediocre portfolio, and in an odd twist of events, I’m currently grading entrance exams for the Foster Business School at the University of Washington. I also own my own LLC, but I don’t even want to get into that. And I’m not trying to humble-brag these things for people to later tell me, “Oh, but you’ve done so much!” or have them console me about my life (no seriously, don't do because it'll just annoy the shit out of me), but it’s more like I’ve gone through my life stepping half-way in, too afraid to go the rest of the way, and well, it's starting to catch up as I grow older.

I suppose my main job is that I work for the family business managing apartments, or at least that’s my main source of income, which for the most part means my parents are still supporting me. That’s not to say the work isn’t a pain in the ass. It very much is, but to have gotten here on my own? Yeah, I can’t really say I did. 

So since the car accident, I’ve just felt this sense of overwhelming guilt that I’ve caused yet another inconvenience to the world around me. I think about how if I didn’t have my family supporting me, this one accident could have sank me financially. I start thinking about my self-worth, and whether or not I’d make it in the world alone. I keep trying to plan for Brazil, trying to save up enough money to make it out there on my own accord, but I keep fucking up. I keep making it harder for me to make it back home. 

I told my Dad about what happened with the car, about how shameful I felt that I fucked up, yet again. He went through the typical motions of a father, getting a bit angry at first, then relieved that I was okay, but there was something in the tone of his voice that I could tell his mind was elsewhere. He went into this story about something that happened at one of the apartments. One of our tenants shot himself to death in front of his wife. Something about him having mental issues and feeling rejected throughout his life. I didn’t know the guy or anything, but hearing the news made me tear up a bit, about how bad it can get for some people. I could tell the whole thing shook my father a bit too, having death lurk so closely to our lives and all.

“So Nick your problems are kind of minuscule,” my father said to me, “don’t worry about the car too much. It’s just money. As long as your safe, healthy, and happy, that’s all that matters.”

Monday, February 10, 2014

The car accident

So I live in this area in Seattle that when it snows, it’s like a death trap. Not so much the neighborhood or anything, but this little hill where my parking garage is located. It’s like a little fucking hill, but man, when it snows, a little hill is all it takes.

I’m coming home from Bremerton around 3:30 in the morning and the snow has just settled. I get all cocky with my all-wheel drive Subaru thinking I can climb the hill. I get up about half way then absolutely lose control. I start sliding backwards and it feels like I’m sailing without direction in a sea of snow. The wheel has no response. The brakes do nothing. I’m only praying and cursing under my breath as I slide down. Somehow, I miraculously slide pass 4 cars (2 on each side) without touching any one of them. I pause for a moment to think about it, then somehow come up with the genius idea, “I wonder what it will be like if I did it from the other side?”

I drive pass some streets that have been driven down so the snow is all dissolved and the traction is better. I make it up to the top and pause at the top. I look down and think that maybe I shouldn’t do this, I mean the road is pretty fucked, but then there’s this small voice in my head that says, “But the garage is so close. I could probably shimmy my way down and just make a sharp turn into the garage. It would be really great not to have to park and walk up this hill in the cold.” I really think I can do this. I think my all-wheel drive is God-sent, even though that notion was disproven a few moments ago.

I ease my car down the slope and I lose control even faster, but this time I’m going face forward, down a hill, without control. If any of you ever want to know what it feels like to ride in a bobsled for the first time, well, I can give you my idea of it. I always wondered how many times you can say the word “fuck” in the course of 5 seconds, and for me, you can say it 12 times.

I smash into this Honda Accord, head on. My hood pushes open, but the airbags don’t go off so at least I have that. I sit there, in shock, thinking how fucking stupid I was a few minutes ago, how this is the third accident I’ve been in and how I could have let this happen, again. Then I think about how this whole thing happened because I was impatient and selfish. I realize that it’s those small moments that we need to pay close attention to, those voices that tempt our weaker selves. I thought it was harmless, I didn’t want to hurt anyone, and had no intention to be selfish or inconsiderate, but if even a little of that sentiment is residing at the core, it can cause a whole world of disaster. Luckily, nobody was physically hurt (myself included) but for the owner of this car, I just caused him a huge pain in the ass.

I’m sitting there and someone steps outside onto his porch in the house across the street. He’s just standing there, looking at me. I roll down the window and ask if this is his car. 

“Yeah man,” he says with a bit of a shy tone. “Are you okay?” 

“Yeah I’m good," I reply. "Dude, I’m really, really sorry.”

“Man, you’re like the 3rd person that hit me. I’m kinda used to it,” he jests. “Plus, look at the streets. It happens.” He’s a young kid, maybe in his early twenties, and the way that he talks tells me he has a laid-back personality when it comes to these kind of things. Part of that is maybe troublesome, but he’s also learned something that many of us never will.

We sit out there and assess the damage. He jokes that he feels worse for me because he wish he had my car. I leave the car where it is, pretty much kissing the bumper of his. I really have no other option. We exchange information and he says he’ll be in contact. He hands me a business card before we leave. Austin is his name.

I wake up to a text message the next morning that reads, “Hey man, think you might try moving your car soon? I’m going to try getting out in just a bit.” I go outside and the snow has melted a bit here and there, but still not really sure if it’s drivable. I back the car up, enough for him to pull out into the alley next to his house. The problem is that his car is front-wheel drive, making that maneuver even more impossible. We spend a good half-hour scraping the snow away with my windshield scraper and some piece of plastic he got from somewhere. He’s burning his transmission trying to pull out. I stop him every few seconds to scrap snow from under his tires and he moves an inch more before I have to go back and do it again. There are some close calls of him almost slamming into another car, but we’re making progress. Slow progress, but we’re making it. 

At one point there’s a Jeep that roars up the street and the driver punches his engine full of testosterone as if saying, ‘My car has a bigger dick than yours.’ He climbs up half the hill, then asks us to hurry up and move with a sort of cocky-entitlement hand wave. Austin and I go back to work, this time with a sense of urgency to let this guy pass, but the rushed tempo is causing us to make mistakes and Austin’s car starts sliding more than it was before.

“I don’t know what that guy’s doing,” I say to Austin as I drop my windshield scraper to the street. “I don’t see why he can’t just choose another road.” 

“Yeah man, I’m not gonna accommodate for him,” Austin finally says, dropping his piece of plastic in solidarity. He says it in a way like he’s gone a lot of his life making room for other people's needs at the expense of his own and is learning to recognize that point between being kind and being taken advantage of. I shrug my shoulders at the Jeep, kinda reminding him that we’re on a street, covered in snow. The driver has a pissed-off look on his face and speeds off. Austin and I sort of laugh and I eventually get him into the alley.

We shake hands when we finish. There’s this sense of accomplishment between us. Austin keeps thanking me, apologizing for the time it took me to help get his car out. I just look at him and say, “Dude, I’m the one that hit your car.” 

“Yeah, I just didn’t want to keep it in that spot. It’s the spot that cars keep sliding into,” he says. 

I’m sure some of you are familiar with the death spot of a snowed in hill. It’s the spot that's deceivingly passable, where there are enough patches of asphalt for people to think they can make it, but still enough packed snow to where they can’t, and by the time they realize it, they slid back without control. Austin’s car was the space where they always end up, and once he moves into the alley, I park into the “death spot” since I really have no other options. After seeing Austin’s car struggle, it’s still too snowy to move anywhere else.

I go back to my apartment and after a few hours I step out to go meet some people in the city. I’m gathering some things from my car and I see another Honda Accord struggling to get up the hill. She’s dangerously close to my car, sliding back and forth, its bumper flirting to kiss mine. I spend some time scraping the ice from beneath her wheels, pretty do the same thing I did for Austin. I ask her where she’s trying to go.

“Just out of here," she says. "It’s fucking dangerous here.”

I get behind and push her car to get it into an alley nearby. Someone comes up beside me and yells, “Let’s go!” and starts pushing with me. He’s a Domino’s delivery guy and is driving, yet again, a Honda Accord. We manage to push her into the alley and I tell her that the street is drivable. She gives us her thanks and goes on her way. Then the delivery guy gets into his car and he tries to go up the hill, and I’m thinking, “Dude, what the fuck?” He ends up with the same result, almost hitting my car, then thinks better to park at the bottom and walk up his delivery. Austin is on his porch watching the entire time. He comes up to me afterwards and says, “I think you might want to move your car down somewhere. At this rate, it’ll get hit.” After seeing the two Accords, I concur. 

I get into my car and start moving. The car loses control again and I’m starting to slide, this time near an Audi that’s parked in front of me. My brakes aren’t responding again and a pain surges through my chest at the prospect of hitting yet another car. Out of nowhere Austin leaps in between our cars and physically pushes my car away from the Audi. He hurts his knee in the process. I’m looking at Austin, in shock, yelling through the windshield, “You don’t have to do this!”, but he does anyway, for someone who front ended the shit out of his car. 

I manage to stop the car and get out to see if Austin is okay. He shakes it off and we go back assess the situation. I’m about as close as a car can physically be to another one without hitting it. If I turn my wheels, my front right tire can touch that of the Audi. Austin turns to me with a look of apology and says, “Maybe I didn’t give you the best advice.” It’s here that I realize that he’s still a kid, kinda doesn’t know any more than I do in these situations, but he was right at the same time. I probably would have been hit had I left my car. 

My only option is to go forward while making a left turn. If I slip again, my right fender, the one part of the front end that isn’t damaged, will smash into the front of the Audi. We spend another five minutes on the street working with our respective plastic scrapers and Austin says to me, “Ok man, I think you can try it. But I can’t get between the cars. There’s not enough room.” 

I’m appalled that he’s even thinking of it. This kid, he’s something else. I say a quick prayer before I put the car into gear. I’m fucking nervous, scared shitless almost. What happens next is going to determine my time here in Seattle. Insurance, money, the decisions of spending my time making money or spending time with friends and family. All of this will change if I hit this car.

But you know those do-or-die moments, those times where you really can’t afford to fuck up? Yeah, I see this is one of them, and we either show up or we don’t. I have to find my strength. I have to do this. Suddenly all thoughts of failure vanish, and a confidence fills into me. I punch the gas and pull the wheel sharply to the left, avoiding the car and getting onto wet, but visible pavement. I made it, clear, without accident. I’m elated, like I just won a fight, and as strange as it sounds, that fucked up situation had to happen for this emotion to be possible. 

I get out and Austin has his hands in the air. I put up mine in return and go up to give him a big hug. Here’s a guy, that has every reason to hate me, every reason to say ‘fuck this guy for inconveniencing my life’, yet he spent his time (and in this case his body), to help me. I’ve been talking a lot of shit about Seattle, about people not being connected to others, but in moments of crisis, people really come through.

I sort of touch on this with Austin and we both laugh about how much this whole thing is going to cost. 

“What an expensive fucking lesson,” I finally say.

“Yeah, but sometimes it just happens like that,” Austin says. “One time, I got my car towed, and I didn’t really care about it so I just left it. My dad came to visit one time and asked ‘Where’s your car?’ I told him it was towed and he asked, ‘For how long?!’ Two weeks, I told him.” 

He stops and sort of grins. 

“Yeah, so that lesson cost me $1600.” 

I laugh and smile at his story, more out of appreciation that this guy is sharing something to help make me feel better. I try my best to say something to comfort a wound that I know he’s already healed from.

“I was coming from this thing in Bremerton last night,” I tell him. “One thing I learned was that we need to make mistakes in life, to learn.” 

“Yeah man,” Austin smiles, “sometimes we just need to fuck up.” 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Notes from my 23rd trip

To have the ability to write our story, our fate, do we really have it? This idea that we are somehow in control of our lives. I sometimes wonder if that is a fairy-tale we've been telling ourselves all this time. 

My heart grows sadder, as I learn the story of how my mother is. 

If someone asked me what it is like to be away from Flora, I'd ask them in return, what do you think it feels like to try and walk around w/ only half your body? 

I ask for forgiveness for I have not been kind to my parents.

It's like we are trading, Flora and I, throughout our relationship. Stories, advice, epiphanies and pain, and we always receive each other's words w/ such wide-eyed fascination that it makes both of us feel, that we have not wasted our lives. She makes me feel like I haven't wasted my life.

Her voice feels like home. 

She's not afraid to hurt me.

Writers, true writers, are some of the bravest people I know.

To all the people who read my writing, I want to thank you, for spending your time to take notice. No really, you spent your time, like one would do w/ money, on my thoughts. I hope I lived up to the investment.

                   Anger is a good way to mask your hurt.

For those of your that still have moments of boredom: Be grateful for that. Boredom is a luxury. 

        Flora has made me an honest person.

There are people out there who are apologetic for their existence, like they spend all day worrying about being an inconvenience to someone just for taking up space. Be kind to those people.

What Japanese anime has given me, 

are the ideal visuals to understand this battle. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

A visit to the Bumblebee Boxing Club

I drive down on MLK Way to pay homage to my home gym, the Bumblebee Boxing Club, the place where it all started 9 years ago. The gym has changed over the years. The entrance is now through the backside of the building, a crack usually left open for the fighters that show up late. I approach the door but it’s shut completely, so I make my way to the side and try to go through the main entrance, but that’s closed as well. The gym, after all, is just one small room inside the Union Gospel Mission, the organization that owns the building and held after school programs, or something where kids were running around all the time back when I was training. I never really knew what the Mission was officially. I didn’t know if it was a church, a social services program, or a community center. I just knew they took care of people. 

I try knocking on the door to grab the attention of the janitor, but he must be listening to music or just ignoring me. The backdoor bursts open and I run to try and catch it. A big, lumbering fighter is strolling out. I ask him if the gym is open. He tells me it is.

“Nasty! You back baby?” he says after getting a better look at me.

“Yeah, for the moment,” I say. I think I vaguely remember him, actually, I don’t. He must of been one of the fighters when I was just popping in and out doing photo projects, no longer seriously training. We give each other an embrace and he walks me in, telling me that he hopes to see me come back to the gym. 

I walk down the hall and hear the sounds, the rustling chains above a swaying heavy bag, the repetitious whip of a rope skipping against a matted floor. The bells: three rings for the start, one for the thirty-second warning, and three more for the end. There’s a sound of sweat behind those walls - people panting, shoes shuffling, fighters training. I take a look on the sign posted on the door before I open it: “This is a safe zone. All are welcome here.” I smile at its continued presence and turn the doorknob. The heat of the room fogs my glasses as I step in.

“Nasty Nick Wong!!!” Coach yells the second I set foot inside. He limps across the room to give me a hug. He wasn’t on a cane this time around. Coach had been going on and off the cane ever since I knew him, but the fact that he was legally paralyzed twice, I’d say he was doing pretty damn well for himself with only a limp, cane or no cane. We do the traditional Bumblebee Handshake: palm slap up, palm slap down, fist bump up, fist bump down, hold out the index finger, cross them twice, then touch elbows. A simultaneous “Bumblebee!” is said by both parties at the end. 

We sit down and catch up about life. I tell him about Brazil, tell him about Fight for Peace and all the boxing I was doing out there. He’s sitting there nodding while at the same time paying close attention to the going-ons of the gym and yells out instructions and reprimands to the boxers when needed.

“You! Over there! Are you fighting a midget?” Coach yells at one fighter on the heavy bag. The boxer keeps punching away. 

“Young man over there punching, I asked you a question!” Coach yells louder. The fighter stops and looks both ways, then gives Coach this look that kinda says, ‘Me?’ 

“Are you fighting a midget?” Coach asks again once he gets his attention.

“No…” the fighter said, a bit confused.

“Then get them hands up!” 

“Yes sir!” yells the fighter, and gets back to work. I smile at the memory of being yelled at by Coach. It was never anything personal, rather more like a rite of passage. I distinctly remember times where Coach would yell at me about things I knew I didn’t do wrong, in fact I had purposely focused on doing them right just to see if he’d yell at me. When he still did, inside I’d get angry, but just do whatever he told me anyway. After the anger subsided, I got what Coach was trying to teach me: Listen to your elders, to those who came before you, because they know things that your experience can’t yet imagine. And who knows, maybe I was doing something wrong the whole time.

A little tubby kid nervously waddles by with a scale in his arms. He’s maybe ten years old. Something about his demeanor tells me he’s a well-behaved kid, the way that he smiles and strolls across the room. There isn’t much aggression to his character. Something kind, something gentle, something that kids his age might view as a weakness rather than what it really is. He just returned from weighing himself in the changing room.

“How much you weigh?” Coach asks.

“97 pounds,” he answers. Coach nods his head.

“How much you weigh when you first got in here?” 

“117 pounds.” 

“Well see, you done lost 20 pounds now. You lookin’ good son.” 

The kid smiles a shy smile. He opens up a bit after that, starts talking about his day at school and things of a conversational nature. At one point he’s showing Coach a loose tooth, pressing it back and forth with his tongue. Coach sort of scrunches his face and says something to him about it being a sign of him growing up and becoming a man. I leave them to their conversation and start walking around.

I look to see if my picture is still on the wall. It is. A large 24x36 black and white photo taken before my first fight. The photo is near one of the legendary “Smokin’” Joe Frazier doing roadwork with some teammates. Coach was trained by Eddie Futch, the trainer of the former heavyweight champ and world class trainer Freddie Roach. Futch also trained four of the five men that beat Muhammad Ali. That kind of lineage says something about this place.

The photo next to it is of one of my old stablemates, Mohammad, who went to the same tournament where my first fight took place. I remember after I lost the fight (one in which most observers thought I won), Mohammad came up to me and said with a tinge of vengeance, “I’m gonna win this tournament for you, Nasty.” 

Mohammad won his first fight, was robbed in the next. We both went home losers at the end, but became better friends through the experience. Mohammad stuck around the gym for a couple more years then disappeared somewhere. I saw his cousin at a bus stop one time a few years back and asked about him. 

“Man, he out all the time, doing drugs, robbing people. His mom kicked him out the house,” his cousin Yusef told me. None of that fit the memory I had of Mohammad, but I guess time changes people. Sometimes life catches you. 

“Nasty!” I hear a voice from the corner yell out. It’s Luis, but around the gym we called him 'Gato'. Gato was around before my time. I think he was one of the first guys around when the gym opened up back in ’94. That’s the way gyms work. All of the boxers come from different generations, different teams. Our conception of the place is based on different people. Coach comes by and we all start reminiscing about the past. 

“How many people you start with Gato? Like 12?” Coach says. The words stand more like a statement then a question. “Out of all them guys, you the only one that stayed.” There’s a beaming grin of pride smeared across Gato’s face. “See, that’s all the boxing is. Staying around, sticking through it.” 

I nod in accordance to the words. I remember always seeing hoards of people sign up after a big fight had passed only for them to quit after a couple weeks. Training to be a boxer, after all, is incredibly boring. Most people think they’ll start out going toe-to-toe in a ring, but will be in shock when they’re told to throw a left jab for a month. In some ways, it’s to protect them, because you sure as hell can’t last inside a ring if you can’t last a month throwing your left arm into the air. It's just like Coach said, "Everyone want to call themselves a fighter, but nobody want to put in the work.

“Who’d you start with, Nasty?” Coach asks me.  

“Mohammad, Jumani, Omar, Minkas, and Chris,” I reply. Saying those names aloud was like reviving old spirits. I remember how all of them would help me through my first months as a boxer. There was always this sense of support with those guys, nothing discouraging, nothing judgmental, and everyone understood why someone would show up to do this day after day. But now I hardly recognize anyone in the gym. Most of them I’ve never seen before, but that same sense of wanting to make something better of yourself is still alive and well. A big guy walks by and Coach asks him how he feels.

“Tired, but good,” he grins.

“You losing some of that gut,” Coach tells him. The big guy looks down and smiles while smoothing his belly with both hands. 

“How much you weigh?” Coach asks. 

“'Bout 260,” he says.

“Yeah, you got at least 50lbs down there. You’ll get rid of it, just keep showin’ up,” Coach tells him. The boxer smiles at the prospect of the future.

“Yeah cuz you gonna be in the ring with me!” yells someone from the corner. A tall, muscular fighter with a huge head of braided hair pushes aside the heavy bag and joins the conversation. He’s young with plenty of bravado, but something about the way he moves tells me the slight hint of cockiness is harmless. 

“Boy, you better get in shape cuz I’m gonna be workin’ you!” he says while throwing some hooks into the air. 

“Just go for the face, not the stomach,” the big guy laughs.

“Man, if you gonna have that belly, you know I’m going for it!” the braided fighter shoots back.

“That’s right,” Coach chimes in. “You better give him less to hit.”

“Right, right,” the big guy grins, seemingly up for the challenge.

“What you be doing when you go out?" Coach asks. He's probing for lifestyle habits. "You be drinkin’? Smokin’?” 

The fighter scrunches his face. “Never smoked a day in my life,” he says.

“Are there any boxers that smoke?” the braided boxer asks.

“I think so,” says the big guy.

“Yeah, but they ain’t worth a shit,” Coach says. His words are the final ax to the conversation and their weight press onto these guys’ faces harder than any anti-smoking campaign ever could. 

Coach directs his attention at a new recruit, a small mixed kid, probably around the age of nine, doing some repetitions on an ab roller. His mother is sitting patiently in a chair across from Coach, legs crossed, hands placed on her lap. She has two stud piercings underneath her right eye. One black, one violet. She’s watching attentively as her son works out. 

“Why you wanna box?” Coach asks the kid.

“I wanna stay out of trouble,” he says. There’s a way he says it that makes it sound like he understands the words beyond his years.

“Like what? You be fightin’ a lot?” 

“No. I just talk a lot,” the kid says. Coach pauses for a moment and turns to the mother. 

“He be talkin’ back?” Coach asks.

“Yeah. He got anger issues, you know, his father not being around 'n all. So he’s angry about that,” the mother replies. Coach nods his head and goes back to the kid.

“You nice to your Mom?” Coach asks him.


“Cuz if you ain’t, Coach gon’ hear about it and you gon’ owe me pushups.” The kid nods his head and diligently continues on his workout. Gato comes by and reaffirms what Coach had just said. 

“Yeah man, cuz if Coach find out you be bad in school or talkin’ back to your mom, you gon’ be doing push ups, and I mean like this!” Gato gets down and starts doing some real military style pushups while yelling out, "One thank you Coach! Two thank you Coach!" The kid pauses and watches Gato push down the floor. “Not like this,” Gato continues. He starts mumbling indecipherable sounds, and doing some slumpy reps. “Cuz if you like this, Coach gon’ make you start all over!” The kid nods his head again, this time with a slight tinge of fear in his eye. 

“That’s right,” Coach chimes in. He looks over to the mother whose sitting on the chair, impressed, happy to see something catch her child’s attention. 

“Whatever happened to Evan?” I ask both Gato and Coach. Evan was my sparring partner at one point. We once traded left hooks in the ring and had respect for each other ever since. He used to always ride a bicycle and strolled it into the gym in such a manner that you could tell he was a responsible person. We called him 'The Natural' because he was just a overall gifted athlete. He had all the physical tools to be a good fighter, but the one thing that held him back was that he didn’t like to get hit. It’s not that in boxing you have to like getting hit, no one ever should, but it’s more like you accept that it’s part of the game and take it when it comes. Evan never really accepted that part. 

“Oh man, Evan ain’t there no more,” Gato says. He points to his temple and starts making clockwise circles with his index finger. “He got hit in the head with a baton by some security guard. Thirty-six stitches.”

Gato retells the story about how it was just him and Evan in the middle of a crowd of fallen cowboys hats after they had finished brawling at one of his cousins’ weddings. He told me how the whole thing started because his uncle was running around drunk, challenging people.

“I mean he fucked up, you know? He was acting drunk 'n stupid, pressin’ up on someone else’s woman, but he family, so we not gonna let him get his ass beat, you know?” Gato says. 

The brawl of course called the attention of the security and Evan, thinking it was yet another cowboy hatted foe, struck one of the guards with a punch. Hard. Within a matter of seconds the guard was bashing Evan in the head with a baton, to the point where people needed to pull him off for him to stop. Evan was a bloody mess and laid unconscious in a ER bed for three days. He got right back into trouble the week after he was released.

“He pulled the gun out of a cop’s holster and told them, ‘You better kill me! You better kill me! If you don’t kill me, I’ma kill myself,’” Gato recounts. “He woke up in the madhouse the next day in Tacoma. Hasn’t been right ever since.” 

I look over in the corner and Coach is shaking his head with a displeased look on his face. Maybe upset at the news, or because he was too used to hearing stories like this. Probably both. 

“Yeah, me and Evan are like brothers. I’ve known that guy since I was in 7th grade,” Gato continues. He smiles with a bit of pride of still having known someone for so long. It quickly fades after the memories of the story catch up. “Yeah I try to get him out the house now. Like I tell him, ‘Yeah man, there’s a BBQ today at my uncle’s house. Everyone’s gonna be there.’ But he never comes. He’s like uhh…what you call it? A recluse. Yeah. He don’t want to see nobody no more.”

I’m sad at the news. Evan was never really a friend or anything, but he was someone I once knew and liked, and now wasn’t doing well. We talk about other fighters of the past. Some of them bring tales of tragedy like Evan’s, others we kind of laugh at their slight misfortune, the ones that betrayed the gym. But it was always a mishap related to their life in the ring, never anything outside of it. For the most part, guys in the gym want each other to be doing well. Talk inside the fight game is one matter, but in life, that’s another. None of us ever wanted to hear a fighter doing poorly in their life. That is, after all, the real fight. 

I tell Coach about Omar, my first sparring partner. A stocky Somalian kid who was strong as a bull. I remember he knocked the wind out of me the first time I ever sparred. The profuse apology he gave as I was gasping for air on my knees told me he was a good guy. Omar would have been a great boxer, he just liked to eat. His ideal weight was in the 152lb weight class, but he could never make it there. He always fought at 165lb, even one time at 178lbs, and those extra pounds cost him. He quit boxing because of the losses, but it never really seemed to bother him. Now he has a stable factory job, a wife and two children, and from what I’m told, he’s happy working everyday. If it’s the same Omar I remember, I can see the smile on his face as he does it. 

“Man, that makes me happy,” Coach says. “To hear my fighters doing good outside. That’s important.” 

I give a look around the gym before I leave. The same motivational posters are still plastered on the walls, ones that say things like, “Fatigue makes cowards of men” or “If you’re good at making excuses, you’re seldom good at anything else”. I think about all the time I spent in this place, how I’d show up after work, after school, sit in traffic for two hours just to make it here. Nothing else mattered when it came to the gym, just as long as it didn't stop me from showing up. I think about all the other things I could have gotten myself into in exchange for the time I spent training. I probably would have killed someone, or gotten myself killed in that process, and I say this without arrogance or exaggeration. I was, and in many ways still am, an angry kid, but something about the gym made you feel less empty. It was a refuge, for those seeking shelter, and it taught me a lot about becoming a person I could believe in. But I think the most important thing that it taught me, was to care about other people, and when I think about all that I've done since I first started, I owe this place my life. 

I move towards the door, nearly on the brink of tears after all the thoughts and memories pass through my mind. I take a final glance at the fighters training on the floor, think about how all of this is a process of change, even if those involved are not yet aware of it. I can't seem to find the right words to express my gratitude as I leave, but I have to say something.

“I remember I used to come here everyday, Coach,” I finally say. “It was like my second home.”

“Man, we family here, Nasty,” Coach says. “You know you always got a place.”