Man of Steel
by James Chaney
Voices echo, reacting to the thud of a clean powershot. I felt nothing… was it a left? Was it a right? No matter, I feel nothing. I’m made of steel. Dull and empty. I don’t feel. I’m a million miles away from the fleshy automaton relegated to maintaining its directive: Move forward… absorb damage… attempt victory.
Did I feel anger for a moment there? That was nice, that little dagger of passion… and it’s gone. It’s so elusive… I disconnect again.
A bell… the corner… the stool… my brother… resolve… conviction…
My brother, my dearest friend, I know you want these things from me, but all I feel is bitterness, shame, and a vicious, biting, internal agony. I want to hide my face from you, I want to hide my face from me.
I say all the right things. I say them as boldly as my tired little soul can muster -as though I can lie hard enough for both of us, or either of us for that matter. I’m tired. So very tired. The flesh is willing but the spirit is weak.
Move forward… absorb damage… attempt victory.
Am I bleeding again? I always fucking bleed. My brother’s voice is fading. Elbows are funny -hearing a noise emanating from impact on your own face. It feels shockingly appropriate, precisely how it should. How can that be shocking? That’s stupid and wrong anyway. Pain really should be more painful.
Stand up? No… sorry, brother. Submission? Almost… elbows… I feel nothing… no pain, no panic. Maybe later. Maybe next round, that’s not too far off.
Keep moving… absorb damage… attempt victory…
No? Waving it off, ref? That’s stupid. I laugh a soulless laugh or maybe I just thought I did. Expressing emotion is funny business when you’re not feeling feelings. I’m assaulted with towels on my bloody face and I can tell that my state of disassociation is beginning to fade because the frantic wiping is annoying the shit out of me. I hear the crowd cheer and think about how much I’ll later hate this mockery of anything good or real. The referee stands between myself and the better man; his body tired, but his spirit burning bright and proud. In that particularly pathetic moment his elation was almost vicarious. Those little pieces of what I used to be revolt from within like a voice screaming with desperate, righteous anger -yearning to tear me apart but stifled as they fall further away into the depths of me.
I’m escorted downstairs to a concrete room with four mattresses stacked up on the side. A man who I had presumed to be the janitor directs me to lay down. The mattresses bends to a V shape beneath my weight. He places what appears to be a shop rag with a hole cut in it over my face. It’s immediately apparent that no Litocaine will be used. My opponent speaks to me as the janitor/doctor presses the needle through my face, asking if I’m okay. Litocaine is pointless, I now realize. At least when you’re made of steel, pain isn’t really so painful. As I pass through door:
‘You have so much heart, man!’
‘You’re a warrior!’
‘Now you! I have nothing, but respect for you!’
Pain isn’t all that painful. Anguish. Shame. Memories. Dark, brutal, and indeed quite painful all of those. The lies people believe when they speak to me with admiration… those bite and burn and sting and bleed for a micro-eternity. I head to the locker room to shower. The warmth of tears comes to my eyes, concealed by the shower. I curse myself for allowing the luxury of the endorphins that the tears provide. Salty liquid shame runs into the open wounds on my face and burns, perhaps obediently. My disassociation is lifted… but that won’t do at all. I put my clothes on, go numb a few short minutes more, and prepare my brother for battle.
For a brief spell, I do a good thing. I see him through his battle. I witness his resolve. I feel elation on his behalf. And I feel some small satisfaction for what moderate role I played.
The curtains fall. The feelings fade. Darkness comes… but the rent is paid. ‘Never again’ I say, ‘Never again. Dear God I pray…’