Come along then, young man. If you want to be a bully, have a go at me. Come on. I’m here.”
Playground fights were one thing. It seemed like I couldn’t avoid them. But boxing a priest?
What the hell did these people expect from me anyway? It’s not as if I fit in with them — or even figured I wanted to. It was hard enough to find myself dragged away from the only life I knew for twelve years to find myself in a Catholic school getting taught by priests and nuns who figured if you could intimidate a boy by whipping him with a ruler you could surely break him down by whipping him with a yardstick. The boys in the school only made it worse with their taunts and name-calling. What did they expect me to do? Ignore them? I’d had to stand up for myself.
Too bad these priests didn’t seem to like a fair street fight anymore than the boys did.
“Come on,” Father Robert said, holding up a pair of boxing gloves, “put them on. If you want to fight then we’ll fight. But we’ll fight according to the rules. In the ring…”
Oh yes, Father Robert was good at “the rules” — so long as they suited him. And they always seemed to suit him. After all, he was the one making them up and then enforcing them.
Seeing no other choice, I nodded my head and stuck out my hands, indicating that he could go ahead and tie the gloves on me.
Just me and Father Robert in the old gym. The smell reminded me of the tenant houses where I’d been brought up. It was one of the few places at the school I liked. I didn’t like it that day though.
Father Robert carefully unclipped his collar and then led the way to the ring. He turned to me and held the ropes wide for me to slip through.
He wasn’t a big man by any stretch but he was still bigger than me. Hell, I was just a good-sized twelve-year old. Awkward and maybe strong for my age. I wasn’t a man.
Father Robert faced me in the middle of the ring. He grinned. “Come on, take the first swing,” he said, beckoning me toward him with his gloved hand. “No? What? Afraid?” He gave me a gentle jab on the shoulder. More of a shove than a jab really. “Come on. You’re good at bullying the others…”
“They bully me…”
“Oh now, let’s have none of that,” he admonished me with a chuckle. “A little late in the game for whining, don’t you think? Besides, whining is for little girls.” He stepped forward and boxed me on the ears. Not too hard. Just enough to rock me to the left and the right. “You’re not a little girl, are you?” He seemed more intent on toying with me than hurting me.
“What’s the matter, lad? Lost your fight? This is the ring not the playground where you can scratch and bite like a girl.” His grin widened. “What’s the matter? Don’t like having to face someone more than your match?”
He took another jab at me. I danced back beyond the reach of his glove. He laughed.
“You’ve got reflexes. Good.” Then he stepped toward me.
I continued to dance away from him, ducking and dodging as many of his hits as I could. In the process, I took a couple of half-hearted jabs at him. I connected with one, causing him to rock on his feet.
He laughed again. “That’s it?” he asked. “That’s the best a big bully like you can do?”
He faked with his left. A good fake. I went for it and met his right square in my face. I staggered back, almost falling to the canvas. My nose and lips felt numbed. Father Robert continued to come at me, boxing me left and right. Sending me against the ropes.
“Not such a big man now, are you?”
Father Robert landed one more good jab, popping my head back. My eyes were filled with tears. I could taste the blood on my tongue. My arms were sore and his laughing filled my ears.
I’d had enough all right. As he positioned himself for another punch, I kicked him between his legs. Hard. He dropped to the canvas like a sack of soft potatoes. I stood before him for a moment, feeling the breath grate through my clenched teeth. Then I tore my gloves off and dropped them to the canvas beside him.