You had a purpose here, and you were keen to see it fulfilled. You wanted to become a trainer. I was the right height and size so you put all your enthusiasm onto me and it lit my life up.
The love you had for boxing was so pure, as if it was music, something that that had as much depth as any art form. I was having trouble talking at the time, so any means of expression was a blessing and in that sense we became a perfect match.
One time, as I’m warming up, you and Dad are having a conversation, and Dad references someone talking close to him- and you say: ‘Like a close talker, like in Seinfeld.’ And the skipping rope whipped my shins.
‘You know Seinfeld?’
‘Yeah, I love Seinfeld.’
The bridge between a trainer and a friend is very short, and made from sitcom quotes.
You’re seven years older than me, early twenties – young enough to feel connected to, old enough to feel comfortable being guided by. You weren’t only someone that made me a boxer, but you made me believe I could be one. It wasn’t an experiment anymore, it was a sport, and I was an athlete. After almost a year of training I started competing and you’d often get told off by the ref for shouting too much from ringside.
When dad started sinking into a depression after the divorce, I’d feel like every moment not training was time wasted. The thoughts of school and impending adulthood would creep in when not tirelessly training.
After a night of training Dad gives you a lift back to yours, there’s a man in the street. You and Dad share some words, I’m zoned out.
You say: ‘Nah, I just hate ’em.’ Dad, cheerily, is trying to talk you
out of it. The car drives past. I look at the man. I ask if you know him.
‘Nah, Rastas. I fucking hate them.’
I look between the two front car seats – dad tells you you’re being close-minded. You take a breath, about to say a lot, and then concede with – ‘Yeah maybe’ and the conversation ends. My brain has trouble processing the idea of you hating someone. I try to think about Rastas, what there is to hate – think about my friends dads who are Rastas. I don’t get it.
Dad has nowhere to go for Christmas. You have him over. Your family is warm and loving and there’s so much food. Dad is the quietest he’s ever been. We play old family videos of you and your brothers boxing. You’re incredible. You say – we’re gonna get there with you. At one point, as to be expected, great boxers come up.
My favourite, Sugar Ray Leonard.
You wince a little bit, your dad says he’s shit. Sugar Ray Leonard? Fucking useless. Ali. Even you say he’s shit. You’re convinced of it. Ali? Muhammad Ali?
‘His mouth, just talking bollocks all the fucking time.’
I’ve never heard so much venom in swear words before. My body flinched just looking at you say it. An aggression and ugliness that was so far away from you as a trainer, as your videos boxing – where you’re actually beating people up. What I don’t understand is that I don’t see you discriminate to anyone who comes to the gym. It’s these strange views of people from far away that you sincerely believe, but on a case by case basis, you treat everyone with respect.
There’s an awards do at the club. Dad is coming from his flat, you live near me so we walk with your friends. It’s about six of us, and you and another one of your mates are definitely the leaders of the group. My friendship groups are split into two sections- the boys I play football with, and my best friend, the only person I talk to and the only person who can make me laugh to the point where I can’t breathe.
On the walk there an anecdote comes up- which your friend tells- and the punchline revolves around the woman in this story being Jewish – and you being able to tell by her nose. The group laughs, I don’t. You’re trying to explain to me, that you didn’t actually say that. Ah okay, cool. I tell myself I can’t understand it – how you can train Marlon, have a deep love for a Jewish comedian, and say the things you say? The real problem I have is trying accept it. That someone who’s taught me how to be strong and has been there for my family – someone I love – could have that kind of intolerance and venom inside them.
On the way home, your friend gives me a lift – you two in the front, I’m in the back. There are two boys on bikes, must be about my age, maybe a year older.
‘Here watch this.’
The car speeds up as fast as it can go. The boys panic and start cycling. The car swerves round them and carries on. It’s the funniest thing in the world to you two. Something ended between us that night and it ended my connection and love for boxing too. I started losing fights. Over and over again. I couldn’t commit to the lifestyle anymore. When I left I cried in front of you for what must have been almost half an hour. You were supervising a sparring session between ten-year-olds at the time and you told me it was okay.
I was so sad because I had let you down by losing, and also because I knew I wasn’t ever going to see you again.