Like Telling My Son a Story

Joshua Isard

Bobby Chacon has not yet knocked down Rafael Limón.

My son and I are watching their fourth fight on YouTube. We’re sitting on the carpet, in front of the coffee table, both of us cross legged and in our pajamas.

The sun is not up.

I am drinking coffee.

He’s drinking milk out of a plastic cup and letting his toast get cold and rubbery. He raises the cup to his mouth without taking his eyes off the television, bites down a little on the lip, sometimes lets his hands drop to his side with the cup still between his teeth. Then milk runs down his chin and the cup almost falls. Droplets splash on the stain resistant carpet.

It’s the second round and Limón, the reigning Junior Lightweight champion, lands a hook to Chacon’s jaw. Keith Jackson wails about it in that muffled voice of 1980s sports broadcasts. My son cheers. I think he’s excited at seeing any kind of violence, but I have to tell him to keep quiet so that he doesn’t wake up his mother or sister. And, also, remind him that we support Chacon because Limón is a Neanderthal.

He looks back at the television.

“Do you know what I mean by Neanderthal?”

He shakes his head.

“A person that’s not refined. Do you know what refined means?”

“Nope.”

“Clever and nice. Like you and your sister.”

“OK,” he says.

That is the “OK” of not understanding, but I don’t push it. I want him to ask questions because I know that if he does then he’ll get the answers that he wants. That I think he wants.

Over the past few mornings we watched the first three fights in the series. A win for Chacon, a draw, then a win for Limón.

I know that this fight is the best of the four, but I don’t tell him, I just let him watch.

The round ends and he hands me the remote control so I can skip through the minute between rounds, but I tell him that no, we shouldn’t, it’s best to watch the fight as it happened, breaks and all.

***

When my son settled into a sleep pattern at about three months old he began waking up every morning at 5:00am. He took long naps and went to bed early, so it didn’t affect him much. My wife hated it, said getting up so early with him threw off her whole day, that she crashed by three and struggled just to get through dinner.

My daughter wakes up at 7:00 for school and is a light sleeper.

So I started getting up at 5:00 with the boy.

Now he’s in pre-school three days a week and still gets up that early. It’s who he is, I guess. So I get up with him.

Before dawn, all the loud toys must be turned off. The dirty dishes must remain in the sink and the clean ones in the dishwasher must stay in their racks.

Those who get up early have the responsibility to not be heard, but the privilege of time.

I started recording boxing matches that I couldn’t watch live because they aired too late or because I was watching something else with my wife.

My wife does not like boxing.

Most people don’t appreciate seeing a man get hit in slow motion, frame after frame showing the sweat or blood or consciousness leave him. They want the facade of helmets and pads, of cameras panning back to see a whole field. The focus on boxers is difficult to take.

High definition television is, I think, a big reason the sport has fallen out of fashion.

But watching a good match is a bigger than simply who won which round. There is the narrative of the fight, of the fighters. Of styles, cultures, races, and nations.

When it’s a slow fight week, I find old matches on YouTube to watch in the mornings. Ones that I’ve seen a dozen times.

Watching those fights with my son, it’s like telling him a story.

***

This fight is a tough one because it involves suicide and taunting.

It’s easy to show my son the Ali fights, the way speed and skill against Liston became grit and strategy by the time he faced Foreman. The hatred between Leonard and Duran. Ward-Gatti, who never had a championship on the line in their three fights—the win was enough to fight for.

In the fourth round Chacon is again backed up to the corner. He fights his way out, again. He shouldn’t be standing but he punches himself back to the middle of the ring, though he hasn’t come close to knocking down Limón.

“Bobby Chacon’s wife committed suicide before this fight,” I say.

My son keeps his eyes on the screen. His body flinches a little bit in rhythm with the movement of the two boxers.

We had the death talk a few months ago. My wife explained everything because she can speak with the nuance and softness of a great piece of music and I cannot.

After she was done he asked if he could watch The Three Little Pigs on my iPad while he ate dinner.

My daughter asked questions for a half hour after we had the same talk with her. I’m sure she will be a doctor or a chemist or an engineer when she grows up.

She also asked questions when we explained the circulatory system to her after she got a cut. And, when we were at the beach, about why the waves never stop. And about what happens when we sleep.

My son has not.

While he watched cartoons after the death talk, that’s when I thought about Bobby Chacon, about showing him this fight.

“That means she killed herself,” I say. “Bobby Chacon’s wife, she killed herself a few months before this fight.”

He turns his head to me and starts putting his cup down on the carpet but then thinks better of it, places it on the coffee table behind him.

“She was sad that her husband, Bobby, wanted to keep boxing.”

I think I see him nod as if he understands, but maybe I’m projecting that on him. Or maybe it’s early and my coffee isn’t working yet.

“She was afraid he’d get hurt,” I say

He stares at the carpet in front of him. So do I. I focus in on individual fibers and it seems like there’s a lot more black in the carpet than it does when I’m standing up.

I look back at him. I’ve seen my son like this before.

“She was more than sad,” I say. “To do that someone has to be more than sad. They have to be hopeless.”

I turn back to the fight, put my arm around him, and watch Chacon get knocked down and take a mandatory eight count before the bout resumes.

***

I have refilled my coffee cup and sit back down next to my son to watch the rest of the fight. The curtains in our living room are still closed but the first light’s coming through—the clean, white kind that shows it will be a nice morning.

He doesn’t have school today so maybe we’ll go to the playground before it gets too hot. He’ll climb the tallest slide and pretend to be scared before he throws himself forward while trying to hide his smile, then he’ll let himself tumble over the wood chips when he hits the bottom.

We watch Chacon start to dance around the ring in the eleventh round like most fighters only can in the first. He lands big blows to Limón’s jaw, hurts him. The champion stays standing.

I hope my son will maybe ask how Chacon got faster or why Limón fights in such a different style. He does not.

I want to explain that Limón has no style. His hands flail with every hook and his jabs look like crosses. He doesn’t show any inclination toward defense. He is a blunt instrument, deserving of his nickname: “Bazooka.”

Chacon himself is no defensive genius. He’s an action fighter, but not without the skills to slip and duck. He does this more and more, moves more and more as the fight sinks into the later rounds.

It’s his wife.

“They say Limón taunted Chacon about his wife before the fight,” I say. It’s the twelfth round and Chacon is out maneuvering Limón—the champ’s wild hooks and crosses miss, throw him off balance, allow Chacon to bounce around the ring and pick his shots.

My son looks at me.

“Taunt means to say not nice things in order to make someone frustrated,” I say.

He turns back to the fight and then back to me. I think he’s asking me why someone would do that.

I say, “If Chacon is thinking about what Limón said then he’s not thinking about how Limón boxes. His mind isn’t in the fight. He’s not concentrating. Remember how much better you are at making your Lego towers when you concentrate?”

He says he does.

“It’s like that,” I tell him.

By the end of the round Chacon has taken control of the fight. If it was a contemporary bout, it’d have ended there and would have deserved a draw, but title fights back then went fifteen rounds.

During the break we see both fighters’ faces: the welts swelling like grotesque bug bites, the cuts lathered with medication and petroleum jelly to stop the bleeding.

They answer the bell and go back to the middle of the ring and touch gloves.

***

The fifteenth round. Chacon has not yet knocked down Limón and I want to remind my son of that but I don’t.

Though this has been a brutal fight, Chacon begins the final stanza with high energy straights, still refusing to succumb to the acid in his muscles.

My son does not move. His milk is on the table behind him. He has nothing in his hands. He sits on his knees and leans forward and his eyes dart across the screen with each punch.

He sees it like Chacon does. Sees that Limón is punched out, that his flailing swings have neither accuracy nor power, that he is vulnerable to a big blow.

He’s waiting on the knockdown. He can see it coming.

It takes the whole round. Chacon never stops going after the champ—my son never stops following him around the ring. Chacon only needs to flinch back in order to avoid punches, then counters with clean blows to the head. Limón lumbers. Chacon bounces, close to toying with his opponent.

The crowd chants, “Bobby!”

And then fifteen seconds before the bell Chacon catches Limón on the jaw with a hard right hook. Limón staggers backwards, his hands fall. Chacon chases him with a jab-cross and puts him on the canvas.

My son jumps. Yelps. I catch myself doing a small fist pump. Then I raise my hand to my son and he slaps it with his little palm, then with the other one, then with both at the same time because he is small and he can.

Limon gets up, takes the mandatory eight, then the fight is over.

“Daddy?”

It’s my daughter. She’s at the top of the stairs.

“Yes, sweetie?”

“Is everything all right down there?”

“Yes, honey,” I say. “We’re just watching a boxing match. I’m sorry if we woke you.”

“That’s OK, it’s almost breakfast time anyway.”

“Well why don’t you brush your teeth and come down here and we’ll all have breakfast together.”

“All right.”

I hear her go into the bathroom and turn on the sink.

My son says, “Dad.”

“Yeah, bud?”

“I want… I want to be like Bobby Chacon.”

“You don’t want to be a boxer.”

“No, Dad. Like him.”

“How so?”

“The way he—” My son tightens his face, throws his fists out as fast as he can.

“You mean the way he boxes?”

“No. The way…”

I’ve always thought I should be better at understanding what my kids are trying to get at. I go over possibilities for a moment when my son speaks again.

“The other guy, he hit him. But… but Bobby Chacon didn’t stop.”

“He’s resilient.”

“What is an ‘int’?”

“No, resilient. All one word.”

“Oh. I want that.”

“That’s pretty great, kiddo. I want you to be resilient, too.”

While we talk they announce the winner: Chacon by unanimous decision.

My daughter comes downstairs and walks right to the kitchen where she stands on her bare toes to get the cereal off the counter, then grabs a bowl, and milk from the fridge. She spills nothing, not even a single Cheerio. She takes her breakfast to the dining room table and then asks, “Can I watch some TV this morning, Dad?”

“Of course,” I say, and I put on a cartoon for her.

My son is not watching. He’s taken my iPad and started looking through the open tabs on my browser.

“What do you want?”

“The fight again,” he says.

I’m happy with this morning and with how he latched on to Chacon, talked about him, so I call it up for him. He takes his pointer finger and draws it across the progress bar until he finds the last round. The last moments of it.

He watches the final punches a few times over, then puts down the iPad. He gets up and dances around the living room, throws an overhand right at an imaginary Limón then bounds forward with a jab-cross. Then he looks down at the carpet where his opponent has fallen.

I tell him not to stand there and stare at someone he’s just knocked down, to go back to his corner. He does, and rests his arms on imaginary ropes.

Then he resets and does it all again until he’s tired, which is when he comes to the dining room table to have breakfast with me and his sister before their mother wakes up.

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Joshua Isard is the author of the novel Conquistador of the Useless (Cinco Puntos Press, 2013), and his short stories have appeared in journals such as Wyvern Lit., Northwind, and Cleaver. Currently, he’s the director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Arcadia University. He lives outside Philadelphia with his wife and two children.