The kick broke my jaw in two places. I had several operations and had to be fed through a tube for quite some time. Every small movement of my mouth was accompanied by excruciating pain. But none of these physical torments I endured for three months in the hospital could compare to the injuries inflicted upon my soul.
After missing, so miserably, my once in a life-time chance, I broke down. It wasn’t a typical nervous breakdown, one visible to the outside world. My mind was surprisingly calm, but I was void of any purpose. I was experiencing a process of self-disintegration and did nothing to stop it.
My opponent didn’t only crush my jaw, he crushed me.
I remember Peter sitting by my bed in the hospital room as I awakened from a deep, dreamless sleep. He met my stare and nodded his head at me.
I wanted to tell him: my fucking body didn’t work in the ring, my legs were heavy, my punches slow....I’m sorry, Peter, I don’t know what the fuck happened, but all those words echoed in my mind only, my mouth wouldn’t move. In a restless motion I turned my head from side to side.
Peter, as if he had heard my thoughts, placed his hand on mine. “My boy, calm down. Don’t worry too much over this loss. It happens sometimes in fights. I saw it happening to other fighters too. You wanted so much to win, you were too afraid to lose. Such fear plays tricks on your body. It happens.”
‘It shouldn’t have happened to me! I was ready, I trained so hard to make myself ready. It shouldn’t have happened to me, dammit! My mind, my body, they betrayed me!’ I screamed in my head.
Peter continued: “All you need to worry about now is getting well. And then we’ll start training again and you’ll see, you’re gonna be better than ever. Next time, my boy, next time, you will win.”
I calmed down and looked into Peter’s loyal eyes. ‘There won’t be a next time, we both know that, Peter,’ I told him with my stare. But this time Peter didn’t seem to hear my thoughts and continued to look at me with that gleam of hope and optimism, which I soon came to despise.
Others came to visit -- my mom, my little brother, surprisingly also my sister, Najib, other fighters from my gym, even some of my classmates from the university and two of my Exes. I pretended I could not speak although my jaw had already healed. I faked I was asleep when I was wide awake. I let them think my comprehension was diminished while I was fully aware of everything and everybody around me.
All the visitors were nothing but a painful reminder of the shame I endured. Their worries, their pity, their optimism felt like huge, iron nails hammered into my body.
I didn’t tell anyone the date of my release from the hospital. I left my mom a note that I was fine, but that I needed to go out of the city for a while, to be alone, and asked her not to worry. I also left a note for Peter, thanking him for everything and wishing him to find a fighter he deserved and could make him proud.
Then I left the city and went south, settling in a small worker’s town. I rented a room in an old house, got a job in construction during the day and worked as a waiter/cleaner/bouncer in the only pub in the town during the night. I kept to myself and didn’t make any acquaintances. Co-workers looked at me with wary glances, and once I heard them saying that I might not be of the right mind. I couldn’t have cared less.
I loathed having to go to sleep and tried to avoid it till I collapsed into bed from exhaustion. As soon as my eyes closed the fight began rewinding in my head in numerous distorted variations, all of them ending with me losing one way or another. Each time I awoke, I was overcome with the same horrendous feelings I had when I woke up in the hospital after the fight.
Such thoughts and feelings assaulted me in my free time as well, which was why I looked for a job also in the weekends. But Sundays the small town pretty much shut down for everybody and I was left with all the time in the world for introspection. I tried, of course, alcohol and some drugs I was lucky to procure on a few occasions, but they did little better than an increased dosage of sleeping pills for a serious insomniac.
I endeavoured to look at my situation in the way most would: it was just one loss, right? Sooner or later it happens to all fighters. You suck it up, train harder, try again. This kind of reasoning did not help at all. Even if I continued to fight, the best I could aspire to were fighting events organized by regional organizations. But the doors to Yamato Damashi closed permanently for me, and this was something I could not come to terms with.
Time passed, and as I continued to spin within this emotional vortex of doom, something dark surfaced within me. It lurked in an obscure part of my brain as an unwanted companion, too subtle to tackle with reason and too resistant to emotions. Its presence didn’t really bother me, it was just there, observing, waiting.
Then one late night, after I finished working at the pub, I took a bottle from the bar and drank it. Staggering on the way home, I smoked the last joint I had in my pocket. My head was throbbing, my mind once again harassed by the memories of the fight. As I reached the railway tracks, instead of just crossing them over as I usually did, I continued to walk on them. It was a thoughtless, instinctive act for which I had no explanation. Sudden, soft trembles made me realize the train was coming. I spread my legs as wide as possible, lifted my arms high up, and waited in this grandiose posture. The moment I saw the lights of the train, the possibility of death began to acquire a real weight.
Not sure if it was just in my imagination, but as I tried to get off the tracks, I simply couldn’t. I felt as if I was in one of those dreams where you try to run, but your body moves painfully slowly and you’re stuck in one place. In reality, my body was probably very drunk, while my mind was more lucid than ever. The train lights were coming closer and my body would not obey. A twisted reminder of the situation in the ring, my opponent now a speeding train. I started to scream as loud as I could to get myself off the tracks. The will to live gushed through my veins and bones. I managed to jump off just in time. As I watched the train passing me, feeling its wind on my skin, I knew what I had to do.