David L. Robbins
Novelist, Educator, Playwright, Essayist
Native Son #14
by David L. Robbins on May 19th, 2014

In a recent spurt of pride and bellicosity, I tapped my own chest before otherwise polite company and stated without fear of contradiction that I, at age 57, could kick my own 20 year-old butt. I’m in good shape for a man approaching geezerhood, so the remark wasn’t fully out of bounds. I did not fear contradiction because this was a thesis which couldn’t be tested. (The majority of boasts, by the way, are hatched in a nest of this same brittle confidence.)

I’d been told that I wasn’t the man I once was. No, I am not. I posited that I was better.

Aging builds character. It is not, as they say, for the meek. Parts no longer work the way they once did, or at all. We accumulate maladies, creaks and aches. We slow, we adjust. We complain, we suffer. But decades can imbue dignity, even grace, often power. A common payback for years lived is wisdom.
But what of the barbarian baseline, butt-kicking? Could I, in fact, win a bout with my far younger self? How would the rewards and setbacks of maturity stack up in a slugfest against callow, raw, athletic, pink, full-head-of-hair me?

So, if you will, imagine with me said bout. The pugilism takes place inside a ring, a controlled setting. David and I are not angry with each other, this is just an experiment, a pinwheel of rhetoric. However, the way he eyes me from across the canvas is unnerving. He might be upset that I haven’t turned out better, and lost all his hair. He didn’t have kids, he’s not rich. Uh oh.
For my part, I try to hide my annoyance at his fidgeting. I can’t help but sneer, he lacks confidence, he talks too much. He’s looking into the crowd to see who’s watching.

In this corner, David, age 20. 6’6”, weighing in at 205 pounds. Junior at William and Mary. Solid A- student. Got a nice girlfriend he won’t keep. Headed for law school where he will not excel. Good athlete, nothing exceptional. Not easily dissuaded. A few good friends.

And in the opposite corner. David, age 57. 6’6”, weighing 250 pounds. Author, educator, lives alone, works alone. A failed marriage, bracketed by a dozen failed relationships. Good blue water sailor. Eight years of martial arts. Still not easily dissuaded. A few good friends, none of them from college.


We advance to the center of the ring.

He drops me with a quick right. I never saw it coming. Kid’s fast.

I struggle to my feet. Before I can gain my balance, he thumps me with a left to the solar plexus, a right to the temple.

I go down again.

I rise again and stand hard, like he never laid a glove on me.

For the first time, David’s eyes flinch. He knows.

I can take a punch. I’ve absorbed so many I sometimes despair that life can touch me with little else.

And this makes all the difference.

The lad dances around me. He thinks time is on his side. One of the saddest lessons we learn is that time is surely not on your side. I rush in and start wailing.

He stops my best shots because his body works in every sense and mechanism. Besides, my wailing isn’t what it used to be.

I tire, and I tire him.

But I have reserves. I’ve drunk from this reservoir a thousand times. I know the way to find it is to exhaust my lungs, my luck, my money, my love and loyalty. I understand that every time in my life I thought I was finished, I was wrong.

David’s never been tested. He thinks we’re both out of gas. He’s right.

And that’s when I tag him. Boom.

He goes down. He stays down longer than I like.

Then, good boy, he gets up.

That was all I wanted to see.

Seconds later, I walk into a stiff right hand. I go down.

David lifts his gloves, showing off for the crowd.

I could get up. I could. But this time, I stay on the canvas.

He needs the win more than I do.

Posted in Boomer Mag, Boomer Articles    Tagged with boomer magazine, native son, richmond, age, growing up, boxing, younger self, rva


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