WHEN YOU ARE PUNCHED IN THE FACE
by Philip Sherrod
First, accept that you will cry You won’t be able to help it. A solid shot to the nose causes the eyes to instantly tear up. This is something they choose to omit in action movies—nobody wants to see The Rock weep his way through a one-liner—but life is not an action movie, and your tears are not necessarily an indication of your masculinity. Do attempt to avoid outright sobbing, however. It is important to preserve a modicum of dignity in even the most ignominious of circumstances.
Though you have been punched, there will initially be little pain. The immediate sensation will resemble having a photographer’s giant flash detonate squarely in front of your face. In fact, time will begin to feel like a series of individual photographs, each moment slightly disconnected from the moment before or the moment to come, and due to this temporary sensory overload, your brain will process it all as a white light and an overwhelming hiss that fills your skull.
You will now have two options: You can fall down, or you can attempt to remain standing. Let us examine both.
Option A: Fall down. This will almost certainly be your body’s default response. As noted, your brain is having a difficult time of it right now. If you fall down, you have a better chance of avoiding further distress by curling up and covering your vital regions. However, some atavistic part of you might suspect that dropping and covering too closely resembles showing your belly to an alpha dog. If that sounds unacceptable to your animal brain, you might choose to go with—
Option B: Attempt to remain standing. Who does this punk think he is? No one punches you in the face and gets away with it. You’re a warrior, an immovable object. You, sir, are goddamn Rocky Balboa. Never mind the fact that your hands seem oddly distant and your legs are wobbling as though you’re standing in the center of a trampoline full of bouncing children. Never mind the fact that you have no idea how to fight. None of that shit matters. It’s on now, motherfucker.
Right. Just fall down already.
Once you are on the ground, you should raise one arm to shield your face (your beautiful, precious face) and use the other to guard your groin (your beautiful, precious groin). He may not be done with you. You will be expecting at least a parting kick in the ribs, and you will be surprised when no additional violence materializes. Now use the sudden cessation of activity to shake your head vigorously and attempt to get your wits about you. The white light will begin to resolve into proper vision (though still blurred by those annoying tears, of course) and the roaring in your ears will dissipate until there will actually seem to be too little sound, as though you are hearing the world through earmuffs.
You will begin to be aware of dozens of sharp points digging into your skin. The ground is not as complete a refuge from pain as you had hoped. You will now remember where you are. You are in the gravel parking lot across the street from the club where you were supposed to meet Becky for a drink. She hadn’t shown up, and you were walking back to your car.
Could this attack upon your person have something to do with that? Could this be Becky’s Todd? Todd, the Assistant Regional Something-Something? Really, if anyone were to punch you in the face, you would have expected it to be Kyla’s Brett, who is a bad-tempered drunk, or Jen’s Tommy, who was apparently a wrestler or something in high school.
Take a moment to peer furtively past your upraised arm at your assailant. You have never seen a picture of Todd (who wants an image of the other man in his head?), but in the ugly yellow light of the parking lot’s lone sodium lamp, this man certainly looks the part of an Assistant Regional Something-Something. You can see the softness around his middle and in his face. His wiry dark hair has begun an exodus to the sides of his head. The sleeves of his white dress shirt are rolled up to his elbows, and his purple tie has been pulled loose. You will notice that, as he looks down on you, his eyes are wide and his lips are pursed into a little “o.” He is pressing the knuckles of his punching hand into his thigh. It will dawn on you that you are the first person this man has ever punched. Of all the petty offenses life has no doubt committed against this worn-out doormat of a person, the one for which you are responsible was the only one he deemed worthy of violent retribution.
The delayed pain from the man’s punch will now begin to fill your face. It will feel as though there is a small army of arsonists underneath your skin, setting gasoline fires behind your eyes, in your nose, and down your throat. Through the earmuffs, you will hear him shout something about staying the hell away from his woman. Though he will try to say it like a tough guy, you will pick up on the quaver in his voice, as though he, too, is surprised he punched you in the face.
After Todd or whoever turns and stalks away, you will no doubt want to try to get up off the gravel and stagger to your car. There is some good news on this end: Your legs have begun to feel more solid, and your Camaro is only a few yards away.
Once you slide into the front seat, keep the driver’s side door open a crack so as to prevent the car’s interior light from going out. The light will be necessary when examining the damage to your face. You’ll be expecting to see a lumpen horror show staring back at you from the visor mirror—your nose twisted at an unnatural angle, your lips split open like overripe fruit—but you will be pleasantly surprised to find that you still look like you, which is to say, desirable. There is only a thin trickle of blood from your nose (not the torrent you expected) and a small knot under your right eye. The knot will undoubtedly become a full-blown shiner by the time you wake up tomorrow, but for now, it’s hardly a worry.
The pain is still a problem, though.
You’ll want to take the edge off it, so dig into the glovebox and find the whiskey flask disguised as a cell phone. Take a large swig. The resultant smooth warmth in your empty stomach will be a welcome counterpoint to the jagged fire in your face. Have another drink. And another. At some point, you’ll realize you need to stop the blood flow, so feel around the floorboards for a towel, a napkin, anything absorbent. You’ve always taken pride in keeping the Camaro pristine, inside and out, so your efforts will likely be fruitless. But perhaps something fell down the cracks around the seats. And something did! Lodged between the passenger seat and the door is a pair of blue cotton panties.
(Honestly, man—a pair of panties? Do you even know whose they are? Never mind. They’ll have to do.)
Slumped in your seat, slightly buzzed, discarded underpants pressed to your bloody, throbbing nose, you will—not for the first time—wonder if maybe you’re getting too old for this shit.
Right now, you’ll be wishing you had a buddy to call up. You’d tell him the story of your evening, and, together, you’d laugh at the absurdity of it all. After a while, though, you’d get real. You’d talk about things that matter. About women.
See, buddy, you’d say, I don’t know how to be good. I’m not…whatever. Socialized.”
So, what is it you want? he’d ask.
I don’t know, you’d say. My twenties, they’re gone now, man. But here I still am. Just me. Like a whole decade—didn’t happen.
Got stuck, he’d say.
Wanna know something? you’d say. Sometimes, y’know, after, while I’m in bed next to whoever, I try to picture what it’d be like to see that same face last thing every night and first thing every morning. Sometimes it feels right, like it’s a machine just humming along. Then sometimes it scares the shit out of me because it must be so goddamn boring. How did you manage to settle down? What’s the secret, buddy?
But you don’t have a buddy. Men have a sense about other men, and the sense they have about you is: This is the asshole who’s going to try to fuck my girlfriend. So, take another drink. Jack Daniels will be your buddy tonight. Finish off the flask.
The blood will have finally stopped. You now have two options: You can either fling the bloody, blue cotton panties out the window and drive home, or you can go back inside the club. Let us examine both.
Option A: Drive home. At home, there is no danger of further punches to the face. Home is safe. Home is a two-bedroom apartment with a brown leather couch, a king-sized bed, a healthy supply of Miller Lite, and a broken Xbox. Home is quiet and very, very still. Home is the faint sounds of other people’s lives being lived on the opposite sides of your undecorated walls.
Option B: Go back inside the club. The club is noise and energy and movement. The club is music and dancing and women sitting alone at the bar. The club is the absence of time, the eternal present. The club is dozens of illicit moments, each one calling your name.
The club cannot be held responsible for further punches to the face.
But now you’ll find that the pain of being punched in the face is a surprisingly manageable thing. It comes on quickly and just as quickly becomes another low, dull ache. No big deal at all, really. And the night, she is still young.
You’ll want to shove those panties back under the seat. They might come in handy again sometime.
Philip Sherrod was educated at the University of Arkansas--Little Rock and is a lifelong resident of the South.