I finally get to the empty stairwell, the unfinished one in the new building. I push through doors everyone assumes are locked because of the giant sign that says PLEASE USE OTHER STAIRS. That space always smells like old chalk and drywall. Bare cement steps, unpainted railings, everything reeking of “in progress.” I like it.
At the bottom of the stairs is a wall smudged with imperfections that I’ve created over the past few months. Knuckle-sized dents, the occasional red-orange smear. This is my masterpiece. This is my art.
I flex my right hand and focus. Blindly beating on a wall will do nothing. Everything needs to go into this punch. There’ll be more after, but this first one will set the tone.
If I was wearing gloves and this was a bag instead of a wall, this would be acceptable. This wouldn’t be something to hide.
It’s not about destruction. It’s not about being strong enough to make a hole in the wall. It’s about hurting, because that’s what I need to distract myself from everything that’s going into that fist. I think about everything I’ve fucked up, everyone who makes me feel like a fuck-up, and I throw the punch.
It’s more of a hook than a jab and leaves a swipe of red where the wall tears the top layers of skin off my pinky knuckle. Frustrated, I swing a second time, the dampened thud echoing through the stairwell. I do it again and feel the jolt through the back of my hand, all the way up my forearm to my elbow. The throbbing makes it hard to clench tight enough, and the sensible part of my brain wants to pull back. Self-preservation or something like that.
The rest of my brain asks what’s worth preserving, so I throw the last punch, hit the wall square and straight and hear the crack before I feel it. I’ve never been a screamer, but I have to trap a groan in my throat. I’ve broken something, fractured a knuckle at best. Oops.
I sit on the floor and lean against the wall opposite my handiwork, noticing two new blotches of color where my skinned knuckle stamped the plaster canvas. I close my eyes and feel the pain, I mean really feel it. The ache along the path of that jolt, the sting of the flesh wound, the pulse as blood pumps through that entire limb.
People don’t normally notice when the grooves between my knuckles turn red to purple to green; at a glance, it’s easy to dismiss a little discoloration as a trick of the light. Maybe they’ll see the scabs, but that’s only about a week of healing time before the scars develop, and those are practically invisible, just rosy spots on the back of my hand. No one needs to know how good it feels to breathe, to have this adrenaline clear my mind, just for a little while. Just for a couple minutes.