I started to wonder if I’d made a horrible mistake somewhere between the third and fourth punch to the face. I had at least 50 pounds on Allan — maybe more — but he was a trained boxer, faster than me, and every jab or hook he threw seemed to land squarely on my cheek or chin or mouth.
Allan landed another blow to my face and, as the onlookers cheered, the edges of my vision started to fade to black. I was working on an article about an underground boxing match hosted by a famous motorcycle club… things were not going particularly well.
If I’m honest, fighting Allan was something that I’d felt skeptical about doing right up until the first bell rang, 1) because it’s not fun to get your ass kicked, and 2) because I became a pacifist a few years ago. I know that last part sounds a little weird, I’ll do my best to explain:
I grew up with violence. Not actively, but in the passive, subtle way that most boys do. I watched movies and read comics and played video games that glorified and justified ridiculous acts of brutality. Hell, my bedroom was even covered in posters of the X-Men’s Wolverine, a tiny Canadian man with literal knives built into his hands.
It didn’t end there. Violence was a part of the evangelical culture I was raised in, with violent language permeating sermons and Bible studies and prayers. Everything centered on striking down enemies and winning battles and breaking free of bondage and wrestling with temptation. My faith — at the time — was largely built on this graphic imagery.
These ideas and themes all seeped into my subconscious in a variety of frightening ways. When I was mad at someone, I would fantasize about slapping them in the face, or kicking them in the teeth, or throwing them off a train. If a bully was giving me trouble at school, then I’d imagine hiding a roll of quarters in my fist and punching them in the jaw. Of course, fantasies like this aren’t uncommon — especially during those tense middle school years when everyone is trying desperately to define who they are — but why is that? Why is violence (real or imagined) normal?
There’s a great speech by David Foster Wallace in which he tells the story of two young fish. One day they swim by an older fish and, in passing, the older fish says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” The two younger fish swim on and eventually one turns to the other and says, “What the hell is water?”
The idea is that culture, or knowledge, or whatever you want to call it, can be invisible without perspective. For me, as a kid, violence was like water. It was everywhere, but I couldn’t really see it. At least not until I started watching Doctor Who.