My name is Tracy and I married a cage fighter. His name is Tom. We meet one day when I am showing him a house. It is a Mid-Century modern, recently remodeled, four bedrooms/five baths with high ceilings and a glass-walled living room. I’m a realtor to the lesser-known stars.
As we make our introductions and I offer him my hand, I brace myself, waiting for it to be crushed. His hand is as big as a baseball glove. He takes it, and I’m surprised at the softness of its embrace. Lesser men have wounded me with their overeager handshakes. Maybe they’re trying to compensate for something. Small feet perhaps?
Tom’s neck and torso are as thick as a refrigerator. His arms are covered with tattoos – dragons, unfamiliar Asian symbols, and Bible verses. When he speaks, his voice is low and soft. When I look into his eyes, I see kindness. In my head, I have visions of him flipping large men over his head and hurling them to the ground, bouncing them off of the mat under his feet. In his world there are large sums of money at stake and everyone wants something from him. In his world everyone wants a piece of him. The only thing I want is my commission, but he passes on the Mid-Century modern recently remodeled and asks me out instead.
I am small; he is not. I stand a hair over five feet tall and weigh 110 pounds with my shoes on. Tom is six-foot-two and weighs 215 pounds. Some days, when it’s sunny out, we lie on the grass, and he lifts me overhead as if he were bench pressing me. Or he’ll wrap his hand under my body and curl me up with his biceps. He’s that strong.
I’ve entered a strange new world of energy drinks and protein powders with raw egg blended in. Tom’s a bit of a health nut, so I hide my Snickers bars in the glove compartment of my car so as not to disappoint him. Like most people, I’ve tried out gym memberships then let them lapse. Tom urges me on anyway, guilting me into morning jogs, which I’m not happy about, but it’s good for me so I give it a try. Tom listens to motivational tapes and watches inspirational DVDs. He rakes the sand in his Zen garden and studies The Art of War. But he makes thousands of dollars a fight, so who am I to judge?
From Tom I learn that cage fighting is not violent. The men are comrades and train together before their matches. When he’s pummeling his opponent’s head in the ring, he’s not doing it with malice. This puzzles me, but maybe it’s just honest. Is it something inborn in men from the beginning of time? A vestige of the caveman brain? I imagine our future little cage fighters head butting each other and flipping each other to the mat. If we pad the walls of one of the spare bedrooms, it might just work.
Tonight, “Tom the Torrent” is at the top of the card. I sit in my seat and watch the fighters pound on each other. The cage is both cave and Coliseum. Blood lust is an undeniable part of us. The air is saturated with testosterone. The fighters are in their element, unaware of the noises from the crowd. When it’s Tom’s turn, he faces his Mel, his opponent and friend, and the two of them get to work. They body slam each other. Tom kicks Mel in the chest and Mel falls back from the force. Mel recovers and jumps on Tom’s back, causing Tom to swing his body wildly from side to side. The two men punch and grapple with each other. I crouch forward in my seat and watch as Tom is punched in the face hard, three times in a row. I’m afraid Mel will break his nose, but Tom flips Mel to the mat and gets him in a rear chokehold, punching him in the back of the head repeatedly until the referee calls the match. Tom throws his hands over his head, victorious, and the crowd cheers for him. “The Torrent” has won again. Just another day at the office.
At home that night, we soak in the Jacuzzi. Tom positions his back in front of the jets to soothe his sore body. Lit candles surround us as I read Sonnets from the Portuguese and see a little tear roll down the side of Tom’s cheek. He may be a cage fighter, but like every other man, ultimately, he just wants to be loved.
Margaret Lesh is the author of Let Me Get This Off My Chest, as well as the novels Normalish, and Finding a Man for Sylvia.