Tiny flakes of dead skin fell into David Braxton’s left eye. “Blink,” said the doctor.
The flesh around his brow was swollen, and stitches dotted his eyelid like
black ants. The doctor guessed there were 14 sewn into the outer lid, more inside.
“OK, here we go,” he said, and steadying the scissors, he began, one at a time, to snip the threads of the wound.
Braxton is a boxer.
Three weeks ago, he was in the muscle dance of his life, a world championship bout, junior middleweight. It was the first time in 31 years and a million punches that Braxton had his hand on the rump of real glory.
The only time, most likely.
Glory gave him the slip. Now here, in the well-lit solitude of a doctor’s office, Braxton was receiving his title shot memento. A lifetime scar.
“Hold still,” said the doctor, bringing the sharp end of the scissors within a breath of the eye.
Braxton did not move. What could have been . . .
What does a boxer do when he loses the fight of his life?
First, he thinks. Then he tries not to.
A few days after his loss to champion Mike McCallum, Braxton sat on the porch of his sister’s house on Southfield Road. He wore sunglasses to hide the wound. He had slept past noon. But then, he had no appointments.
At 31, Braxton is down the arc of a fighter’s life. He has been boxing since his teens, and is 35-2 professionally. Another title shot may never come.
“I had that fight, man,” he said. “I could feel the guy weakening.” He replayed the eight rounds. The cut that McCallum opened. The warm blood that spilled in his eye. It wasn’t so bad, Braxton said. The referee didn’t have to stop it.
Then just as suddenly, he began second-guessing himself. His training. His diet. The heat. Maybe it was the heat. It was so damn hot in there.
Then back: “I could’ve won it. It was my shot.”
Such are the demons inside a fighter’s brain. Boxing is, after all, a perfect equation, one loser for every winner. The winners know what comes next. The losers are left to find their own light.
Braxton stayed on the porch for nearly two hours that day, sometimes talking, sometimes just listening to the drone of traffic from the highway.
Would he fight again? He didn’t know. He wanted to, but even some of his own people with the Kronk boxing team were saying no.
A car pulled into the driveway, and a bearded man got out and walked to the porch.
“Hey, I heard about your accident, man,” he said. Braxton sort of half-nodded.
“I wanna rap with you,” the man said.
Braxton said maybe later.
“You gonna keep fightin’?”
Braxton said he figured to. How about coming back in a half hour? The man went back to his car and drove away.
What is the song about the boxer, who cries out in his anger and his pain, “I am leaving, I am leaving” — but still remains?
Braxton shook his head. “All these years boxing,” he said, “I don’t want to quit and just be . . . forgotten, you know?”
Physically, he’ll be fine
“This may hurt a bit,” the doctor warned.
He squeezed the forceps around the end of a nylon stitch, and began to pull it out through the skin. As he did, the flesh of Braxton’s eyelid rose involuntarily, like a tiny sail to a mast.
“Ahhnn.” Braxton flinched.
“Sorry,” said the doctor, not stopping. A second later it was out. The last physical residue of the fight, exorcised from the body.
The doctor was pleased. He predicted a scar of about 1 1/2 inches, but added that, had the bout gone even one more minute, it could have done enough damage that Braxton would have trouble opening the eye for life.
If there was any relief in those words, it did not show on the fighter’s face.
Good news for boxers comes first when their hand is raised in victory. We don’t hear much about the other guys. They are out there.
“Take these,” the doctor said, handing over several tubes of a cortisone gel to spread on the wound. Braxton dropped them in his jacket pocket, slipped his sunglasses back on, and said goodby. There were mirrors available, but he chose not to look in any of them.