Laney Lenox recently received her undergraduate degree in Peace Studies with a minor and honors in Creative Writing. Originally from the United States, she moved to Galway to work as an intern for The Galway Review. While in college, she worked as a writing tutor at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi and as the Community Engagement Intern for the Institute for Southern Jewish Life. She also worked as a creative writing teacher for Operation Upward, an inner-city organization in Jackson, Mississippi that offered after-school programs for youth.
The Boxing Gym*
By Laney Lenox
Unlike the other people I interviewed, I’d known James for quite some time before subjected him to questioning. We went to the same boxing gym and saw each other a few times a week. We ran together during which time I found his accent incredibly difficult to understand, oftentimes simply nodding and smiling in confusion and frustration.
Which perhaps is an excellent way to explain how I felt in Belfast sometimes.
I did not really expect to feel this way in Ireland and when I first landed I didn’t. There was no overwhelming sense that I was in a country very different from my own, no immediate sense of being across an ocean from my familiar. But the differences crept in subtly, not least of which when I first decided to visit Sandy Row Boxing Gym.
I almost didn’t go that night. It was beginner’s night at the gym and those interested were invited to meet James outside of the Queen’s student union. With a little trepidation at what exactly I might be getting myself into, a feeling ultimately overcome by my curiosity to see a real live Irish boxing gym, I made my way on a cold Belfast night.
I was the first one there and thus forced to make the uncomfortable approach to the person that I just hoped was who I was meant to be meeting. Granted, that was not a very difficult discernment to make, who else would have been waiting outside on that frigid, cut-you-to-the-bone kind of Irish night?
I always loved the way the gym smelled—it was the first thing I noticed about it. People appreciate the smells associated with hobbies, like the smell of a barn to a horse person or the smell of neoprene to a scuba diver. That’s what the gym smell became to me—something I can smell even now that brings back memories of days that I will never experience again.
I think we remember the days that are most important to us better in retrospect. It’s as if our brains are these cosmic filing cabinets that are filed in order of life changing and significant, so that they see what days end up being most important to us and move those memories to the forefront, throwing out memories like what you ate this morning or what you occupied your time with yesterday.
That’s how my first day at Sandy Row Boxing Gym seems to me. I remember the people I met, some of which I’d never see again, I remember the smell of the gym that would soon become so familiar, and I remember how much my hands were shaking from their first beating from the bag that night. It was my window into a new identity, a new world, one where people said I was a boxer even though in my entire time at the gym I only punched someone a few times, and one where I worked out with a bunch of Belfast men and was expected to be just as tough as they were.
*This excerpt is taken from a larger piece titled “Meditations in Belfast”, which is a creative nonfiction piece in which the author navigates Belfast and what she learns of The Troubles as a conflict resolution university student. The piece is compiled of prose and transcribed interviews. The “James” referred to in the first paragraph was one of the interviewees.