I’ll show you mine if you show me yours first
Let’s compare scars, I’ll tell you whose is worse
The question stings as much, more, than the first time he asked. The rebuttal is trite, petty, the best she has to offer in the circumstances. He bristles at the return: You see, why are you doing that? She acknowledges the niggling nature of her remark. He walks away a victor.
Stings like a bee.
Earlier it does not sting. Earlier things dance around. Ticklish, Teasing. Temporary, though this last bit seems easy to ignore in the moment. Just looking at you. What makes you cry?
Floats like a butterfly.
Muhammed Ali , they say, he said, was The Greatest. The. Greatest. He innately understood the effectiveness of the duality of the butterfly and the bee. So much more of a killer, that sting, after the dazzling grace of the butterfly. Ali is part of the cultural tapestry of her childhood. He was there – embracing his fabulousness in the face of a world that dared to question it. Ali was righteous and audacious and conflicted and imperfect. But he was the greatest. She could never be Muhammed Ali, everything about him took – takes – a kind of bravery that goes unacknowledged, and she does not have because she has never needed it. But there he was. Here he is. Conscientious objector. Sportsman of the Century. Cassius. Mohammed. Fighter. Lover. And a face so pretty – you hear that Sonny Liston? “I’m the prettiest thing that ever lived!”
Floating like a butterfly. Stinging like a bee.
When she sees him she is aware of a certain grace in his composure that surprises her. At first glance you might miss it. On a closer inspection he has an audacity that is a subtle subterfuge. And then he underestimates her. Consistently. Constantly. Between them, there is an ease and a comfort that belies what has emerged. It is contradictory and illogical, but a safe haven in the moment. Talk is easy. Smiles, genuine. You don’t want anything? I don’t want anything. I don’t need anything. You don’t need anything? Not presents. Only presence. She considers him. An adversary? A challenger? A co-conspirator? He suggested this encounter. She was surprised but amenable. The penultimate destination is clear. The subsequent step?
Stings. Like. A. Bee.
She wakes up and realizes. Yes, he sure showed her. She feels… not sad. Hollow. It is not fair. She, too, can float like a butterfly. But when she turns to sting she is rebuked. She is the one who should have Ali’s composure and confidence. Yet he wears it so much more effectively in spite of it so obviously not being quite the right fit. It is clear. It is a test. He is testing her. You don’t want anything? I don’t want anything. “We’ll see,” says his next move. He leaves.
Not usually pugnacious, the lure of the ring is suddenly strong. She wants a Rumble in the Jungle. She wants a Thrilla in Manila. On this exact day in 1978, Ali fought a rematch in the New Orleans Louisiana Superdome against Leon Spinks for the WBA version of the Heavyweight title, winning it for a record third time. She feels today that this too could be [another] victory for her.
She gets up and that fucking question doesn’t hurt her feelings. It pisses her off. The question presupposes something about her nature that is total bullshit. This is what she wants to scream out to someone. To anyone. Who the fuck are you? I’m too pretty! I am the greatest! You are Sonny Liston! “Sonny Liston is nothing. The man can’t talk. The man can’t fight. The man needs talking lessons. The man needs boxing lessons. And since he’s gonna fight me, he needs falling lessons.”
The urge to fight will pass. The walk to work brings a certain levity that is an unmistakable salve. The only way the sting shall pass is to pretend it never happened.
Until the next time the butterfly floats by.
In knowing anticipation of the sting of the bee.
“I said I was the greatest, not the smartest”