Note: This is a work of fiction based on the author’s experiences training muay thai in Thailand.
I mention to Gong the prospect of taking my first fight. He laughs at me, seems surprised I want to fight, and says he doesn’t think I’m ready yet. “Maybe three months, Linsee. Maybe. If you train really hard.”
A few days later, something in me snaps during training. I’m paired up in sparring with a lanky 15-year-old named Boom. Normally I enjoy sparring with him but today I’m being pushed to my limits emotionally. Every strike he levels at me feels like he’s trying to knock me out. Boom is one of my favorite Thai boys at the gym. He’s never malicious, never goes harder than necessary in sparring. So what is wrong with me today? I spar all the time, I’m used to this. Why am I on the verge of tears? Just keep it together until the end of this round.
Never have I been so relieved when the whistle is blown. After the water break, Trainer Leen calls me over for a third round with Boom. I flat-out refuse, tell Leen I’m done for the day. He ignores this, orders me to glove up and get back in. I say no, I hate sparring and I hate fighting. I can’t believe the defiant words spilling out of my mouth at the head trainer. He keeps the Thai smile on his face and never breaks eye contact while spitting obscenities under his breath.
Leen never mentions fighting to me again. I never ask. In fact, I forget all about it. For a few months, at least.
On the last Saturday of August, all Gong’s roommates are out, and Gong and I are sitting on futons piled in his room, watching the silly Thai soaps he loves so much. He complains about his shoulder, chronically in pain from incessant training, and asks me to use my elbow on a particularly sore spot. This isn’t the first time I’ve given him a cursory massage, but it’s the first time it’s happened while we’re alone in his room. I massage his shoulder while watching TV, then absentmindedly ask him what the show is about. When he answers, “I don’t know,” his voice is husky. It sticks in his throat.
Immediately, I tense up. I know instantly what’s happening. For a moment we both remain still, the Thai chatter on TV fading into the background. Slowly he moves his hand over mine. I look down and stare unseeingly at the blankets scattered about. He’s my trainer and my best friend here. He never hits on me. Everyone knows he doesn’t like white girls.
I can’t do this. I don’t want a casual gym hookup; he means too much to me as a trainer and a friend for something like that.
I don’t want to make the same mistake I made on Khaosan Road six months ago. I learned my lesson that night: if you want to stay at a gym long-term and keep the peace, don’t hook up with trainers.
I always interpreted Gong’s words and actions as friendly, not flirtatious. But now in a simple action of him holding my hand, everything’s changed. Even if it stops right here and right now, we both know something is there between us, something that will become a romance or a rejection. It started as a connection in Muay Thai, then turned into an easy-going friendship. This situation we’re in now seems almost inevitable: a man and a woman of similar age working together in a setting as physically close as a Muay Thai gym, developing a friendship outside training, and both single… What do you think is going to happen?
But just because it’s natural does not mean it’s right. I have been trying to ignore my feelings for him the past three months, telling myself over and over that we’re just friends, so leave it at that. Right, we’re just friends, so I can innocently hang out in his room alone at night, innocently give him a shoulder massage behind closed doors. Oh Lindsey, you screw up again? Now he’s holding my hand and looking at me. “Umm…,” I stall nervously, “umm…”
Then he kisses me, and I don’t stop him.
We break apart and look at each other. I try to read anything in his gentle expression. He smiles softly and looks me in the eye, but doesn’t speak. He doesn’t push for anything, just holds my hand.
This time I kiss him. A moment later he asks me if I want to stay in his room tonight. I try to control the butterflies in my stomach. Fuck yes I want to stay in his room tonight. I’ve had a secret crush on this man for months. But I’ve tried to suppress it; I’m scared to let it go further. He’s my only constant friend here, and I don’t want to lose his friendship and respect over a one-night stand. I make a decision: give him a hug and leave before it can turn into more.
Alone in my room, I fall asleep stoked beyond belief. And fearful about what I’ll find in training tomorrow.
Lindsey Newhall first left her home state of California when she was 20, and has since called China, Thailand, and Alaska her home. You can check out more of Lindsey’s writing on Fightland.