It takes seven or eight years for every cell in your body to die and be replaced by another. So, every eight to ten years you have an entirely different body than the one you had previously except for some of those in the cerebral cortex. You share very few cells in common with the person you were eight years ago, hardly any. So who is this new person? Is it still you?
I turned 39 this year. One year away from the big 40. The year before I said goodbye to my fighting career. First triumphantly in front of family and friends, racking up my 18th victory and then unfortunately, in front of strangers, humbled by a right hand I didn't see, racking up my sixth lost. I am not a fighter anymore. Too old. Too slow. I am now permanently retired. I miss it. I miss having a fighter's physique. I miss the fame, the prestige, and the competition, the thrill of victory. That's all gone now. I am not that guy anymore.
The other day I found myself staring at a woman at the grocery store. She was pretty but not remarkably so. She was the type of woman who I could have charmed with a smile just six years ago. The type whom, in my arrogance, I would have considered not to be in my league. I realized, as I caught myself staring, that she was not staring back. She did not even notice me. Now, I was not in her league. I was beneath her notice. I was just some creepy old man ogling a younger woman. I realized how long it had been since a woman followed me around a store trying to get up the nerve to talk to me. It used to be a common occurrence. Now, I can't remember the last time it happened. I am married now. I shouldn't need the ego boost, but I do. We all do. It's good to get that validation from a stranger. It's good to know you've still got it. I have to learn to live without that now. I am not the guy that women chase anymore.
I look in the mirror now and I can't believe the image that stares back at me. The six pack is long gone, smothered beneath a layer of fat I can't seem to rid myself of. The muscles in my chest and arms don't look the same. Still large but not quite as shapely. No cuts or striations. The gray hairs in my beard are multiplying. I barely recognize myself.
My son left for boarding school this year. He's going to Phillips Exeter Academy, one of the oldest and most prestigious college preparatory schools in the country. Lincoln's son graduated from Exeter. Sultan was one of only 70 boys accepted into the school out of 800 applicants from around the world. I'm proud of him. But now what? Getting him to this point has been my mission for the last fourteen years, doing flash cards with him when he was only a year old, teaching him to read when he was three, teaching him to add, subtract, multiply, and divide at five and six. Teaching him how to write short stories. Giving him his first Stephen King book followed by his first Brian Keene book. Now, his education is in the hands of others. I still set the expectations. He knows that I expect him to go to an Ivy League College, but I am no longer the one responsible for getting him there. Now, it is largely up to him and his teachers. My role as father has diminished and will diminish more and more the older he gets.
After nearly thirteen years I will be leaving Las Vegas soon. I am moving my wife and daughters to Austin, Texas. I will be leaving behind countless friends and acquaintances and possibly even the job and the company I have been a part of for the past decade unless my transfer goes through. I am not sure if this is a negative or a positive. It remains to be seen.
One positive is that my writing career has finally begun it's slow upwards ascent. After ten years of trying, I have made the transition from fighter to writer with some small modicum of success. With that comes a fear of falling, a fear of stagnation. When people ask me what I do it still feels awkward to say I am a novelist instead of a kickboxer. Now, winning the hearts of fans is not as simple as landing a head kick or a left hook. Now, it takes months of writing and many more months waiting for the publisher to do his part and get the book onto the shelves. The immediate gratification of a knockout, a raised hand over a fallen foe, is gone. Now I wait for fans, editors, and critics to judge my work, hoping I was successful, hoping they will understand and approve of my art. It has occurred to me how much easier this process was when I was still a fighter and the writing was just a hobby. The criticisms stung less when I kicked ass for a living.
So much has changed now. There are so many more changes on the horizon. I have always embraced change rather well. The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune never held any fear for me. I am a survivor. Come what may. But upheavals of the sort I have undergone this year have not been common. My life alone has not just changed this year. I have changed, mentally, physically, and emotionally. My son is nearly a man. The body that has been my pride and joy for the last twenty five years has succumbed to age and a slowing metabolism. The career by which I defined myself has ended. The sex appeal by which I defined myself has waned. My economic future is uncertain. So what am I now?
I am a different man. A new man. I am a different man from the guy who once turned women's heads just walking through a grocery store. I am a different man from the one who made men's legs weaken and their hearts pound with fear when they stared across a ring at me. I am a different man then the one who ran marathons and could curl nearly 200lbs. I am a different man from the one raised his little boy into a young man. I share hardly any cells in common with that man. So who am I now?
I am still a father. I have two beautiful young daughters who need me every bit as much as Sultan did when he was growing up. I am a husband. I have a beautiful wife who drives me crazy. I am a writer, a novelist. I have a fan or two who actually enjoy the crazy shit I write. It seems I am now the co-chairman of a major Las Vegas convention. I still have a wealth of fighting knowledge that I pass on to up and coming fighters. I still have a a hell of a straight right even if it is considerably slower. I may never have a six pack again but my upper body ain't bad for a guy who's almost forty. For a writer, I'm in excellent shape. I have a great resume even if my future employment is uncertain. I may never be a Las Vegas resident again but I will be a citizen of Austin, Texas.
So what am I now? I have no fucking idea. I don't know if the future will be heaven or hell. I don't know whether to look forward to it with enthusiasm or trepidation. But one thing I have always been and will always be is a survivor. Come heaven or hell I will remain unbowed. Come what may I will remain Wrath James White in whatever form I may take.