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Intellect reluctantly climbed into the ring. He didn’t want to be here, didn’t want to fight, didn’t want to be the one delivering the reminder, but most of the group were in Hope’s corner, so that left the job to him. Optimism, Joy, Pride, Fear, Envy, Confusion, Love, even Anger. Intellect shook his head. Anger; once again, misdirected.

Hope was buoyant, an ever-youthful bundle of energy and determination. He danced in place, confident and poised, certain he was going to win. Intellect scowled. Hope had lost the first fight months ago, and every fight since then, he just hadn’t accepted it.

Intellect couldn’t blame Hope. He’d paired with each of those emotions in Hope’s corner in the past and would again in the future. Together, they’d inspired the phrase “It seemed like a good idea at the time” more times than he could count.

The time he drove dad’s new car through a flooded parking lot, a wave of water flowing right over the hood and in through the open front windows, Bravado egging him on all the way. All the times he waited until the night before to start a paper, Pride assuring him that he was smart enough to pull it off. Having a small panic attack in the solitude of the dorm room back in 1988 when Fear convinced him that the nukes were going to fly.

Afterwards, Intellect often found himself paired up with Humility trying to figure out how things had gone wrong. Over the years those conversations nurtured Wisdom and he had grown a strong voice of his own.

Intellect turned towards his own corner. Reason looked glum, “Maybe you don’t have to do this.”

“Don’t undermine him now,” scolded Wisdom, “there is no way out of this. You’ve tried. Hope won’t let go and we remember how that worked out last time. It has to be this way.”

The bell rang and they met in the center of the ring. Hope started things off with a series of quick jabs, confident, sure of himself, feeling Intellect out. The loud, sharp sound of leather gloves striking their targets began to fill the gym.

Tap. Tap. “She’s still single.” Intellect took the jabs with his gloves, no reason to even parry, “She’s looking.” Tap. Tap. “She hasn’t found anyone else yet.” A half-hearted parry this time, Pop. “She’s dated others, she will find someone.”

Hope, seeing an opening, launched an elegant combination, Tat. Tat. Whap. Whap. Tat. “That’s right, she will, because she’s great, who wouldn’t want to be with her?”

Intellect covered up and absorbed the flurry of blows, growing more annoyed. Hope wasn’t telling Intellect anything he didn’t already know. Of course he wanted to be with her, but what he wanted, what any of them wanted, wasn’t the point. He countered with his own combination, Whap. Tat. Tat. Whap. “That’s not a relevant question. She doesn’t want to be with us.”

Hope’s head snapped back as Intellect’s right connected with his chin. Hope regrouped quickly, but in the corner, a look of surprise came over Optimism’s face. This wasn’t going as he’d anticipated. Intellect was going to put up a fight. There wasn’t going to be a romantic reunion, there wasn’t even going to be an attempt, Intellect wasn’t going to allow it this time. Optimism backed quietly away from Hope’s corner.

Intellect noticed from the corner of his eye. One down he thought. The defection had not been noticed by Hope and undeterred he pressed on. Tat. Tat. Thwack. Hope had a rhythm going now, “She might still change her mind.” Intellect waited, knowing there was no threat, knowing where this was leading, “It’s been six months.”

Thwack. Thwack. Whap. “She needs more time, we should wait for her.” Dodge. Shift. Slide. Punch. Tat. TAT.  “No, we shouldn’t. That’s not fair to her or us.” Hope was putting some effort into his punches now, Tat. Tat. TAT! “Once she’s dated enough other guys she’ll realize she was happiest with us.” Intellect mocked him, “Sure.”

Taking the bait, Hope swung hard, overextended, missed, and left himself open “I want to be with her!” Intellect stepped in and delivered a solid right to Hope’s ribcage. THUMP. “If you really loved her, you wouldn’t want her to settle for dispassionate acceptance.”

The air left Hope’s lungs. Envy left Hope’s corner, recognizing that his selfishness was harmful to the woman he desired. Love looked after him, conflicted now, wanting to support Hope, but unable to dismiss that last blow. Two down, noted Intellect and waited for Hope’s next move, growing more irritated at having to cover this familiar, painful ground again. It was pointless. None of these early exchanges really mattered. Intellect would keep dispatching Hope’s volleys no matter what he brought up. He’d known how this would end before he’d even stepped in the ring.

Joy tossed some water in Hope’s face. He recovered and launched a new attack. TAT! TAT! “She looked beautiful in that latest photo.” Intellect absorbed the punches easily, “Stunning. Compelling. Radiant. Do you have a point?”

Whap. Whap. Whap. “Don’t you remember how it felt to have her fall asleep on your chest?” Intellect drew him in, holding back his counter punches, “It was wonderful while it lasted.” TAT! TAT! THUMP. THUMP. “How about how her hair fell around your face when she kissed you?”

Intellect felt those last two blows to his midsection, knowing they represented an opening, he jabbed, TAT! “Like it was yesterday.” He followed with an uppercut, WHUMP.  “Except, it wasn’t yesterday, it was months ago and reliving it day after day, as you drag it up to buttress your plan to win her back, is a cheap substitute for the real thing.”

Joy was smart enough to recognize the difference between passion and sentimentality. He dropped the water bottle and stepped down from the side of the ring to join the growing crowd of onlookers, certain now what the outcome was going to be.

Three down. Oblivious, Hope pressed on.

Technical, but tentative, two quick jabs. Tat. Tat. “If we can just find the right words we can convince her.” Intellect’s response, a straight right that pushes Hope’s own gloves back into his face, THWAP. “Do you have something better than “I love you?”” and again as Hope staggered, THWAP. “Explain to me how begging and longing will make us more attractive.” Pride straightened up and left Hope’s corner. Four down, thought Intellect.

Hope was hurting a bit now, wondering why Intellect seemed to be hardly working at all, while he ached and sweated and bled and noticed for the first time that half his support had abandoned him. A dizzy combination of Fear, Anger, Confusion, and Love spurred him on.

He’ll turn to Anger now, thought Intellect, as Hope spun back towards the ring and charged him with renewed energy. TAT! TAT! THWACK! “It’s your fault for not recognizing what she was asking for.” Intellect didn’t roll with these punches, he wanted to feel this pain, he needed to feel it. “Yes, it’s my fault.” Hope went to work on his ribs, WHUMP! WHUMP! “You weren’t ready, you had too much baggage.” Intellect clenched his teeth as the blows landed, admitting, “Yes. Perhaps.”

WHUMP! WHUMP! WHUMP! More blows to the ribs, Hope was trying to find that knockout shot to the liver, trying to punish Intellect more than trying win the fight, “You didn’t fight hard enough when she left.” Intellect kept absorbing the blows, “I fought as hard as I could, for as long as I could. Longer than I should have.” WAP! WAP! Hope works the head as Intellect finally covers up his ribs, “You should have kept fighting.” As Hope’s jabs pull his elbows up too high, Intellect delivers an angry left to his plexus and briefly stops the onslaught, Pop! “I respected her feelings, her decision.”

Love saw what was happening now, finally saw the set-up, saw where it was heading and rested his hand on Anger’s shoulder, gently pulling him back from where he was leaning into the ring, shouting with rage “Hit that fucker harder! He fucked it all up! Hit him harder!” Anger pushed Love’s hand away and yelled again “Hit him!”

THWAP! “She had baggage too!” Intellect took that punch as well. Hope could hurt him, but couldn’t win. Intellect let it play out, “Yes, but that wasn’t the problem.” TAT! TAT! TAT! “It was! She said she was falling for us!” Intellect let the blows fall, felt his head start to ring, his vision start to narrow. It was okay, he needed the motivation, “Yes, and we fell for her.” Hope is casting about now, trying to find anything to soften Intellect up. TAT! THUMP! THUMP! THUMP! “That’s what freaked her out! It was her baggage!” Intellect took the punches and held the center of the ring, “Perhaps. Maybe only when combined with our baggage. I refuse to blame her. I’m not angry at her.”

Love had a hold of Anger’s arm now and had pulled him down from ringside, tossing back the last of his support for Hope as he did so, bringing Hope’s focus back to what he believed was his knockout shot, “We still love her.” Delivered with absolute certainty and the remaining bit of power Anger had provided, it would have been a stunning blow had it landed. Intellect had seen it coming, had known all along it was coming and easily avoided it, back-peddling away, feeling that he’d taken enough of a beating, regretting what was going to come next, and, as Anger moved away from Love and pulled himself onto Intellect’s corner, furious that he was being forced to do it, “A part of us will always love her.”

Hope slouched against the ropes, trying to regain his footing after committing and missing on that last haymaker. Fear and Confusion remained in his corner and urged him on. Hope tossed out only words this time as he struggled to regain his composure, find the certainly that had carried him into the ring, and rekindle the belief that he could set everything right.

“We might not ever meet anyone as great as her.” Intellect waited, growing more annoyed, “You thought that the last time too. And then we met her.” Hope pushed off the ropes, struggling to stand upright, “We’re going to be alone forever.” Intellect circled, baiting him, “That’s not even you talking anymore Hope.” Hope’s gloves were back up, a gleam coming back into his eyes, “She said she was falling for us…”

And Intellect knew it was time to finish the fight. He tightened his fists inside his gloves. This was going to hurt; he was going to make sure it hurt. He liked Hope. Admired him. Respected him for his determination and courage, but the pain he was causing had to stop. There could be no more dwelling in the past and that was going to take a beating they would all feel.

Intellect closed the distance quickly, knowing the fight was about to be over, knowing he’d reached the point where the outcome was revealed. An outcome the rest of them kept refusing to acknowledge, kept wishing would somehow change. Hope, exhausted, quitting never an option, met him and tossed two quick jabs.

Tat. Tat. “But she…”

Predictable. Easily, obviously, predictable and therefor exploitable. Intellect stepped inside, close, using the opening to amplify his attack. Infuriated by the pointlessness of the entire exercise he wanted to punish Hope for dragging them all back to this painful ring again and again these last six months. He let Anger push him to a brutality he could not reach on his own, enraged by the pain Hope had made them all relive, wishing he could kill Hope and knowing how impossible that was, at the least he could ensure they wouldn’t have this fight again.

Intellect unleashed the facts in five brutal blows, drawing his gloved fist back and skyward between each punch, raining the blows down even as Hope dropped his arms and fell to his knees.

“She. Does. Not. Love. You.”

Hope crumpled to the canvas. Clarity came to Confusion and Fear retreated in the face of Intellect’s brutal, honest, undeniable assault. They were all silent now; without hope. He laid there, abandoned, all the fight gone out of him, a seeming impossibility only minutes ago. Intellect ached at the truth of it, as he known he would when he first stepped into the ring. As he knew they all would at unguarded moments in the future, when one thing or another triggered a memory of her.

He waved Joy and Optimism into the ring and they lifted Hope to his feet.

“I’m sorry” Intellect said, “I couldn’t let you go on like that.”

“It’s okay,” replied Hope, “I got carried away and when the others backed me up it made sense to try and change things.”

“I know,” Intellect reassured him, “we still need you; we will always need you. Some things can’t be changed. Some things change when you least expect it.”

Hope straightened up, smiling, picking up on what Intellect was implying, always seeing promise and potential before others did. “We’ll meet someone else.”

“I hope so.” Intellect said.

“I know so.” replied Hope.