In 1997 I had a stress fracture in my heel that required six weeks on crutches. Male injuries require causal stories of megalomaniac-like exuberant acts. Yeah, I broke my fibula biking off that cliff. My knee? Oh, I did this in that bar-fight with the Oakland Raiders back in that summer I was touring with The Stones.
My fracture had no such story. I was walking two miles a day in Manhattan toting about a laptop and audit files everywhere I went. While wearing a pair of unforgiving Johnston & Murphy shoes, my heel essentially let my body know it did not appreciate all this walking while hauling that extra weight.
Anyway, that same ankle had been feeling tight lately after I’d play my weekly pick-up soccer game. But after last night’s schmoz, it ballooned such that memories of 1997 came flooding back.
If you’ve never played soccer, I’d like to emphasize that soccer cleats are essentially ballet slippers with knobs at the bottom. Very little is done to cushion the pounding your feet take during the three or so miles of running which your standard 90 minute game requires. Come to think of it, it’s not unlike walking about Manhattan sidewalks in a pair of J&M’s.
When I reflect on 1997, I see so many things I wish I could recreate – oceans of spare time, disposable income, thick non-grey, non-receding hair. 1997 was also the year I met my wife and we whisked off to Hawaii for the first time. The stress fracture is most certainly dead-last on my list of 1997 highlights, yet here it is.
Two years ago, I had a slight tear in a ligament in the other ankle. It came right in the middle of when I was on a real roll – playing well, scoring goals. Suddenly I wasn’t feeling like Guy Who Sits in Cubicle. I had a swagger and it felt good to be good at something other than accounting and chasing after small children. I was raging against the dying of the light. And then pop. Next thing I knew, I was laying on the ground looking up at a circle of guys, all also in their thirties or forties, looking down at me. I could read their faces: Shit, glad that’s not me down there.
I remember hobbling off the field and then back to my car, taking a moment to turn and look back at the game that had continued without me. Driving home, it felt less like bad luck and more that something had been taken away from me. It wasn’t fair.
Then something happened that made all of this meaningless. A month after my ankle blew, my cousin Kevin’s wife died suddenly. He’s a teacher. She was a social worker, 30 and the mother of their twin toddlers. It wasn’t fair.
That whole winter, work started to implode on me. My bi-polar right hand (wo)man started a coup that dragged on for months until she eventually resigned. Everything felt like it was coming off the rails and all I could do was impotently watch things unravel. While waiting for my ankle to get better I found myself simultaneously fighting an intransigent, tenacious depression.
I was talking to my cousin Joe about Kevin’s ordeal. “Karma gets you nothing, I guess”. It was true, things seemed to blow up in such a way that I couldn’t help but admit that the universe was ruled only by random, senseless indifference.
Since then two summers have come and gone. My ankle healed, and I’d play soccer again. And now I’ve injured the other one. I think about what my friend Dave said when he picked me up off the ground after my injury from two years back: “You know when I blew out my knee, I took it as a wonderful opportunity to drink beer, eat pizza and smoke cigarettes.” Maybe that’s the key to life – in between the injuries we sustain amid the chaotic unfairness, we make the best of things anyway we can.