I was 15. I remember it as a perfect day for a soccer game – even just a meaningless scrimmage. But, since we were going against our biggest rival – and, if you asked any of my teammates, our far inferior rival – there was really no such thing as “meaningless.”
The other team was short a few players, so the coaches agreed to play full-field nine-on-nine. I was our team’s goalie, so I didn’t really worry too much about it, as I wasn’t going to be doing any extra running. My teammates weren’t too happy about it, though, especially the midfielders, who knew they were going to be cooked by the end of the 90 minutes.
There was a kid on the other team named Billy. Over the years, Billy and I had developed something of a rivalry. He was one of the top strikers/goal scorers in our area and I had somehow ended up as a fairly decent ‘keeper. Throughout our competitive history, I had managed to shut down Billy. This was through a combination of luck (shots hitting the post), more luck (Billy missing open looks) and a bit of skill (I did make a few great saves against him). The end result was that Billy hated me and I hated Billy. For no reason.
Had we ever ended up on the same team, we probably would have been the best of friends. Because the soccer gods had other plans for us, however, we became locked in a silly rivalry that lasted 10 years. (Yes, as young as five or six, when I first started playing, I think I was aware of “this other kid.”) I think Billy went on to great things and may have even played at UCLA or some other big time Division I soccer machine.
Anyway, Billy and I gave each other our customary “hey,” which was more of a “We’re gonna kick your ass again and you’re my beeyotch.” Whistle blew. Game on.
Midway through the first half, Billy broke free and it was a classic matchup – his breakaway vs. me. One-on-one. The ball got just a bit too far out in front of Billy, I left my line, charged him, started my slide and safely cradled the ball into my arms as I ducked my head to protect myself from any potential impact. My head was fine. My leg? Not so much.
I knew instantly that it was broken. Because I was in some kind of shock, however, I couldn’t tell anyone that. I just kept repeating, “I broke my ankle, I broke my ankle.” None of my coaches believed me – they wanted me to walk it off. That wasn’t going to happen. I screamed in pain all the way to the hospital.
After the x-rays, which clearly showed my tibia (the front bone in the leg) snapped in half like a pencil, the technician was kind enough to say, “Wow, that’s the worst break I’ve ever seen." Needless to say, with my family supposed to be heading to Europe three weeks later for our summer vacation, I was none too pleased. (Though, the stories from that trip with me in a full-leg cast are pretty comical in their own right.)
Billy called me at home that night.
“You broke my leg. I’m going to be in a full-leg cast for three months.”
“Three months? That’s not so bad.”
It’s a conversation that haunted me for the entire three months and more (throughout rehab).
Of course, maybe every kid needs to have some kind of cast at some time or another. There’s a certain badge of honor that comes with those signatures of your friends and family. And, while three months was an awfully long time to be in a cast – it was definitely a “life experience” (sorta like having wisdom teeth pulled, I guess).
Besides the broken leg, I have messed up both of my knees, broken all of my fingers, cracked my skull a couple of times and G-d knows what else. I think about these things sometimes when K-Man comes home from school with a bruise on his knee or a scratch on his arm. He’s a boy. He plays hard. I’ll be ready for the real damage (which I hope never comes). I don’t need him to have that badge. More importantly, I know if he ever runs into a situation with his own “Billy,” I’ll know how to help him handle it.