Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Lament for the Injured, Pt. 1

Yrsa Roca Fannberg, The Death of a Former Giant (watercolor on paper, 2009)

For most of my life, I've had very specific flying dreams. My sleeping self unlocks gravity with a perfect physical coordination. I'll be running, or dancing, and then somehow both at once - suddenly I feel weightless. The struggle is not how to leave the ground, but how to find it again.
The nightmare version of this: I am running, and I feel something pull my feet out from underneath me - I fall down while my feet are being pulled backwards, and wake just before my face hits the dirt.
My athletic unconscious orbits around the scene of physical freedom - its gift, its loss, its recovery.
Last spring, I played a game with that dream-like weightlessness. There was no will, no thought - just the pure physical expression of intention.
I scored, assisted, played great defense. My body knew where the ball was, all the time. I played out of my socks, and felt, for the first time, that I knew what that phrase meant.
I loved every second of that night - months later, I can recall the game in flashes, a residual sense of a perfect (for me) economy of movement.
But the morning after, I woke up with a swollen knee - I don't remember hurting it. This was not something I'd seen before. I did the things athletes do, wrapping, icing, etc. I stayed away from the field for a few while. After three or four weeks I was back in the game - but it didn't feel right. More months off the field - a glorious summer devoted to cross-country running - and my legs felt great. Then I tried playing.
My first week back, my knee felt wrong. Easing into a game, I took up a defensive position in relation to player attacking down the right wing - he faked this way and that. I tried to go with him as he cut to my left. As I pushed off with my right foot - nothing unusual - I heard a crunch, and my knee immediately went funny.
This was a loud crunch - very different from the crackles that knee has made since I was in my 20s.
The knee didn't swell up immediately (one of the big indicators of a torn ACL), and I could put a bit of weight on it. But it hurt, and it felt so wrong - like I'd tangled up all the cords. 
A sense of dread washed over me.
Walking off the pitch was really tough. I hoped that I was being stoic. But, really, I was numb with dread.
In my heart of hearts I knew that my leg hadn't been normal in months: where my age has generally manifested itself as me needing more and more time to warm up in the game, here, it was showing in a different way.
Since that amazing night in May, my right leg would actually get worse as the game wore on. It would get weaker. My knee would be unpredictable. I couldn't tell where my right foot was when receiving a pass on the floor. My right leg below the knee would feel increasingly wooden over the course of a match. It wasn't tiredness, it was something completely different - something mechanical.
That night I stood on the sideline and watched the guys play for a while. This only made me feel more sad, more alone. 
I was staring at the field but I wasn't watching the game. I was trying to look like I wasn't totally freaked out. 
The guys in that game are my friends, but our friendship lives there, on that field: What is our connection to the people we play with, when we can't play with them anymore? Even those attachments which extend beyond the field are transformed by not being practiced on it. 
It is not easy to maintain a connection built in the game beyond your ability to play it. Making that transition is not much easier than it is to maintain the intimacy of lovers, once one has declared to the other: "Let's just be friends." I know this, if only for having played in different generations of games - Saturday morning collectives dissolve and then people you've known for a decade disappear from your life.
I limped to my car and went home.
Actually, I went to a neighbor's for ibuprofen and sobbed at her kitchen table.

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