There’s a bone chip in my ankle, just floating in there, about the size of a 5-cent piece. It’s been there for just over 30 years, and it hurts now and again. I’ve lived more of my life with it there than without.
I didn’t even know about it until years after the incident when I turned it playing roller hockey and since I had health insurance through Uni I got it x-rayed and the student doctor was like, “Damn.” Years later, and the Wifeage reckons we need to get in there and fix this constantly nagging problem. The first thing the Orthodoc says upon seeing new x-rays is, “Well, I can certainly see a multitude of sins…”
Summer of 1993 started with a Senior Kegger for his high school. It was bigger and better than my own, so that’s the one I attended, feeling more at home there than in my hometown. These people hadn’t known me my whole life, and somehow liked me better. He introduced me as his “adopted brother” and told me he loved me like a brother. Everything felt good.
Job opportunities for that summer sucked, but the offerings in the “big” city were always going to be better. When he said that his actual brother and stepbrothers were all off with their various other biological roots for the summer, he offered to have me stay with him in that dingy trailer with him and his dad and stepmom. I was elated.
We searched for jobs together and I searched for them separately. We spent precisely one day working at a car detailing place together, and it sucked so mightily that he refused to go back the next day. I went back out of sheer stubbornness, but then quit at the end of that day. It was depressingly awful.
Then I got a job at a bar downtown, famous for their chicken and beer. I worked the kitchen during the day and was their delivery driver for their expanding delivery menu. I was NOT a good deliveryman, frequently running late because of lack of parking and proliferation of one-way streets in the downtown area. The equipment was sub-standard, only a plastic tub with lid, and I frequently spilled the drinks all over the food. By the time I was backing out of the crowded back lot and crunched my way through another employee’s taillight, the owner/bosses wisely decided to stop offering delivery.
But I kept my job. I was good at kitchen stuff and wasn’t a “stoner fuckhead”. A glowing assessment from one of the owners who would have featured beautifully in one of the shouty and dysfunctional kitchens made for a Gordon Ramsay production. Roger terrified me, but softened when he realised this and I’ll always remember him for that.
It felt good having a job, working and making money. I know the hit one’s pride takes when a day passes without being productive in some sense. I don’t know if that’s what was slowly poisoning our friendship, our brotherhood, but living together was also putting a strain on things. Always a quiet one, he spoke to me less and less as the summer wore on.
By the time we were both planning on going back to the mountain valley of our hometown for the weekend, he was making excuses for why we should take separate rigs. After a while, I spared him that and made my own excuses too. I got the message. Even if his family loved me and I was automatically invited, and expected, at all family functions, I noticed that the invites weren’t always getting through to me.
The end of Summer rolled around and I set my sights on wrapping up my life in Montana, saying my goodbyes and preparing to start my new life at the Big University, far away. I don’t know how much that played into his growing resentment of me either, but I certainly wasn’t treated as a brother anymore. I was a tolerated houseguest.
He had said he loved me like family, but like any and all family I ever knew, the best he ever did was tolerate me. I was never truly loved, I was never celebrated, I was only ever tolerated.
I’d quit my job at the tavern so as to just lay around that last week, leaving my options open before I went back home to pack and then head out for the long drive to Texas. Things improved a bit during this time, possibly because we were both bums, him never finding a job that whole summer, but I don’t really know.
What I know is that i never beat him at anything. Ever. Not since we were both in Kindergarten together. We played a lot of Nintendo games growing up together, card games, board games, you name it. He won all the time, and it was really important to him that he won. I knew that, so when I had chances to go for the throat, I always held back and left him to it. He would even gleefully admit sometimes that he’d cheated. Come to think of it, it wasn’t so important that HE won, so much as I didn’t. It was important to him that I didn’t win.
When we were kids, only learning how to legally hunt, “the boys” would gather and share hunting stories, always bragging about large creatures they’d either seen or been a part of hunting down. None of them had ever personally taken down one as big and as impressive as I had one year, and I finally got to have my time in the spotlight. That lasted about a week and a half until one day he smirked and gleefully told me to shut the fuck up because he’d shot something bigger.
He gave little detail and it seemed like nothing more than blind, stupid luck, but I learned to shut my mouth about the deer I was so proud of. A year or so later when we were out stacking bales at his mom’s ranch I asked if we were near where he shot that trophy buck and he admitted that it never happened. When I remarked that I’d seen the antlers and it was, in fact, bigger than mine, he allowed that it was sunbleached and old and the dog had drug it home from the woods one day.
To him, it wasn’t so important that he brag on a trophy buck, it was that I shut the fuck up. He literally told me that, and I never forgot it.
But as our last summer together was ending, I could feel something in me ending too. My attachment to him. The surrogate brother that I’d chased down and adopted, having nearly zero connection to my own, actual brother, the one that never actually wanted me. The one who resented me and my high test scores and attendance at a big, fancy university so far away. I could feel my wings spreading, on my own steam, and I felt like I was done being forced to sit in his shadow. A place I never wanted, but he always insisted on.
It was a beautiful, sunny, warm and mild day, and instead of just idly cruising the small town nearby and finding absolutely nothing to do, we pumped air into the basketball and headed to the park to shoot some hoops. I’d always been pretty bad at basketball, but I was somewhat eager to see how I’d fare against him now that I’d decided to disregard my designated status.
We shot around a bit, and I was doing really well. I don’t think I was talking shit, but I’m sure there was at least a bit, and then he challenged me to a game. Not only had I never beat him before, I’d never beaten anyone at one-on-one. I hated the actual playing of basketball, I only liked shooting, but I figured fuck it, and took him up on it.
No win-by-2 or any of those rules, we agreed, first one to 10, pure and simple. I took an early lead 2-1, and he punished me for it, going up 4-2. I’d been playing off him a bit, hoping to work in the shots that I’d been making that gorgeous summer afternoon. It worked, a bit, and I was scoring at will. He was trying every trick that he had, and most eventually worked. He was up by a steady margin, even if I’d close it, and at 7-5 I started to push in. I wasn’t giving up. I wasn’t rolling over. I wanted to fight. I wanted to win.
I’d tied it 8-8 but he’d pulled another move out his ass and hit to make it 9-8. One more basket for him and he’d have won, again. But I wouldn’t quit. I tried a move that he’d done earlier, faking a charge and then pulling back to draw a fade shot, and I sunk it. We were tied 9-9. His ball, he made his move, took his shot, and bricked it out of bounds. My ball.
I dribbled, stooped, and gave him a look. I don’t know how many times in my life I’d ever actually had “Eye of the Tiger” but I’m certain I had it in this moment. I was going to give this my all. I faked left, then dribbled right, then drove. He bit on the fake and was off-balance, and I had a step on him. I pushed and fended him off as I drove the basket, leapt higher than I ever had before, and laid the ball gently into the basket.
Still in mid-air, I began to celebrate before the ball had finished going through, and I felt him shove me. A foul, a deliberate, after the fact, foul. The ball was going in, the game was over, the foul was pure spite and meanness and sour grapes and sore losering.
The shove had sent me off-kilter and when I came back down to the blacktop I awkwardly tried to dodge out of the way of the metal pole of the basketball hoop, and my ankle came down at an angle directly into it. I screamed in pain, hobbled once and went headlong into the grass just off the edge of the court.
He knew something was wrong straightaway, of course, and came rushing to me as I writhed in the grass. I don’t remember clearly, but I thought I heard him saying, “I’m sorry” somewhere in-between the “oh shit”s and “oh fuck”s. I could be wrong though. Always strong as a bull, he hefted me in his arms and carried me across the court, the length of the park, and loaded me into the car, then drove me home and hauled me in and onto the couch.
The trailer was modest, with only the one couch though, so while it was good that I could lay there with my leg along the back of it, packed in ice, getting up was an explosion of pain and I had to move eventually so the family could all circle around and watch TV.
I fashioned a crutch of sorts from a broomstick and learned to sort of hop from room to room, eventually taking some of the offered painkillers from his stepmom and going to bed early. The next day I wrapped the ankle as best I could, gave him a hug, hobbled out to my truck, and drove away.
I would work the pedals, even the clutch, all with my left foot, the entire way back to our hometown. My brother was coming up from college to drive back with me, a gesture of some sort, and I was to live in his apartment for the first year. I couldn’t wait to see him and start my new life, but I did feel that the ankle was somewhat of an important matter.
Dad, as is his way, didn’t necessarily see it as that. He looked it over, chided me for playing basketball so aggressively, ignored my plea of “I was fouled, dad, and it was the winning shot” and eventually wrapped it with an Ace Bandage, telling me to keep it iced and elevated.
Which I did. All through the drive to Texas, all through the moving of my stuff into a tiny 2-bedroom apartment, all through orientation of the roommates and bars while missing orientation of the campus and my classes. I shopped around at the sporting goods store and found an ankle brace with stiffened sides and laces all the way up, completely customising the pressure points, and I wore it pretty much every day for the next six weeks. Even after i got heat rash (it was Texas) and was bitten by fire ants at some point and itched like fucking crazy (it really was Texas).
I was wearing it when I borrowed my brother’s loafers and wore my brand-new red t-shirt and chinos to school just like all the other preppy Aggies and stepped awkwardly off a curb and rolled it, needing to lean against the giant oak on some highly-travelled intersection on campus. Nobody stopped, nobody gave me a second’s glance. I don’t know why that place was like that, it just was. They prided themselves on saying “Howdy” to everybody, yet when I saw a scrawny girl double-strapping her enormous backpack and trip on the uneven bricks outside the bookstore, she flailed and landed with a thud in amongst the hurrying throngs, but not one of them stopped. Not even me. I’d been there long enough by then, I guess. I’d been infected.
So here I am, October 2023, a full 30 years after I fucked up my ankle. After HE fucked up my ankle. After he deliberately roughed me into an injury I would pay for, for the rest of my life. After my father’s neglect failed to pick up on the severity of the injury – at one point I remember him telling me that it was just a sprain and I needed to toughen up a bit. He seemed surprised that I’d handled all the other times I’d sprained said ankle with more grace and was complaining of pain so much this time.
Kind of like the time that his nurse was taking the fibreglass cast off my right arm after a Sophomore-year football injury, and as she ran the saw up the inner part of my forearm, I was wincing in pain. She laughed and told me off for playing it up. I said I wasn’t and that it really did hurt. She showed me that it’s not a circular saw, that the round bit only vibrates back and forth, and that it couldn’t actually hurt me. Then she went back to cutting and I went back to wincing. She didn’t stop again, but I could hear her snorts of disapproval and exasperation with me as I turned my head and grimaced in agony.
When the saw stopped, the cast fell completely off my arm and I heard her exclaim that it shouldn’t have done that. She asked me, ME, almost accusatorily, where the inner sleeve was that’s meant to be underneath the cast. What could I do? What could I say? I didn’t put the fucking thing on there, did I? How the hell can I be held responsible for what is or isn’t there? As I turned my arm over and ran my finger along the singed thin and blistering line down the inside of my arm, I noted that she’d hopped up and left the room, and I didn’t see her again that day.
I’m 49 years old and still somehow to be held responsible for the failure to accurately diagnose a broken ankle, from three decades ago. I wear a brace most days, and I pay for it if I don’t. It hurts now, more than it used to, and some days when my hip is acting up too, I can hardly walk.
So, if I’m being honest, fuck you, you assholes. For always resenting me. For barely tolerating me. For bullying me and ignoring me when I am a being deserving of love. Fuck you for breaking my fucking ankle, and fuck you for ignoring it when I came to you for help. I’m paying for that shit now, in spades, and it’s not fair that you’re around to split the bill.