Nine seconds were left on the clock. The stadium lights glared down on my teammates and me as we gathered in our last huddle at the twenty-five-yard line—fourth down. The smell of ripe sweat mixed with turf rubber hung in the air. Trumpets and drums resounded throughout the bleachers. We were down by three, yet the crowd was still chanting, “Mason! Mason!”
“Let’s do Play-Action 43. Get to the corner of the end zone, Garrett, and let’s take this game!” I yelled and thrust my hand into the center of the huddle. The other guys piled theirs on top of mine, the weight of their damp palms pushing down on me.
I was only a junior, but I was the starting quarterback, and already in line for a scholarship, even being from little Long Island where football players were mediocre at best. A few college coaches, even one from the ACC conference, were here scouting me because I was by far the best on the team. Best in the county for that matter. That wasn’t cockiness, just truth.
“Dude, they’ve been all over me tonight!” You would’ve thought my friend Garrett Clemens was a little girl losing a tennis match instead of the tight end he claimed to be. Coach left me to call the last play, and if we wanted any shot at winning, Garrett had to get open.
“Come on, dude! I know we can make the playoffs again. You got this!” My voice carried over the cheering crowd and marching band. I started the count down, and we all shouted “Manhasset” on three.
I’d already played awesome today. My extra training this week had paid off big. I’d proved everything I needed to the coaches here. I probably wouldn’t be playing college ball in New York—not competitive enough for me—but maybe they’d spread the word to big-time schools about how good I was. Plus, it would be nice to seal the win with this last play.
I glanced at the sidelines as everyone got into position. My mind was wandering already; usually my eyes were on the field from start to finish. I couldn’t help but think about the homecoming dance tonight, though, especially when I spotted my date, Sharon Martin, jumping around in that awesome cheerleading uniform.
School dances were pretty junior high, but girls loved them. And if there was one thing I loved more than football, it was having girls throw themselves at me.
Which they did. A lot.
Sharon was a senior. And not just any senior, the senior every guy in school fantasized about at least once or twice. Blue and orange pleats bounced off her thighs as she flashed me her biggest smile. Her blond hair poured over her shoulders like lemonade. Blue, gold, and orange ribbons flowed from her wavy hair down to her chest where the words “Manhasset High” never looked so good. Then she turned around to shout “O-O-Offense!” at the stands. I wanted to pat myself on the back thinking about how I’d have her under my arm later . . . and my arm probably wouldn’t be the only thing she’d be under.
I shook my head and pulled my gaze away from Sharon. Just nine more seconds to focus. You got this. I crouched, waiting for the ref’s whistle.
Johnson hiked me the ball. I turned and faked the handoff before scanning the end zone for Garrett. He had two guys on him already. Maybe I should’ve actually listened to his whining instead of losing concentration and studying Sharon Martin’s body like she was in the game.
Garvey was open and I had to act fast. I dropped a few steps back, planted, and sent the ball to him. The spiral was a thing of beauty, coiling as it left my fingertips. Before I could exhale, a massive jolt shocked my body and my heart sprang against my chest. Something—apparently a huge defensive lineman—collided against my ribs. I stuck my right arm out as I neared the ground. I should’ve put it against my side, somehow I knew that, but my brain wouldn’t process anything other than “Oh shit!”
A loud snap echoed in my ears between the thick layers of my helmet as I landed sideways on the turf. I turned my head to see my limp, crooked wrist through the small cage in front of my eyes. My spit-filled mouth guard stuck to my cheek. I’m pretty sure I heard myself scream, but every sound was so far away now, even the crowd cheering my name.
The band started playing our school fight song. I guess Garvey caught the ball for the win. I tried to lift my head, but it wouldn’t move, my shoulder pads raised up below my chin. My wrist seared like cleats were stampeding across it.
My eyes blinked open and shut. Hands skimmed my neck, pulling my helmet over my ears. Everything was louder now as more hands lifted me under my shoulders and legs. The bright lights slammed directly into my skull. The ground was no longer beneath me; I was in the air, making contact with a stretcher before being shut into an ambulance. My coach sat beside me, a consoling hand on my shoulder. I couldn’t tell if I was knocked out or not. Maybe this was all a stupid dream.
“Your parents will meet us at the ER, Vance,” Coach said.
I blinked again, allowing him to come into focus. Definitely not a dream. I would’ve recognized his burly beard and scratchy voice anywhere.
I nodded, or maybe I didn’t. My throat gurgled.
Coach held a Gatorade sport water bottle to my mouth and squirted some inside. I coughed and spat, my eyes fully opening now.
“Is it broken?” I managed, still looking at Coach.
Coach laughed, actually laughed. I gritted my teeth. Was I overreacting? It felt like someone was chiseling away at my arm bones with an icepick. It had to be broken, didn’t it?
“If it ain’t, then you’re a lot more flexible than I thought,” he said, the laughter falling away. He clamped his hand on my left shoulder again.
I breathed in, my chest shaking. I coughed and groaned. It was broken. Oh my God, what if I never played again?
My parents were already in the waiting room when the paramedics wheeled me in. My mom rushed over, kissing my head and telling me I’d be okay. Though her frantic breathlessness and shaking hands weren’t convincing. Even my little brother, Chad, sat more quietly than usual—his hazel eyes bulging. And he was just a goofy fourteen-year-old who never thought anything was serious other than beating the next level on his video games. I guess my wrist was pretty screwed, which only made my heart race more.
My parents and Chad helped me take my gear off. It was pinching and squeezing me in all the worst places now that I wasn’t on the field. When Dad pulled my cleats off, the sour stench of my feet probably wafted through every floor of this hospital, waking people in comas, I bet.
The assault on my nose was a cruel momentary distraction from the crushing sensation in my arm. My headache turned into a dull throb—nothing like my wrist.
A nurse cut my jersey down the center and then did the same to the laces on my shoulders pads so Dad could slip them off me. The scissors shredded through the middle of my number one as it split in two. I almost cried . . . almost.
I had to pee real bad after all the Gatorade and water during the game, but I still had my cup on and it was about as uncomfortable as a bunch of pins sticking me now that I was sitting still. Since I was out an arm, my dad had to help me take it off . . . which meant he had to help me take my pants off, too . . . then put them back on since I had nothing else to wear. Seriously, this night was supposed to be the best yet and right now, it couldn’t have been any worse.
I had to wait for the ER doctor for hours, but at least the nurse hooked me up to a sweet morphine drip, which faded the pain nicely into the background.
The doctor called me in around the same time that the homecoming dance would’ve been ending. I’d gotten some texts and Snapchats before putting my phone away altogether. They just reminded me how I wouldn’t be getting with Sharon Martin, which of course sucked, but not nearly as much as wondering if my football career was over.
“Will I still be able to play football?” I asked, voicing that overwhelming concern as the doctor gathered all the tools he’d need to set my wrist.
He pulled over some metal thing that looked like a torture device. “Probably, but you’ll be out for a while,” he said, parking the contraption next to me. “It depends on how you heal over the next couple weeks. Plus, surgery is still a possibility, so you’ll have to see what your doctor says.”
“Then how can you be sure I’ll be able to play football?”
“Nothing is certain.” He strung loops from the top of the metal appliance. “But usually people can resume activity after a break, just with maybe a bit more pain at first . . . and of course, a lot of time and physical therapy.”
He slipped my pointer finger, middle finger, and thumb into those small nooses hanging from the silver coatrack-looking thing, suspending my arm in the air.
“Now, speaking of pain, this is going to hurt a little,” he said as he positioned my arm.
Please, dude, nothing could hurt as bad as my bones being cracked and separated all over the place. It couldn’t hurt as bad as football being nothing but a distant memory.
“Shit!” I screamed as he slowly moved my arm into place, my fingers ripping right from my hand. My wrist made some disgusting popping noise. I swore flames were burning through my whole body. Okay, it did hurt, and not a little—a lot.
I barely noticed my mom squeezing my other hand so tight her fingernails left indents in my palm. Though, for once she didn’t scold me for cursing.
After the doctor set my wrist, he molded plaster around it. It was hard and dense and went up to the middle of my bicep.
“Your doctor will probably put you in a smaller cast, but unfortunately this is how we do it in the ER,” he said as he went on to bandage the plaster with a roll of ACE wrap. “Better to have it move as little as possible, though, while the break is new.”
It would definitely move as little as possible, more like not at all. I was officially restricted. I sighed, hating the feeling of the heavy material squeezing around my arm as it sagged from my shoulder. Hating the feeling of my elbow bent in place. Hating the feeling of everything being different already.