“Come pick me up. Messed up my knee. Walk-in clinic. Coach said it’s most likely a knee sprain. When you have time can you email Ryan? I’m sorry, mom.”
My son’s text came at 6:44 p.m. today, right as I was finishing the other ear of my second try at a new crochet cat hat.
X-rays showed an avulsion fracture, a sprain of the Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) on the left knee. While going for the ball during a scrimmage — with only 30 minutes left to the two-hour practice at school — my son hyper-extended his left knee, backward, really hard. Hard enough to cause a small fracture at the knee joint.
As the doctor and the two nurses at the walk-in clinic made a joke out of this entire process, I found myself doing what I always do when overwhelmed: I closed my eyes, fighting hard to stay present, and not to cry out loud.
When I picked my son up from practice to take him to the walk-in clinic, he complained that I wasn’t reacting well, like before back in Jan. when he broke his pinky playing a soccer tournament. Back then, I joked around, I made it okay for him to take this in stride.
This time, I couldn’t take the universe piling on any longer. Not on this kid, not again.
Earlier in the day, he’d received the all-clear from a hand specialist for the pinky he’d broken. On the drive back to school, I remembered lecturing him against taking every moment of his precious life for granted with boredom or argumentatively nitpicking semantics with his mom. Don’t be complacent, I’d said, you never know what could happen.
He maintained that I was being too negative about his knee injury — until the doctor gave us the results of the x-ray: it’s a mild injury, considering, but definitely a fracture, there, most likely no surgery, and the recovery time’s only about six weeks, four on crutches.
Six weeks is a lifetime, an entire season of JV soccer — his first, the one he worked all his life for, enduring rejection after rejection during Premier/Select tryouts last spring, the lean years before when we couldn’t afford the better, elite clubs.
As soon as the diagnosis hit him, my son felt just as upset and overwhelmed.
So, we do this all over again: wait for the orthopedic office to call for an appointment next week, keep the injured limb immobile, ice, rest, elevate, “Do you want a note for the school and P.E.?”
Before he went to bed, I cleaned his good leg with a soapy washcloth and a bowl full of warm water. I wiped his leg dry, noticing it shake uncontrollably, recalling one of the coaches at school telling me about that when the injury first happened.
The uncontrollable shaking is a part of the side effects from his asthma/allergy meds, which exacerbate whatever condition he was born with. His cross to bear.
Most of my frustration and anger at the universe went away at that point. I was reminded of my son’s individual mortality, the idiosyncrasies that make up his DNA and forge his character.
Here was this young boy who seems impossibly strong, invincible. Yet, I knew better. I’d seen his soft spots, the vulnerabilities, the handicaps he’s had to overcome in his short, 15 years, the back-to-back trips to the ER (three-four), the asthma attacks, the anxiety that comes with keeping on top of a list of prescriptions most adults don’t ever need…
I know many, many other people have to deal with so much worse. I know I sound so selfish and wrong crying about my one child who is at least alive and able to reasonably function.
But right this very minute, I’m allowing myself to be upset for him, to be as selfish about his happiness as the rest of you are about your own.
You have no idea how long he’s waited to play competitive JV soccer for his high school, how hard he worked to make tryouts after so many “experts” in the game dismissed him or pointed out his drawbacks in the most humiliating fashion, what he’s had to put up with to get to this moment… only for the universe to seemingly revel in taking it all back.
Tomorrow is the long-anticipated game against a rival high school. My son looked forward to helping his JV team fight the good fight on the pitch. Thirty minutes, 30 fucking minutes, then he would’ve enjoyed a good night’s sleep, school, and the game of a lifetime, the second in the season.
Tomorrow, we’ll be there — G-d willing — him to support his team on the sidelines, me to take pictures, before heading back home in his crutches and the long climb upstairs to rest, and maybe dream of something better up ahead.