I was 14 when I broke my right wrist. It happened during community league football practice, in the run in place, and hit the dirt drill. I ran hard, and fast as I could. I wasn’t the fastest, or the strongest. But I put everything I had into that practice that day. And the coach said, “Dirt!” and I threw myself at the ground.
There was no crack, no splintering sound, nothing like that. Just the feel of a rather large nail being hammered from my palm, through my wrist, into my arm. It hurt. I can’t say, “it hurt like…” because I didn’t have anything to compare it with at the time. And anything I could have made up would have been made up. “It hurt like a bitch.” What the fuck does that even mean? “It hurt like someone hit me with a baseball bat.” No. I’ve been hit with a bat. This didn’t hurt like that at all.
It was 1973. Less than a year earlier, the guys I was playing football with called me, “Sally” in gym class. Now, I was knocking heads with them. I was showing them I wasn’t, “Sally.” Oh, we all knew, I certainly knew, I wasn’t as strong, or as fast as them. But there I was, playing with the big boys, in the high school community league. Bruises happened. Hard hits happened. Getting your bell rung happened.
Only “Sally” cried about it.
I wasn’t “Sally.”
I didn’t cry.
We moved to the next drill. I like to think of it as the “lead with your helmet” drill. One guy gets the ball. The other has to stop him. Two guys hurl themselves at each other. It didn’t matter who won. Didn’t matter if you got creamed. What mattered was you tried. You survived the collision.
The other guy got the ball. He launched. So did I. We met, in the middle. The helmets collided. So did the shoulder pads. And somewhere in there, my wrist met its end. If it made any noise when it broke, no one could have heard it over the sound of the shoulder pads colliding.
I still have the external scar on that wrist, where it met the side of the other guys helmet. Right at the edge of the face guard.
The coach was happy. “That’s the way to hit!”
After a few minutes, the other guys pointed out my wrist to the coach. Sucker was as wide around as my hand. Literally. It swelled up that much.
But only Sally cried.
And I wasn’t Sally.
That was the end of practice for me. The coaches benched me. I got to watch the rest of the practice. I wasn’t even allowed to run the lap around the field at the end of practice. Because, everyone knew I was injured.
Dad asked how I was. I explained my wrist. And how it was OK. It was just swollen, and in a few days it would be OK, “All I did was jam it good.”
I never had it looked at. Never had an x-ray. Never visited a doctor. Because, that was a sign of weakness. That was what Sally did. And I wasn’t Sally. And by God, everyone was going to know that, everyone was going to know I wasn’t Sally. I might not be as strong, or as fast as the rest of them. But, by God, they would know I was every bit as tough as they were.
I went to school the next day, my wrist still as wide as my hand, but it was OK. I was left handed. I carried my books with my left hand. I wrote with my left hand. I ate with my left hand. Having my right hand unusable for a few days was OK. I didn’t need it.
And after a couple of days, I was able to do normal things with my right hand. I could hold a book, hold a glass, or a soda can. I could behave normally.
It took weeks for the pain to fade away.
And I never told anyone about the pain. Because. If I admitted it hurt, I’d be weak, I’d be Sally.
I’d been Sally before.
I’d have died before I became Sally again.
It was 1992, and my right wrist ached from all the typing I did at work. Sometimes, my right index and middle fingers didn’t want to move without making certain I felt the effort it took clear up to my elbow. After a few weeks, I gave up. The people I worked with told me to get it looked at, so did my wife. So, I went to the doctor’s office.
Turned out there was a ¼ inch left to right motion in my wrist. You could see the bones slide against each other. An x-ray showed no signs of a break. No bone spurs, no visible cracks. But, from the lateral motion, the doctor decided I’d had a clean fracture of my wrist, and it had never been treated.
But, by God, they never called me Sally after that day on the football practice field in 1973. And when my wrist was strong enough, six weeks later, I went back on the practice field. Because. I wasn’t Sally.
I was taught, by this life, in this world I never made, pain, physical pain, is expected. Only the weak cry about it. I’d learned that at 14 years old. I’d learned, I couldn’t afford to be that type of weak.
I wasn’t Sally.