The day found me loading up my athletic bag for a day of social and athletic pursuits--a golf shirt, jeans, and Polo lowtops for a possible dinner date, North Carolina-blue basketball shorts for the tennis or basketball I would be playing, dark-blue Nike hightops with two pairs of socks. The last few days had been the epitome of summer freedom, with a few dates, two books enjoyed, and a tennis match, basketball game, and weight workout.
I went to the same university rec center I'd played at countless times, the bulk of them played in a 18 month span ending about six years ago. I did a basic workout after telling the waiting players in the gym that I had next. We had a neat team of five ready to go when the game ended, and jogged in from the weight room to lace 'em up. For some reason, probably just laziness, I decided not to get my hightop shoes from the locker room, deciding instead to play in my Mr. Rogers-would-love-them Polo shoes.
As introductions were made before the game started, one of my teammates looked at me askew, and said, "You cool to play in those?"
Thinking he was talking about my shorts, I said, "What, they're too short?"
"Naw, Dog, those shoes."
I nodded and shrugged, both an affirmation of his misgivings and an admission that my decision to rock the Polos was not the smartest idea, but that the game must go on.
The game was hard-fought, with my two jumpers helping us to a 9-4 lead before a turnover and blown one-on-one defensive assignment led to a 10-10 tie, game point. I took the ball up top after a teammate's pass was tipped out of bounds. I passed the ball in to the right wing, screened for the left wing, and stood at the free throw line, wide open when the ball was eventually passed to me. No one stood within three feet of me as I rose up for a jumper that went through the net, leading to my teammates mobbing me on the floor.
Oh yeah, did I mention that I was on the floor due to what would later be diagnosed as a completely severed Achilles tendon?
Before the shot went through the hoop, I had a horrific fleeting image of a oft-replayed injury I'd seen on tv some years back. I think this one was of Jason Kendall, a pro baseball player who ran over first base with his ankle bending at a grotesque angle.
Before I'd even returned to the ground after the jump shot, my left rear leg and ankle seemed to give out like never before. There was a sound like a dying dog (I still don't know if it was from me or from a player waiting on the sidelines)and I collapsed in a heap, breakdancing on my butt to get to a sitting position.
The feeling can be described better now in hindsight, as I know that the tendon was torn. It was a feeling of disconnection, a feeling that the calf and the foot were completely different entities.
When the doctor squeezed my left calf the next day at the emergency room, right before telling me that I would have surgery three days after my accident, he gave a knowing nod. My left ankle and left foot would naturally contract with the squeezing of the calf-go ahead, try it at home. The signals from the calf to the ankle were nonexistent.
The above might help the reader to understand in what way this pain was excruciating. After a minute of me shaking my head and saying, "Wow" repeatedly, I attempted to hobble the five steps or so to the sideline bench. I immediately crumbled and was helped along by two people whose shoulders bore my weight as I held my injured leg above the fray.
When I got to the sideline, a sense of strange clarity hit me as I looked around at the worried faces of the other players. They'd been here before, some of them. In their eyes, I can see now, were many hours of pain.
I was about to pledge their fraternity.
This was bad.