Take a deep breath. You've done this a thousand times before. This time is no different.
But it is, really.
A year. Columbus day, 2013. I remember the day because the wife had the day off, a perk of working at a bank. It was a beautiful day, the blue sky so bright it hurt. We did the pumpkin patch with the boy and something just felt off the entire time. Had a game that night in the middle of the Cardinals game, playing the Dodgers. The birds had a terrible night, so I didn't mind missing some of that to play. Not even two minutes in, and I'm just a step slow. I get the ball and take a shot, something I've done hundreds of thousands of times. I land and hear it. Everyone hears it. The pop.
Initially I didn't think it was that bad. No contact, maybe I just sprained it. This was not to be. It was a ruptured ACL and a shredded menial meniscus. I was told that I'd be able to run in a straight line, swim, bike, but my sports days would be over, unless. The boy is three, there is no way that I'm not coaching his soccer or baseball teams in a year or two. So then surgery is the only option to insure that I'm able to be the father that I want to be.
November 12th is determined to be the date. The surgery itself is unremarkable, aside from me asking if I can get pictures of the process. The attendants had never had anyone ask that before. "Sure, what the hell".
It's outpatient, so I'm there at 6am and in the car to go home at Noon, with a $450 payment mixed in. It takes a few days but the bruising is pretty gnarly. The bottom of the knee is a special kind of purple, the one that seems to absorb light. I'm sedentary but for my right leg being in the passive motion machine, keeping it steadily moving from zero to thirty degrees. Six times a day I pop it out of that machine to stretch it out, reaching for a degree or two of inversion that'll allow it to flex enough to hopefully one day run again. After the stretch it's back in the machine for the best part, the 110 degree flex. That's basically your heel to your cheek and a hold for ten long minutes.
It's six days and I'm walking again, but it's unfair to walking to call the gait I was capable of such. Rehab will help, they say. Rehab will remake you.
Rehab will break you.
My therapist was a wonderful woman, the perfect blend of motivational mastermind and masochist. There's the stretching; hanging your mangled limb of the edge off the table with weights attached to stretch you farther than should be possible; wrapping a towel around your ankle and pulling your heel as close to your spine as you can. There's the bicycle, ride tall to loosen your leg and get the blood flowing, then ride closer to the gears to flex the knee. Climb a ladder. Run a ladder on the floor. Hop the ladder. Do the leg press. Stick your ass out and shuffle with a band holding your legs taut. One leg squats. Run.
My schedule was that I couldn't get there til 430 on Mondays and Fridays, but I could open the place up on Wednesdays. I enjoyed them equally, as it afforded me the luxury of being alone with my pain when I would be there past when everyone else had gone or yet to arrive in the bleary chill of those winter mornings.
I ran into one of the other therapists at a preschool function recently, one who would always be there on Wednesdays to watch prior to any of his patients arriving. He told me that he's done therapy for ten years and had not encountered someone who had worked harder than me. So that's a nice feather in my cap.
I've been running for a few months, tying to retrain myself on how to breathe, how to keep edging a few seconds off my mile and my five K. That's not the running I'm going to be doing tonight, but it's not too different. There's thinking involved tonight, muscle memory that's lain dormant for a year that needs to be sharp when it has no reason to be.
A thousand times before, and then tonight, there was one more.