So, there we were, Dave and I warming up with our competitors in our first doubles tennis match. I was hitting the ball as if I had just learned how to say the word “tennis”, but I figured it would come together for me pretty quickly.
My 60-something opponent hit the ball toward me. I missed it, and turned. In my mind, it will always be a graceful pivot, as if a Peregrine falcon had spotted a chipmunk and stooped to dive toward that brown midday meal. In movies, they make people fall in slow motion, for effect. In real life, you’re on your feet, then you’re on the ground.
I remember, distinctly, hearing and feeling a snap below my left ankle.
After five minutes of lying on hard court, wishing there was a tree limb I could stuff in my mouth and grind into toothpicks, I got up, realized I wasn’t going to be fencing or playing tennis for three month, and told Dave he should go ahead and play. A nice woman had walked by at that moment, offering to replace me. Dave–unfailing friend–said, “No, let’s just go.” As he helped me out, I said, “Um, I think I need to go to the hospital. This is bad.”
We made it to the club house. Dave, ever the gentleman, opened the door for me and I stepped through, bracing my left hand against the doorway. Dave came around, ready to help. Three seconds later I remember saying, quietly yet urgently, “Dave . . . open . . . the door.” He said, “Oh my god!”, did as I requested, whereupon I freed my fingers and stared at the dark blue ridges forming above the knuckles.
We got me to the couch. The guy at the little food counter brought a bag of ice, which I put on my ankle and then buried my left fingers into. I burst into . . . laughter. I now had two sources of pain, and couldn’t decide which was more ridiculous. I teased Dave later. “You’ve heard of adding insult to injury? My friend didn’t want to waste his breath, so he just added injury to injury.”
And then, I discovered that all the blood was draining from my head. I lay back, practically crushing the plastic water bottle in my right hand. My thoughts were these: * Can I make it to the car? * Can I call Elaine and tell her I did this? * Can I type? * Is this the end of rotten things happening to me, for a while?
Dave–faithful aid–left to pull my car around (I’d driven us both). Five minutes later (or, it may have been the next morning), he came in and said, “Uh, Charles? I can’t start your car. I can’t turn the key in the ignition.”
My car is a 1994 Honda Accord EX, a good car, but unkown to me it had developed warts that I’d merely become used to. One of them was that the key needed to be manipulated in just the right Houdini fashion. I explained this as well as I could. Dave left, and came back. The car was running and waiting.
As we left, a fellow with a walking stick the size of a pole vault and as thick as a telephone pole said, “You want to use my stick?” I was brilliant, for the first time in a month. “No,” I said, “I’ve got my buddy.”
Within three feet of the car I said, “Dave, I see you turned on the hazards. That’s okay, except they’re a little tricky to turn off again. Now, there’s a Leatherman’s tool in the glove compartment. Open the knife blade. . . .”
After that, things were normal. We went to Christ Hospital (“You must go to Christ,” said Dave with typical good humored irony), which is a very good facility. Within ninety minutes, they’d x-rayed me and had the answer.
I’d fractured both my left foot and my ankle. “How about that?” said my doctor. “I thought it was just a sprain.”
They put a cast on. I received excellent instructions on using crutches. Dave drove me home. I offered him a beer and used the bathroom. When I came out, I saw he’d opened my only bottle of Romulan Ale (a specialty brew) that I’d been saving. My mouth opened wide. I explained. He said, “What do I do?” I said, “Pour me half.”
But it isn’t all about me. Opening that special beer was appropriate. You see, we toasted Jennie, Dave’s newly affianced. He’d just told me the news that day.
My dear friend, without whom I’d so often be lost, is getting married.