Coming into focus.
A football slides through my fingers. Green Bay’s defensive back lodges his shoulder into the small of my back. My body bends backward in a way I’ve never experienced before. I taste rubber from my mouthpiece that’s now spiraling through the air in the direction the ball went. I don’t remember coming off the field. I’m too embarrassed.
-Catch the goddamn ball, Grant! What’s the matter with you?
That’s coach Sherman, our wide receiver coach. It’s late in the game, only a minute-thirty to play. The ball slipped right through my hands. I should have caught it. Third down too. We have to punt. Shame fills my entire body. Sherm’s still looking at me. Mouth slightly open, waiting for an answer that’s never coming. I look down. Then right. Years of conditioning have taught me to say nothing in these situations. Put up or shut-up.
Sherm walks away as one of our rookie cornerbacks intercepts a pass and returns it for a touchdown. The kickoff team is called together. One last chance to prove my worth.
We take the field. Rage fills my entire body. I want to rip somebodies head off. The game is essentially over, but I have a roster spot on the line. I need to make something happen. Guys will be taking the play off. This affords me the opportunity to really shine.
Thump! The ball is kicked. I’m racing down the field. I hear nothing but the wind ripping by my ear holes. The clacking of my shoulder pads bouncing up and down to a steady rhythm. About twenty-yards downfield the man in front of me disappears leaving a wide open lane to the kick returner. A bright light shines down on him. A beacon of hope. I put my head down.
I can’t open my eyes. And there’s the stench of metal and sweat, the taste of iron. That’s right stay down, motherfucker! A voice from far away. Hang on to it. Get up. I need to get up.
I don’t remember coming back to the sideline.
-Eight times seven, Grant. Can you tell me what eight times seven is?
That’s our trainer. His name is…his name…why can’t I remember his name? I’m so tired. Just want to lay down.
-Grant? Hey, Grant, look at me. Are you okay? You took a pretty good hit.
I look at two of him and nod.
He walks away. Please stay. Don’t leave me.
Moving out of focus.
The game is over. I’m cold. Fans with cheese on their heads are still everywhere. One points at me on the way back to the locker room. You suck! he yells as I enter a dark tunnel. I hear the clacking of cleats on cement. And I smell wet rocks. Like when I used to lay on the warm stones near the pool after swimming practice as a kid. I’m in the shower. A cave of hot steam. Voices in the distance are muffled and words chopped down by the lights that move in and out of focus. A subwoofer’s been blown out in my ear, everything sounds fuzzy. My eyes are heavy. When I clench my jaw needles stab my temples.
Put your clothes on. Who said that? Head to a bus. I smell gasoline. A kid hands me a box of pizza. Thanks kid. He looks beyond for a player he recognizes, I’m guessing. Stay awake. Please stay awake. Doctors say to stay awake. Boarding plane. Grab a paper bag filled with an apple and sandwich. I see a mustard packet at the bottom. 23D. Window. Sit down. The flight attendant brings me a king size Snickers bar. She’s my age, I think. A blonde angel. I don’t know why she’s smiling at me. Her hand is on my arm and it feels nice. Please stay with me. She hands me a pillow. So tired. Eyes heavy. We’re in the air now.
Sleep. Just rest awhile.