Monday, August 27, 2007

A funny thing happened on the way to the fieldhouse.

I’ll continue this leg-injury-themed string of posts with a Yajeev flashback.

I am often asked about the bright pink six-inch scar on my left knee. I usually brush off the question with a short, technically correct response: “wrestling”.

I had decided to join the wrestling team in the seventh grade. I cannot recall what it was that made me think that this sort of thing was up my alley. It may have been my stellar performance in the KWF (Kids Wrestling Federation), the WWF-mimicking imaginary wrestling league founded by my childhood friend, Ed. My best friend Justin (ring name: White Tiger) and I (ring name: Black Panther—I swear I came by the name honest—I had no idea there was an organization by the same name) dominated the other wrestlers in the federation (most of whom were younger or smaller than we were)… my brother was the Texas Hillbilly… Ed was the Executioner… Dave was The Wavedog (he was truly a legend in his own mind… he moved away to Detroit. When he returned to Youngstown to see old chums, he insisted on keeping his visit a surprise, revealing himself to his friends by sprinting into a makeshift wrestling ring in our backyard to his very own theme music, Eye of the Tiger). Ed always told us we’d lose to the wrestler whose ring name was the same as his birth name: Jesse. Justin and I never met this kid, and, to this day, I believe Jesse to be a figment of Ed’s imagination.

I digress.

For some reason, I thought I’d like the non-professional variety of wrestling.

I made it through a couple of hot, sticky practices and quickly learned that my eminence in the pre-pro wrestling circuit in no way translated to success in the fieldhouse. On the third evening of wrestling practice, I was walking to the fieldhouse with a few of my co-wrestlers (they refused to be called tag team partners), when I stepped on a patch of black ice. My leg twisted, I felt a pop in my knee, and I was down.

The next day, I was on crutches. People asked me how I hurt myself. I tried to give the one word answer indicated above: “wrestling”. It didn’t work, however, when other wrestlers were around to hear me being asked. They relished the opportunity to describe my embarrassing non-wrestling-related injury.

That was the end of my wrestling career and the beginning of a string of non-sports related knee injuries that culminated in surgery my freshman year of high school. The most humiliating injury came at a church youth group event. We were playing an icebreaker game called “Mingle.” The rules were simple. Everyone had to mill around in the crowd of youth repeating the words “mingle mingle mingle”. At his whim, the youth leader would call out a number and the mingling youths would have to immediately form small groups of that number. For example, we adolescents would be milling about, mumbling “mingle mingle mingle mingle mingle ming-“ and the youth leader would shout “THREE!” Immediately, frantically, the youths would attempt to cluster into groups of threes. Any leftover kids who couldn’t find two other friends to cluster with would be eliminated. And on we would go until the group was winnowed down to two lucky young souls.

Well, we were two or three rounds into a competitive game of Mingle when Pastor Rich yelled “FOUR!” The next thing that was heard is normally not a part of the Mingle game: a blood-curdling yelp from a pained 15-year-old: “AHH, MY KNEE!” And I was down, my knee dislocated, the first Mingler in the history of the game to suffer an injury requiring medical attention.

I had surgery that fall. I’ve got a big red scar to show for it.

The doctors fixed my knee, but they could do nothing to prevent the multitude of unprovoked falls and injuries I would experience the rest of my days.

It is my lot.