During a game in high school, the sharp elbow of the opposing center came down square on my head, and it was as if my scalp had a lovely old zinc-coated spout and I was situated behind a soda fountain pouring rose-colored cherry phospates for a gaggle of teens. It was really a perfect injury. It stopped the game, allowing us to take a breather, the center got called for a foul; it didn't hurt, bled like hell, and was wonderful for a few minutes, knowing that at any moment our insides can burst out and splash on everyone's expensive basketball shoes. It felt good. Once it stopped, I was back in, and played as hard as ever, and I suspect remorse got the best of the other guy, as he kept his elbows to himself. We won.
On the floor, just after the game ended, heading to the locker room, my mother called to me from twenty feet away. She'd been in the stands with her friends, a fairly rare event. After my horrid performance pitching a little-league playoff championship, I suggested she stay home from then on. I don't think she listened. But regardless, she didn't come to many games, as she usually had to sleep, she worked third-shift at the nursing home. (Yes, I was alone at night, which was mostly great in my teens, not so much in adolescence.)
Anyway, my mother could not resist making a motherly display, or a nursing display, whichever it was. I ignored her, turned and followed my team into the locker room.
She screamed at me most of the way home. She woke me up later that night and screamed at me some more. I'd humiliated her. It was awful, the screaming. Dredging up every embarrassment, every bit of neighborhood gossip, betrayals, just what had I been doing with my whore of a girlfriend--who had I mentioned what pills mom took to and did they tell their parents, and on and on. It was insane. It was not the everyday norm, but not unheard of behavior either.
Sometimes I put myself back in the head coach's office, the next year of varsity, the exact moment I say the words "I quit." I quit because my girlfriend rented her own house and drove a Chevy Nova and drank Jack Daniels straight from the bottle, or because I discovered I liked to smoke and drink, or that I was arrogant and wasn't getting played enough, or the recruiters weren't calling, or the coach had been a point guard, and ignored me in favor of the guards, or my mom was driving me crazy bouncing around because of the social status a potential basketball star held in our hick town, because because because. I wanted to play basketball so much it was too much.
I go back there to that office and instead don't quit. I nod my head yes and listen to the coach. Then I try and play my life out from there and wonder if I'd be more of an asshole now or less a loser, have better memories or worse, I don't know.
But when I put myself back on the floor after that hard won game the year before I quit, when for a short time I felt a bit like a man, that I'd seen my own blood, I took my lumps and gave them in return, and my mother is standing there with her friends, calling me, a concerned look, beckoning half-smile, and I turn and stop and stare back at her and glare, and do the exact same thing again. I turn and walk away.