[A snippet from a writing project in gestation, which will probably make very little sense if you haven’t read these other snippets: Square one, No importa, New tables, Belly of the beast, No turning back, Memories, dreams, reflections, El campo de pueblo, & Wait and see.]
Yesterday’s soccer practice. My pulled quad muscle was still troubling me. Trouble was, every time I kicked the ball with my right leg, I felt a good deal of pain. In my broken Spanish I tried to explain to my amigos that I might have to sit this one out. At the last moment, I decided to press on. Didn’t want to look like a candy-ass, what with all the machismo in the air. The previous practice I came up with a mantra to help me stay mindful of my rickety frame: “Stay in your legs, stay with your breath, and go get the ball!” Unfortunately, as we lined up for the scrimmage yesterday, the mantra slipped my mind. Not two minutes into the game, the ball squirted my way and my adversary and I raced to take possession. Our legs collided in a most inauspicious way, causing my left knee to twist violently out of place. I distinctly heard a crackling sound at the moment of impact. The pain was blinding, and I quickly hopped off the field saying “muy malo, muy malo!” (very bad!)
On the sidelines I fell back into the grass and stared up at the sunset sky. Curiously, there was not a thought in my mind, just a sense of absolute resignation. A pack of children quickly surrounded me, peppering me with unintelligible questions and finding much humor in my predicament. One of them pointed at a cloud floating by, saying it looked like a tortuga, a word I recognized as “turtle.” And it did look like a turtle. That much I could hang my hat on.
My “ambulance” arrived after the scrimmage. It was bicycle with a metal basket clamped above the rear wheel. I climbed aboard and held on for dear life, wincing with every bump and jostle as we headed back to the river, which had to be crossed in order to get back to town. My amigos had to carry me across the felled street-lamp beam that served as a bridge.
When I got back to the house, our hosts tried to drag me to some local healer for a “massage” that would make me good as new, but I put my good foot down and insisted on a healer with a diploma on the wall and access to an X-ray machine. Having been through this whole rigmarole before (torn right ACL; broken left tibial plateau), I consider myself somewhat of an expert on busted knees. I wanted to ice and elevate overnight, postponing till morning the extremely bouncy car ride along the road/minefield to San Pedro. Juana, of course, tried to explain why ice was bad and that what I really needed was a hot avocado leaf, or some shit like that. At that moment, I realized I was fairly well fucked. Molly was frantically trying to translate the back and forth, and the best we could do was get them to take us to a doctor immediately, as for some unclear reason Jesús couldn’t make the trip in the morning. Besides, we were told, there was no way to get ice at 9:00pm.
The long, bumpy ride to San Pedro was a chance to test my newly acquired meditative powers. “It’s only pain” became my new mantra. We arrived at the clinic and I was able to get some X-rays taken. I sat for a few minutes, waiting for the results and wondering why they didn’t cover my groin with a lead mat, like they do in U.S. radiology rooms. No importa! I was also hoping for a fracture, as that result would be clear-cut, conclusive, and unlikely to require surgical repair. The X-rays showed otherwise, however, revealing only a congenital floating kneecap fragment (which greatly confounded the initial diagnosis). The trauma specialist then examined my knee and reached the tentative conclusion that meniscus and/or ligament tears were causing the pain and swelling. He also told me I have the knees of a sixty-year-old and recommended I give up sports entirely.
As the nurse injected some unknown substance into my butt-cheek, I slowly slipped back into self-pity mode as “I’m fucked” jumped back to mind. Aside from translated conversations, my entire social life here consists in playing hacky-sack with the kids and soccer with Jesús and his amigos. Lately, guys wave to me in the street, asking if I’ll be at practice later, whereas before there were mostly hushed comments, giggles and stares as I walked through town. Not two hours before the injury, I spent a poop-load of pesos on gear, photos, and registration fees to join the league. All outside of “the budget” and all down the crapper now, not to mention the mounting medical expenses.
My thoughts went on like this the whole ride home. Poor Bobbo. Can’t even walk into town now to use the internet or to buy groceries. Just when I was getting my shit together, it’s back into the belly of the beast. And things just got worse from there. The tiling process was not proceeding as scheduled. For two days following the injury, the men worked from morning until well into the night, so I could not relax and recover in my own room. A day and half had passed before I could get any ice for my knee, so it looked like a grapefruit and I sat in our hosts’ living room in agonizing discomfort for hours upon hours.
I was able to suck it up for the first twelve hours or so, and even had a nice moment or two. Jesús’ brother Manuel, who had helped carry me across the river, stopped by to see how I was doing. Manuel played soccer in old, beat-up sneakers because, according to Jesús, he couldn’t afford cleats. Realizing my soccer days were over, for a while at the very least, I asked Manuel if he would accept my brand new cleats as a gift. He seemed touched, and the good feelings buoyed me along for a few hours or so. But the overall misery level – from pain, extreme discomfort, exhaustion, lack of privacy, worry about my health, etc. – eventually crossed the line as the hours ticked away and it seemed like I’d never get back into my room and into bed.
It was about 10pm, the day following the injury, and I sat there in the middle of the living room surrounded by everyone and all the stuff from our room. I couldn’t keep up the “I’m okay” act any longer, so I pulled my cap down over my face and asked Molly to instruct everyone to please leave me alone. I tried my best to disappear, to completely dissociate from my body, which at this point was in uncharted realms of discomfort. Kids would periodically come by and look under my cap to see if I was awake. I just played dead. Every now and again I’d notice mosquitoes landing on my legs, nourishing themselves on my vital fluids. I imagined I was buried alive in a form-fitted casket, observing the pain and restlessness in my body from a place of near total detachment. I felt as vulnerable as a newborn baby – immobile, uncommunicative, completely at the mercy of others, waiting, hoping for mercy to be shown.
At some unknown hour of the night, Molly roused me and informed me she had successfully pleaded with our hosts and the workers to make a small space in our room where the bed could be re-assembled and my lifeless carcass deposited. I lied there with my hat over my face until the workers at last left for the night. They explained to Molly that they had needed to finish the room, no matter how long it took, because they had another job tomorrow morning they could not afford to miss. The bathroom tile would have to wait until that other job was completed. At last there was privacy enough to let the sobs come. They were necessarily stifled sobs, of course, as our host family was but a few feet away behind a thin curtain. The tears flowed under my cap for a long time. I felt like everything that had been holding me together had been stripped away.
Two days have now come and gone, and I am once again in my familiar spot next to the window, leg braced and propped up on the bed. Molly has gone to the store to stock up on the bare necessities. Grocery shopping used to be my job, along with cleaning dishes and the assorted odd jobs that require a man’s strength. Now, and for at least the next few weeks as we see how the knee heals, everything falls on my wife’s shoulders. Without modern conveniences, chores here are rather time-consuming when able-bodied and aided. Now, everything is just one big pain in the ass after another. And, as far as my Molly is concerned, I am just one big pain in her ass. I can’t argue with that.
I hate being dependent on anyone, especially on our hosts, and on Juana in particular. Since I arrived, the sound of her voice hits me like nails on a chalkboard. Everything she does annoys me to no end, no matter how helpful she tries to be. This is all me, one hundred percent my issue, but under stress I have a hard time keeping it in check. The other night, while our stuff was being put back into our room, we noticed our water jug was empty. Molly is not strong enough to confidently lift a full twenty-liter jug into the dispenser, so Juana swooped in to the rescue. She got the job done, providing me with convenient, bedside access to life-giving agua. Yet, all I could think was: “Did she just spill water all over my books?” and “She didn’t clean off the top of the jug before she put it in, did she?”
I smiled and thanked her just the same, as always, but as soon she left I disgustedly inspected her work. “Ah ha! There’s a bug swimming around inside the container! Inside the jug, contaminating my clean water! It was probably crawling around in the dispenser as she put the jug in. I should’ve tried to do it myself”, I thought. I pointed the bug out to Molly and she rolled her eyes at me in disgust, weary as she must’ve been of my perpetual state of dissatisfaction.
I know this is all taking a severe toll on her, and I am doing my best to be mindful of how my reactions are affecting her. Today, things are better. Difficult, yes, but better. Routine trips to the bathroom can still turn into thirty-minute chores. Crutches—these wooden things that must be a hundred years old—still slip and slide on the wet tile. I need help to wash my feet. I toss and turn all night, searching for comfort, but succeeding only in disturbing Molly’s sleep.
But I’m back writing again, and today I found a way to fix my own breakfast. I’m even washing dishes again. A little while ago we needed to replace the water jug again, and I thought about it doing it myself, but only for a second. I tried to coach Molly through it, but we needed help, Juana’s help. And again, she got the job done. Water splashed all over the floor, but this time we all laughed. Molly noticed the little bug lying dead inside the empty jug. Then it occurred to me. Bug. That’s what everybody calls me here. That’s how they pronounce “Bob.” I corrected them a few times in the beginning, but the habit had already stuck. Besides, I thought at the time, being called “Bug” might make for an interesting story down the road, maybe even providing a touch of irony at just the right moment.