The Organs Have Their Say

The Organs Have Their Say

When I was much younger, I was a soccer goalkeeper.   What I lacked in height I made up for with a total disregard for safety. My body was a plaything and I hurled it around, never thinking of pain or consequence.  My reflexes were hair-trigger,  synaptic pulses told my body to move and the response was instantaneous — leaping, diving through the air, my fingertips edging the ball around the outside of a goalpost.   I was fast, could close out on errant dribbles and loose balls in the space of a blink.  I was intimidating. Violence emanated as I prowled the goal line.  I played recklessly, hit people hard if they had a breakaway or contested me in the air.  I caused broken legs, a dislocated shoulder, and a shattered nose. For myself, I smashed all my fingers, cracked some ribs and barely noticed.  Over the years, no matter what other minor successes I have had, my prowess as a goalie is something I have always been proud of.  Even the great Pele patted me on the ass during an exhibition match at a Cosmos game and told me I had talent.

In my senior year in high school, we played a team that overwhelmed us.  We were out-classed.  In the space of about ten minutes, one player had scored three goals on me.  Beautiful goals.  My teammates were at a loss, beaten by speed, by accurate passing, by an organized plan of attack.  They looked lost, bewildered, frozen in the wrong spots.  I was ashamed and frustrated.  The only thing I thought to do was to be more aggressive; if no one else could close this one guy out. I would.  Better to contest than fall victim to another open shot.   I soon had my moment: a two on one breakaway.  I made my move.  That’s all I can remember.  I came to on the pitch, my teammates looking terrified.  I got woozily to my feet and spit blood and what I thought were fragments of bone.  I felt tremendous pressure at my jawline and thought my bone had torn through my cheek.  I was rushed to the hospital.  It turned my jaw was fine; an enormous, Elephant Man-like hematoma had sprouted on my face causing the sensation of pressure.  What I thought was bone was actually the pulverized remains of my molars (4 smashed apart teeth).  The doctor, after reviewing x-rays, told me I had a neck like a pig.  As my teeth had shattered, it was a miracle my neck had not snapped and left me either dead or paralyzed.

A week or so later, I took to the field again for our last game of the season.  For the first time in my life, I had a sense of caution.  A realization of consequences, an understanding that my body had limits.  It turned out to be the last time I ever played organized soccer.

I replay moments as a goalie in my head: the startling mechanics of watching a ball chipped over my head, reading the situation clearly so that time seemed to slow down as I back-peddled into position, timing my jump perfectly so that as the ball descended, it met my gloved hand and elegantly and harmlessly went over the goal post. At fifty-one, my body no longer does what it is told.  My physical self has become an insurgent, constantly rebelling against its master, my consciousness.  Things hurt, my bones creak, my back stays at a consistent level of stiff pain.  I don’t move like I used to — my brain sends out signals that my body no longer follows.  I gain weight.  Recently I had something in my lower abdomen that filled me with dread.  When I went to the doctor, I struggled to explain the sensation.  It was not pain precisely, it was more that I was aware of something internal; I could feel something in my organs. What had been a part of my body that used to go about its business discreetly, now seemed to have gained a voice.  I breathed such a sigh of relief when my fears of cancer — stoked by WebMD — were proved wrong.  I find myself apologizing to my fingers, my lungs, my dry patches of skin, my hamstrings for having spent decades as an insensitive fuck, taking everything for granted.

The corollary to my increasing alienation towards my body is that my mind, my sense of self is operating much like my body used to.  In my youth, I was all over the place.  My emotions, my insecurities, my lack of understanding about who I was and what I wanted, led me to interact with the world like a handful of flour being tossed into a fan.  I was everywhere and nowhere at once.  I could not walk into a room without being dogged by internal voices questioning my every move, my every word, the way I looked, whether or not my jeans were properly tapered. It was exhausting.  Now, fuck it, I can walk into an unknown, tiny, four-seat Izakaya in the middle of Tokyo and be, if not comfortable, totally calm.  True. I can feel the sensation of having a bladder and I can no longer leap onto the counter from a standing position.  Straight mind, disrupted body.  Pretty good trade-off.

 

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