The first collision sent a spider-web of cracks across the surface of Ronnie’s helmet, though we would not notice this until after the second collision, the one that forced Ronnie onto the stretcher, into the ambulance, into surgery. The doctors used an electric bone saw to slice the helmet in two. At our practice a week later, Coach Tompkins showed us the halves, showed us the fractured arroyos that crisscrossed the helmet’s surface.
“This is why you don’t lead with the crown of your head,” Coach Tompkins said, and though I took his point to heart – no one wanted to end up like Ronnie – my mind was elsewhere. I thought of the final cut from that electric saw, the halves dropping away, freed from one another. In that moment, Ronnie’s head was the fruit, the helmet the rind, and I knew enough from summers on my uncle’s land that if you hit the rind hard enough, it cannot protect what nestles inside.
“Field vision,” Coach Tompkins said, “does not just mean finding a hole and making your way through it. Field vision means keeping your damn eyes on the field, keeping your head up. Can’t win no games from the hospital.” He dropped half the helmet to the dusty ground.
As Coach Tompkins blew his whistle, I closed my eyes, imagined the feel of helmet on helmet. Imagined the feel of an impact that could reach its finger deep, through helmet and hair, flesh and skull. In that moment I could see the synapses flicker against one another, their lightning bodies crackling a message of damage and pain.
Why then, did I snap my chinstrap in place, jog back out to the twenty, drop into my familiar stance? Why would I still jog back out today, if my knees would allow it? What is it that leads a person to seek injury from this fractured world?