Wednesday, October 31, 2018

"The Span of Life"

The Span of Life

"The old dog barks backward without getting up.
I can remember when he was a pup."
-- Robert Frost

I couldn't resist -- the actor's
name is Gaten Matarazzo;
right time period and all. 
That's one of my favorite poems of all time. If I am, daily, a drag-racing car, that poem is the parachute deploying at the end of my rubber-burning run. Each time I see it, pseudo-paradoxically, my world slows down so that I can take in exactly how fast things pass.

Many, many summers ago, I was racing my orange, banana-seated bike around the newly-constructed bank that was built next door to my house in the middle-class town of Voorhees, New Jersey. The bank was equipped with two excellent features for kids: One was the big, windowless brick wall in the back that was perfect for practicing tennis or for a Wiffleball backstop. The other, of which I was taking advantage on this day, was the ebony-smooth, newly-asphalted space around the building which allowed impossible speeds that felt like pure floating.

Banks simply were not open for business on Sundays, then, so my parents had no problem with my hanging out there, especially because they could call me home for dinner from an upstairs window.

So, this particular Sunday, I was by myself, just "practicing" for the big races of the future. But having gotten bored, I started pulling stunts; practicing "wheelies" and generally zig-zagging and unsafe speeds in every direction with the kind of physical lunacy only kids can muster.

You'd think I would have noticed the big, white, concrete divider that jutted out next to the last parking spot, but...somehow it slipped my mind. I crashed hard into it, flew over the handlebars and slammed down with my arm stiff, which severely hyper-extended my right elbow. I left the bike behind, cradling my arm, and I walked back to the house in tears.

My parents expected a sprain, but our family doctor directed us to the hospital. It was pretty bad. The X-ray showed that a piece of bone in the elbow had cracked and detached. I honestly don't remember what they did -- whether they took out the fragment or not -- but I was casted with an old plaster-type tubular letter L and admitted to the hospital for a night of observation.

I was terrified, of course, of spending the night away from home in the hospital, even though -- maybe because -- I was surrounded by other unfortunate adventurers of my general age. My parents were going to go home and get me a few things and they asked me if I wanted anything in particular. What I really wanted was Snoopy -- a stuffed Peanuts character that I slept with every night. (He was an odd creature, stuffed with something relatively hard [sawdust?] and he had no tensile strength in his neck, so the head flopped over sideways. His ears were of black, floppy plastic. But I loved him.) As I say, I wanted Snoopy, but was afraid to look like a "sissy" to use the un-P.C. parlance of the day. As luck would have it, the kid in the bed next to me was provided, in that very opportune moment, with a blue, stuffed duck by his dad. I would have my companion that night. Shame averted.

It was a long night -- fortunately broken up by a Phillies game on TV in which Mike Schmidt hit two homers -- that lead into a long morning that lead into a barely edible lunch of peanut butter and jelly, after which my parents came to collect me. All-in-all, Snoopy and I made it through okay.

I wore the cast for quite awhile -- so long that my arm showed visible atrophy when it came off -- and, then, we followed-up with my pediatrician. I can still see his face, half-and-ruefully smiling, when my parents asked about possible long-term effects:

"You'll be fine, young man. You shouldn't have any problems unless you become a pitcher [I did] or if you get into anything that requires a lot of repetitive motion in your right arm [I became a drummer]. All that aside, though, you probably won't feel the effects until you are in your forties or fifties. You might have issues then."

Fifties? That was forever in the future. We all left feeling pretty good about the prognosis. There was a chasm of decades before us all before we needed to worry. We stopped at McDonald's on the way home for a merry feast and I spent the rest of the day watching cartoons, my mind free and clear...

Just now, I picked up a mug of tea and lifted it to my lips. My elbow was shot through with a recently familiar ache; it is a tooth-achey feeling that has been bothering me for the last four or five months. It's not getting any better. (I turned fifty last January.)

The span of life, indeed.

The setting of the story has changed. One of the characters is gone. But I can still smell the hospital room and and feel the firm pillow of Snoopy's sawdust body on my cheek. I can still hear the whisper of Harry Kalas's voice on the low volume TV as Schmidt's bat swept in a perfect arc: "The one's outta heeeeeere...."

No comments:

Post a Comment