We Were Only Playing Two-Below!

“This is your brain.  This is your brain on drugs.”  It’s been a few years, but the images from the public service ad are still burned into our minds.  The man holds the egg, complete in its shell.  Seconds later, the egg is broken and placed in a searing hot skillet and is shown charred and smoking, with hot grease popping everywhere.  “Any questions?”  A vivid image of irreparable damage done by senseless thrill chasers, who don’t think about any consequences, and don’t look past tonight’s party or the next “high”.  I don’t want to talk about drugs (nor the accuracy of the imagery) tonight, but I do want to talk about messed up brains.

When I was about 11 years old, my brothers and I rushed down the block to the neighbors house one weekday afternoon after school.  When we weren’t playing combat, they with their BB guns, we with our homemade slingshots, we occasionally undertook an organized game or two.  They had a huge front yard, ideal for a little “two below” football.  Of course, we didn’t have pads, hence the sissy rules that no tackling was allowed.  The defenders simply had to slap the ball carrier anywhere below the waist with two hands to stop the play.  I’m not saying that no tackling actually occurred, but as far as any adults were concerned, it didn’t.  That day, we had probably ten guys playing the game.  This was a luxury, since we usually could only get together a smaller group.  The bigger teams meant a better game, simply because there might actually be some blocking and the plays would be mixed up a bit more.  We were honored to have one of the running backs from the varsity team of our local high school playing with us, mostly because he lived at this particular house and his younger brothers begged until he grudgingly agreed.  Unfortunately, he was playing for the team I wasn’t on this afternoon.

I didn’t usually get my hands on the football much, since I wasn’t what you would call athletically gifted.  Oh, I was active enough, but my passion ran more to bike riding and tree climbing.  Football was an afterthought, something to do when everyone else wanted to.  Thus, it was a complete shock when my name was called in the huddle for a “reverse” play.  The center would hike it to the guy playing quarterback, who would hand it off to the guy to his left.  I’d come across from the right side and take the ball from him, running around the left end to make the game winning touchdown.  Well, that was the way I envisioned it anyway.  What really happened was that I found myself with the ball in my arms and the varsity running back chasing me before I got across the line of scrimmage.  I was a scrawny eleven-year old with this big weight-lifting six-footer chasing me and I did the only thing I could do;  I ran as fast as I could, turning my head to watch as he came at me.  Unfortunately I never saw him hit me, because I ran into the side of the house before he could reach me.  The brick house.  With my head.

The next thing I knew, it was three hours later and I was lying on the couch at my house with a wet cloth on my forehead.  Moms did that in those days.  Somehow a wet washcloth folded up and placed on the forehead made things right.  Not this time.  I had a horrible headache and asked through the pain, “What happened?”  My parents looked at me a little uneasily.  “You don’t remember?”  When I replied in the negative, they related the events of the past three hours, including the blood flowing everywhere as they were called to get me, the trip to the emergency room, and the six stitches in the side of my head.  Since I didn’t remember any of it, I assumed that I had been knocked out the whole time, but they assured me that I had never been unconscious.  Three hours lost, and I had spent them doing exciting things I would never remember!  With my eyes wide open, I had made the trip to the hospital, answering questions about the incident to the nurse and doctor.  Stitches were inserted into my head.  With a needle.  And I have to this day, absolutely no memory whatsoever of it happening.  They called it a concussion.

I hear of football players who sustain multiple concussions.  We use the word lightly, as if it were a simple bump to the head, signifying little.  “He just got a concussion; nothing serious.”  The brain smashes against the skull inside!  Damage is done, some of it permanent!  It’s not a little thing.  I only had it happen once, but my lost three hours will forever remind me of the seriousness of it.

One of my friends lightly dismissed the Super Bowl yesterday as a boy’s game with it’s pads and helmets, eschewing it for the “manly” game of rugby, played only in shorts, tee shirts, and shoes.  Every time I flip through the cable channels on the TV, I can find an “Ultimate Fight” going on, with some musclebound he-man taking on another beefy wanna-be champion in a brutal match.  These human cock-fights are now sanctioned and pay big bucks to the winners who will almost certainly pay the “ultimate” price either in paralysis, or strokes, Parkinson’s Disease, or even in so-called “boxer’s dementia”, a state in which the former fighter loses his mental facility completely.  These are all the result of the battering of the brain inside the skull.  And, in all of these “sports”, these all-brawn and no-brain thrill seekers risk it without a second thought, for stupid reasons; money, fame, notoriety.

I am now getting carefully down from my soapbox (wearing a helmet by the way, to avoid injury). But, I have experienced first hand the incredible loss of a loved one to the horrible thief we call dementia, through no visible cause that we know.  I am having a hard time justifying participating in actions which increase the risk and in some cases almost guarantee the occurrence of mental impairment.  Just my two cents worth on the subject.  I promise that I’ll do my best to never mention it again.

I am however, still mad about those three hours.  I wonder if a hypnotist could help me get them back into my memory vault.  As far as running into that house goes, I maintain to this day that it moved into my way.  I mean, who’s stupid enough to actually run head first into a brick wall?

“I have short-term memory loss, though I like to think of it as presidential eligibility.”
(Paula Poundstone~American comic)

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