Victory (Playing To Win)
It took a long time for me to reach this point, but I did it. And it feels like I got the gold wrapped tightly in the palm of my hands. Oh I know that some would look at me and think I’m talking crazy, I mean I know what they see when they look at me. They see a twenty-five year old brotha in a wheelchair, who will most likely never walk again. But hey I really can’t blame them, that is the same thing I saw for a long, long time. But now, now I see with extra vision and hindsight what the Lord has blessed me with. They say that when He closes one door, He always opens a window. I never really understood what that meant, I never really understood anything deeper than my next track meet, or my next hot date, or the latest fads or if my mom would get me that expensive sweat suit or Air Jordan’s. But the realness of life was knocked into me five summers ago, aging me ten years and forcing me to grow up mentally. I remember it so clearly, almost as if it had just happened, yesterday… *
“Man we got this meet in the bag, I’m glad they put you with us coz you be whipping some serious dust out there!” I smiled at my reflection in the mirror; Anthony’s vote of confidence was not needed as far as I was concerned. I mean every college on the east coast and even some as far as the west coast had been trying to recruit me. Yea I was all that, and I knew it. The University of Virginia had gotten lucky and ended up with me. Charlottesville was old-fashioned and boring as could be, but they had a damn good track team, so I had transferred here from Towson University in Maryland, for my Junior and Senior
“Yo man thanks for the props and what not, but the whole track team is rocking from what I can see, we don’t have a thing to worry about man,” I said confidently.
Anthony’s dark Afrikaner features lit up. “Can’t you just see it now? The medals, the crowd, the OLYMPICS!”
“Dang you got it all figured out, and all we have here is a track meet,” I laughed, although I had to admit to myself, I was seeing dreams of victory and glory too. This was a major track meet today, and the winning school would champion to the states. I chuckled when I thought about Towson, and how the coach and the even the Dean had reacted when they had heard that I was switching schools. But I had to go with what was good for me, and for my career, both my career as a runner and the fact that Virginia had better programs dealing in Networking.
The excitement built from that moment onward, all of the track jocks from both schools giving their all. But in the finale, and with one long leg forward by me in the final dash, we were victorious. The whole team decided to celebrate in West Virginia, doing some mountain climbing and hiking. The closest I had ever seen of mountains were the ones near my cousin Rachie’s house, who lived in Thurmont, Maryland. But I was down for whatever; victory can make you feel like that.
I got up early that morning wanting to double check my bags to be sure I had packed everything I needed, including the first aid kit that my mom had insisted on me taking along, she had been a daycare provider for years, and it had always been drilled in us that a first aid kit was one thing you could never go without.
Showered, packed, ready to roll. I hummed along with ‘Boys II Men’ as they crooned on the radio, so caught up in the music, I didn’t even see the UPS truck that came speeding across Thomas Jefferson road. By the time I did see it, everything appeared to be flashing, and turning, and whistling like an overheated fan belt. My car was an older Oldsmobile, so I didn’t have an airbag, nor did I wear a seat belt. Bad habit. I felt pain as my head flew against the passenger side window, breaking the glass, and knocking me instantly unconscious. And then I felt, nothing…
“Oh God, he looks so lifeless, are you sure he’s going to be ok doctor?”
“He’s suffer a very hard blow to the his head, so it’s only natural that he would be unconscious for as long as he has been, but yes, he will be ok, trust me.”
I could barely make out the faded voices surrounding me. As I tried to open my eyes I felt a searing lightening bolt of pain charge through my head, causing a deep groan to spring to my lips. Finally I recognized my mother’s voice.
“Baby take it easy,” she said frantically. “Doctor!”
I opened one eye slightly, focusing in a little and recognizing my mother, and a short white man that had to be the doctor she had been talking to.
“Well hello young man, I see you’ve decided to join us again,” he smiled. I blinked, my vision coming in a little more clearly, but along with that, came another bolt of pain in my head.
“My…head…it hur…” I mumbled. It wasn’t just my head though, I was locked up in some type of contraption, and all I could feel, was my face, and the neck brace that was circling my neck.
“Of course it does son, you’ve taken quite a beating upside that head of yours, so of course your head is going to hurt,” the doctor explained. As he was talking, two other men dressed in doctored garb walked in. I looked over at my mom, who was holding my hand and smiling yet looking very old, and drained. Oddly enough, I saw her squeeze my hand, but didn’t feel it. Before I could figure that out the taller of the doctors started explaining more of what had happened to me. I had a severe concussion, which he didn’t have to tell me that, I could FEEL the pain in my head so strong I could almost taste it. But then the doctors proceeded to tell me something I did not know, nor could feel.
“Clarence, your body was literally thrown around in your vehicle, you’re a very lucky young man, lucky indeed. Unfortunately the most serious of your injuries is not the concussion, or the cuts and bruises. You suffer from what we call severed vertebrae of the spinal cord. The impact of how you were tossed, in layman’s terms, bent your spinal column, and tore it partly in half. As I stated, you are indeed a lucky young man, not too many people survive that type of spinal injury.”
I could hear every word the doctor was saying, but somehow it didn't quite register. Torn Vertebrae, spinal injury, lucky me. What did that all mean?
“So…when will I be able to go home?” I asked, in a husky voice.
“It’s going to be a while baby,” my mother replied. Looking up at her I noticed her tears. Something was very wrong.
“What’s wrong Ma? What does all this mean?”
“Baby, you’re not going to be able to walk, you’re paralyzed.”
“Paralyzed…” I tried moving my legs, nothing, more than nothing, FELT nothing, as if I had no legs, funny thing about it was I hadn’t even realized it till she mentioned it. I looked around the room with my eyes, at my mom, the short doctor I had first saw, and the others who had come in earlier. All had the same expression on their faces, sorrow. But no one, I mean no one could have been feeling as much sorrow as I did, I would be in a wheelchair the rest of my life. The full impact of it suddenly hit me with a force that was stronger then the knock upside my head, and I knew that for me, nothing would ever again be the same.
“Clarence would you like to go to the park? The weather is so beautiful today, it would be nice to get out,” my mother commented. She had been trying this same old trick for months, trying to get me out of the house that is, or as she puts it, come back to life. What I couldn’t seem to get her to understand, was there was nothing to come back to life for, at least not as far as I was concerned. Running had been my LIFE. And now, I couldn’t even walk, couldn’t even feel the legs that use to take me so far, and had earned me medals and trophies and scholarships. My whole life was over as far as I was concerned. I was paralyzed from just below my breastbone down, and had limited feelings even in my hands. This was the kind of nightmare that you felt always happened to someone else, not you, always the other guy, but the reality of my life, made me the other guy now.
“I’m fine, I don’t want to go outside but thanks anyway,” I responded, looking blankly at my computer monitor as I clicked the mouse, surfing aimlessly. My mom sighed deeply, pulling up a chair to sit beside me.
“You’re on the net too much, you spend too much time chatting, and you don’t get enough exercise baby, you know this, the doctors have told you…”
“Forget them! They aren’t the ones sitting here in this chair, I am!” I shouted at my mother, instantly feeling sorry as her face flinch. I had changed so much, couldn’t seem to get over my bitterness, and I knew that she had done everything in her power to help me, but it was hard to see what I knew, when everything that I had loved, was gone.
“If I could change what’s happened to you Clarence I would, but I can’t, you’re my son, this hurts me just as much as it hurts you.”
“Impossible, you can walk Ma,” I whispered in pain, “I can’t.”
“And do you think that doesn’t affect me? If it were your child hurt, and in that chair would it not affect you also? You need to get motivated Clarence and go on with your life, and no it may not ever be the same as before, most definitely it won't be, but you just have to start a new journey, a new race.”
“I can’t race, I can’t run, my legs are dead,” I whined.
“Then you CRAWL! Stop using your handicap as an excuse for your giving up Clarence, appreciate the window that God has opened for you and USE it.”
“What window Ma? Where?” I exclaimed, no longer able to hold back the tears swimming in my eyes.
“Search your heart baby, ask for guidance, and be strong enough to follow that voice once you hear it.” My mother reached out, caressing my cheek softly. “Your legs are stilled, but not your ability to think, not your heart, and not your will. Use what you have.”
Ask for guidance she had said; listen to the voice when it speaks to me. I closed my eyes, listening to the sounds instead of humming birds singing. It was impossible to feel an ability to do anything that would make my life worth while, all I had wanted to do ever since I found out my condition was die.
I sighed, opening my eyes again as I was alerted to the sound of voices. My mother had wheeled me out to the front porch before she had left that afternoon, allowing me some fresh air she had said. The voices got closer and as I looked up I saw a little boy being wheeled by a woman, likely his mother, the boy maybe being about six or seven.
“Hello,” the woman said, smiling. The boy looked up at me, giving me a blank stare. I smiled back, as the woman wheeled up to me. “I hope we aren’t bothering you, this is my son Micah,” she said, nodding toward the boy, “he just got out of the hospital, first time out actually, thought he could use some sun.” she looked at me pensively. It didn’t take me long to figure out that she was having a hard time with him, from her expression and from the scared, hard look to his face. I was older, but it kind of reminded me of the hard time my mother had had with me almost a year ago, and was still having, I thought to myself with a frown.
“What’s up Micah?” I smiled. “How’s it going with the new wheels?” No smile, nothing. Hmm…had I been that bad? Was I still? I looked up at his mother, her brown face lined with worry and concern.
“Micah, since both of us are rolling instead of walking, why don’t we roll together sometimes? I use to be a runner you know, now that I can’t run anymore, have to make use of my other means of transport.” I smiled, and oddly enough, Micah smiled too, only slightly, but even that was an achievement considering the look that was on his face but a moment before. It was odd, and it wasn’t much, but that one smile from that one little boy did something for me. The one thing that had gotten to me about not having the use of my legs was losing who I was, and not having a purpose for myself. That smile, that tiny smile gave me a purpose. I knew what I would do now with my life, I would go back to school, switch my major to Psychology, and work with children like Micah, helping them to deal with the emotional trauma of life. It was as if God had given me his voice that day, the voice that my mother had told me to listen to. “Search your heart baby, ask for guidance, and be strong enough to follow that voice once you hear it.” Now was the time to listen, and joy and hope filled my heart as that voice got louder and louder, and my hope grew stronger and stronger.
Five years ago it took a lot of soul searching, and listening to realize that our destiny is not sealed as I once thought it was. For as long as we have life, we have a direction for our feet. Once my direction was one of speed, valor and victory. And now, it is one of strength and love, and playing to win.