Rommel and Me

 

It was my freshman year in high school, and I was talking with one of my friends in the hall between classes when another friend, Greg, saw us and decided to join in the conversation. With my back to him (and therefore completely oblivious to his approach) Greg decided to announce his arrival by kicking me square in the ass. This was, and remains, a typical greeting method among males between the ages of six and roughly eighty six. Had the roles been reversed, I have no doubt I would have attempted to greet him in the same manner.

And while Greg’s strategy was sound, his timing was terrifyingly flawed. Just as his leg was starting its downward arc, the bell rang, and I made an abrupt about face so I could get to class. As I turned around to see Greg standing there, my conscious mind couldn’t quite put together what it was seeing. My subconscious, however, had already begun throwing clothes and a toothbrush into a suitcase in preparation for what it realized was going to be a long trip.

“Hmmm, new boots,” I thought, and then all consciousness fled as his foot connected with my groin and I hit the ground like a sack full of cinder blocks. It’s entirely possible that my soul hovered around for awhile looking down at my lifeless body, but I’m pretty sure even it had been knocked out by the force of the blow.

When I came to, I discovered I had been propped splay-legged against the tiled wall of the boys bathroom. I had no idea what had happened or how I got there (or where my right shoe had disappeared to). I felt like vomiting and tried to stand up, but only succeeded in making my head roll from side to side and bang against the urinal next to it. The rest of my body refused to answer whatever confused signals my brain was sending out. It was at that point I noticed my friends squatting around me, anxious looks creasing their brows.

I knew that look well. They were busy calculating the odds of getting expelled if I died. I didn’t begrudge them their uncertainty. I had worn that same look many times, like the time I rode John Briscoe down Maple Drive on the handlebars of my bike and dumped him on his face at roughly 20 miles-per-hour. To their credit, they did decide to stay and help. I opened my mouth and discovered, to my surprise, that I could form words:

“What happened?”
“Greg kicked you in the nuts, man.”
“It was an accident, man, I swear!”
“Where’s my shoe?”
“Man, your whole face is green, are you gonna puke?”
“Where’s my f*cking shoe?!?!
“I don’t know, man, it must have fallen off while we were dragging you down the hall.”
“You dragged me down the hall?”
“Yeah, by your feet.”
“Shit! Did anyone see you?”
“Yeah, man, it was class change, pretty much everyone saw us.”
“Oh, Jesus.”
“Can you stand up?”
“I could if the room would stop spinning.”

I got to my feet with their help, and limped over to the row of sinks. The first order of business was to check the damage. Now, I knew at the time that the body’s natural reaction to trauma is to swell up to protect the injured area, but I was not quite ready for the combination of instant elephantiasis and internal bleeding of the groin I was greeted with when I opened my pants and looked down. I almost passed out a second time, but was brought around by the sound of Greg’s voice over my shoulder.

“Oh man, that’s GROSS. You are seriously messed up.”
“Stop looking at my nuts, weirdo! And it’s your fault, buttweed!”
“Yeah, sorry, man. Hey, we got to get to class.”
“You guys go on. I can make it by myself.”

Due to the nature of the injury and my own adolescent insecurity, my subsequent actions were both physically painful and psychologically devastating. After my friends left, I limped on one shoe to the school nurse’s office. Everything was really starting to swell now, so I looked like I was trying to walk with a grapefruit between my legs, which, I suppose, I was. Fortunately it was a slow day in the world of high-school medicine.

“Can I help you?”
“Yeah, uhhh… I uhhh… I got kicked in the nuts.” (I couldn’t remember the polite medical term for them.)
“Oh, my… Ummmm… well…”

The nurse paused, looked around the room for inspiration, then decided to punt.

“Would you, ah, would you like to call your parents?”

(Good, I wasn’t going to have to my goolies!)

“Yeah, I think maybe I should.”

A few minutes later I was on the phone in the office calling my mom.

“Hello?”
“Mom, it’s me. You have to come pick me up from school.”
“Why?”
(Urgent whisper) “I got kicked in the nuts.
“What?”
(Much louder) “I. GOT. KICKED. IN. THE. NUTS!”

At this point, everyone in the office looked up at the same time, eyebrows raised and mouths hanging open like some sort of synchronized amazement team. Then, just as quickly, they looked away as if they hadn’t heard a thing. I didn’t care. Plenty of people had seen my friends dragging my lifeless carcass through the hall by my feet. News of that magnitude travels at roughly the same speed as light. If someone hadn’t heard about it by now, they soon would.

“Okay, but you better not be faking.”

Once home, I had, of course, to prove I wasn’t faking… and explain why I only had one shoe. At the time I would have told you that there was nothing in the world worse for a teenage boy than to have to show his mom his family jewels. Later, I would see just how wrong that statement was. Three “OH-MY-GODs” later, I was in the Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser heading for Ft. Campbell U.S. Army Hospital. That 455 Rocket V8 could get up when you needed it to.

Once at the hospital, we navigated the complex Army triage process: knife wounds from bar fights on the right, vomiting babies and all others on the left. The interesting thing about this type of injury is that it tends to get people’s attention. I was immediately whisked into an examination room where a doctor began inspecting the damage. By this time, internal bleeding had turned my whole groin area a rather fetching shade of lavender. Doc took one look and turned to the attending nurse:

“Are those students still around?”

(Students? What students?)

“Yes, they’re in exam room 3.”
“Good. Go get them. We don’t see groin injuries of this severity very often. It will be good training.”

Ten minutes later I was spread-eagle on a table, surrounded by some 15 medical-type people while the doctor maneuvered my tackle around to give everyone the most advantageous view, spouting phrases like “subdural hematoma” and “potential reproductive dysfunction.” This is probably the one point in my life when, if I’d had a gun, I would have used it on myself. Well, I’d have used it on someone, anyway. Did I mention my mom was still there?

The doctor decided to consign me to a ward full of G.I.s for several days with nothing between me and my dignity but a medical codpiece and a Ziploc baggy filled with ice. The other patients were a tough group of grunts, all recovering from various injuries received at the local strip clubs. This was during the Cold War, so there really wasn’t a lot of shooting going on back then. Still, they felt that certain sympathy only males can feel for other males in my predicament.

Once a day a volunteer would traverse the ward with a trolley cart full of books, magazines, and plastic models. Each of my fellow inmates took a model kit and began working away on it. As soon as a soldier finished his Panzer, ME-109, or Kummelwagon, he would quietly approach my bed, place it reverently on the tray holding my pitcher of ice, then turn away quietly with a tear in his eye. Seriously, you’d have thought I was dying. I started to wonder, myself. By the time I was released from the hospital I was surrounded by Rommel’s entire Afrika Korps in 1:32 scale and was seriously contemplating invading Tunisia.

Eventually, I was forced to return to school and endure the endless testicle jokes from friends, strangers, and even a couple of teachers.  After a couple of weeks, though, everyone forgot about it. That was the big lesson I took away: people forget shit pretty quickly.

Mom made me go to the lost-and-found to see if someone had turned in my shoe. Nobody had. I never understood that. What would someone want with one shoe? Anyway, I had come to one of those defining points in my life. I really had only two choices as I saw it: learn to laugh at myself, or join a monastery. “Besides,” I thought, “this has to be the most embarrassing thing that will ever happen to me.” Time, as it so often does, would prove me wrong about that.

 

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