The people have spoken. The people want to see blood. (And also romance. But we’ll get to that next week.)
For now, in lieu of blood, would you settle for a dislocated shoulder?
A few years ago, J convinced me that flag football was something I needed in my life. He even talked me into paying money for the “privilege” of running around a muddy field after a full day at work, grabbing for scraps of fabric dangling entirely too close to strangers’ genitalia. (And yes, I did accidentally pants somebody once.)
Our team had a few glory days. Mostly, though, we represented the rag-tag but lovable underdogs from any sports movie ever made. A few of us were good with the throwing and the catching and the running, but most of us were good at maybe 1 out of those 3 things. Maybe. And about half of us still weren’t confident about the working rules of football. *raises hand*
But there were shining moments. There was the time Eric caught an impossible touchdown, twisting toward the ball with his feet literally a centimeter over the goal line. There was the day Adam intercepted a pass and ran it all the way down the field to score while our opponents screamed at each other uselessly. Then there was the day we played a team of friendly Spanish-speakers who just assumed none of the gringos knew their language. I paid attention every time they huddled, shared their plans with my team, and we took them down with a consistent precision that alarmed them. Somehow, they never caught on that they should just start whispering. I think they accepted that we were all psychic.
By and large, though, we were not on the level of the other teams in this league. Most of them had something to prove. The bulk of the players were dude-bros who’d been on their high school team but weren’t good enough to make it onto a college bench. They radiated this bitter, frustrated intensity, and were the types to yell, “Hey, Ref! Yo, Ref, what the HELL?!” any time they disagreed with a call. And some of them – somehow – had girlfriends who played, too.
When we faced these teams, shit got real. People ended up with broken fingers, bruised noses, and a wealth of other minor injuries not represented by the phrase “no touch flag football.” The referees were supposed to keep an eye out for unnecessary roughness, but I don’t think they were paid enough to really care. And this is how I (almost) got in a girl fight.
*Snap* The ball hurtled through the air. J caught it, and was looking, looking for someone who could take a pass. As I sprinted furiously to my left, trying to get open, I spotted a dark green mountain bearing down on me and then… *BOOM*
If you’ve ever seen one of those cartoons where a character slips on a banana peel, that was what I looked like. Both my feet promptly left the ground and I think my body went fully horizontal before I slammed hard on my back. If you’re like me, the most annoying part of getting hurt is people urgently asking if you’re OK at precisely the moment when you’re gasping and can’t form words because ohmyGODmySHOULDER.
The joint was jiggling around a bit under my skin. That’s never a good sign. Neither is a fiery sensation running down your arm and into your chest. But right after the dark green mountain from the other team finished apologizing (he was actually a really nice guy, and was so upset about running into me that he kept wringing his hands), the ref approached.
“How’s she doin’?” he asked, jerking his chin in my direction. I looked him in the eyes and said, “I’m hurt. I think my shoulder’s dislocated.” He shrugged a little and replied, “You can leave the field. But you guys have the minimum number of players today, so if she’s out, the whole team’s gonna forfeit.”
Dear Reader, you know what I did.
I stood my battered self up and got back in the game.
We usually played man-to-man defense. In my case, I was covering a lanky blond with permanent duck face. As I moved to guard her, I had to support my right shoulder with my left hand, which must have tipped her off. Next thing I knew, she flew at me like an insane harpy (the ball was somewhere far across the field) and out of sheer hatefulness, she drove the heel of her hand into my injury. I sucked air, and – I swear to God – she batted her eyelashes at me. On the next play, she pulled that stunt again.
I am a rational person. Also, I was raised in the South and southern girls DO NOT stoop to physical violence. So I grabbed my friend Dierdre and whispered, “You have got to cover this bitch for me. She’s slamming my shoulder for giggles.” I walked to the other side of the field and did enough deep breathing that I stopped slicing my nails into my palms with fury.
The next play came, and what did I see but this girl barreling straight at me, even though I was nowhere near her zone. She had a nasty glint in her eyes, but I’d actually managed to get hold of the ball and I was sprinting. When someone else pulled my flag, she shouted at the ref that I’d taken a few extra steps. He said I hadn’t, and she went into a full-on tantrum, whining at top volume: “That’s so unfair!”
This is when I reached my tipping point. I am many things, but I am NOT a cheat or a liar. I called back at her, “Don’t blame it on me that you weren’t fast enough to stop me.”
Her eyebrows shot up to her hairline. “WHAT did you say?!”
“I said, maybe if you’d guarded your part of the field, that pass wouldn’t have been thrown at all. Maybe you shouldn’t be so worried about what I’m doing.”
A few seconds later, she was in my face. “What, bitch?! You wanna GO?”
I did not want to go. I had so much adrenaline coursing through me that I could barely process how we’d gotten to this point, but I definitely didn’t want to come to blows with a stranger. I also really didn’t want to tell my mother that I’d gotten provoked enough to clock some chick in public.
After her prodding my shoulder, then calling me a bad sport, I was done. There was no way I was going to stand down, and my mental state catapulted right through the pain to pump me full of handy chemicals which informed me that I was a Green Beret, a black belt ninja, and Chuck freaking Norris rolled into one. As we faced off, I knew I wouldn’t start a brawl. But if she started one, I would make her regret it.
This is the part where I either disappoint you (if you’re Samara) or reassure you (if you’re Stef). I did not fight that girl that day. Her friends got involved and pulled her away like an angry drunk at a bar. She didn’t come near me for the rest of the game (which we lost, a fact that STILL stings), and everyone drove home without punches being thrown.
Before the next week’s match, I was in the parking lot early. With a knife. Waiting to see which car she arrived in so I could slash the tires.
I didn’t do that either.
Still, if you’ve never felt the full effects of fight-or-flight hormones coursing through your body, I’ve got to say I recommend it. I wasn’t planning to hit that girl. I didn’t want to lose my cool. But in the moment, I wasn’t the tiniest bit scared. It never even crossed my mind that I wouldn’t emerge victorious. And being sure you aren’t the type to back down? That’s worth knowing. Cue Tom Petty:
Epilogue: The next day, I was in such extreme pain that J drove me to see a family doctor, who promptly referred me to the hospital for X-rays. I did have a partially dislocated shoulder, and I wore a sling for two weeks while it healed. Every time I had to tell the story of how I ended up in a sling, I got one of two reactions:
“Holy hell! You’re a badass, Jennie!”
“Jennie, I didn’t think you were capable of something like that… that doesn’t sound like you at all.”
I think my takeaway, as I approach thirty years with no actual violence* to my name, is that BOTH those things are true.
P.S. Well, I did kick J in the head once. But not on purpose. I just overestimated how high my “high kick” really was. Turns out my foot can get about 5’3″ in the air, and J is 5’8″…