One injury can change your life forever.
|Note: This is the first chapter of the last NaNoWriMo story I attempted, I think back in 2018? For context, this protagonist will wind up in a romantic relationship with a werewolf in later chapters (kind of like Twilight, but a completely different setting with different concepts, values, priorities, etc.)
What I want to know from readers is this: This girl is starting in a miserable position, but do you feel compelled to read more after this chapter? If so, why? If not, why? Be brutally honest, because I'm stuck and could use a hand. I stopped writing this 2-3 chapters in because I became impatient with the buildup and this character. I think if I had a few suggestions from readers on how to make her more likable and/or relatable, despite the position she's in, I could work this into something that inspires me to go forward. I still think about this story and what I want to do with it a lot, so I hope I'm able to turn this into something good. Please let me know!
Once again, I couldn’t sleep.
Some kids deal with their parents shouting at one another all night. Others live in Hatter City, full of sirens, bar fights, and questionable back alley debauchery.
Me? Sometimes, I couldn’t sleep. I would if I could. Who wants to get up the next day with a pulsing headache and fog in their brains? And don’t even get me started on my appetite. I’ve played competitive volleyball all throughout high school, so where my body was still toned and athletic, I was on the verge of kissing that goodbye when I couldn’t get those carb cravings under control. Night after night I would pop mini vanilla wafers and peanut butter cookies into my mouth while staring at the wall.
The dim moonlight from my window spilled across a pile of clothes on my chair, casting a shadow that resembled an old dog. While that was happening, I pulled out my phone from under my pillow to inspect the time. It was one somethingorother in the morning. I had to squint without my contacts to read the tiny text, but I took the phone with its eight-inch screen into my hands and started perusing my blurry messages and mail anyway. My doctor said the backlights of screens are the number one cause of sleepless nights in our connected world. I think, if we’re awake anyway, why bother laying around doing nothing? It’s not like I ever fell asleep doing that. Believe me, I’ve tried.
Anyway, no one was on Gabber messenger but my uncle Tony, and I didn’t want to talk to him. He was probably drunk. Heck, he was usually drunk. In fact, I can still smell the repugnant, regurgitated odor of whiskey on his breath just thinking about it. He's a sad drunk, too. Like, the more he drinks, the more depressing he becomes, and I have no time for that. It's hard enough keeping my own spirits up.
Gabber was a bust, so I switched over to the Videoverse app and watched how to make paper roses instead. Despite being bone tired, when I paid close enough attention to detail, I could remember every step, cut, and fold Pakhi Prakash did and produced the perfect rose every time. I planned on doing just that once I was done hobbling home from school on my bad knee.
I don’t have a photographic memory, but it's fun to challenge my mind. I’ve distracted myself with many activities I once found menial: paper crafts, growing plants, sewing, painting, and I even gave video games a shot. Video games, which I used to scoff at.
Well, OK, it wasn’t that I hated video games outright. I don’t like violent ones at all, but sports and racing games aren’t bad. My cousin Nick gave me a Dual Screen portable gaming device to tinker with and keep me busy. I played the little puzzle games sometimes, but I had puzzle games on my phone already, so there wasn’t much of a point.
I tried raising a virtual pet once, but I felt bad after killing it on my first attempt. If that’s silly, well. So what? At least I didn’t cry about it. Still, that was my pretend puppy. I named her Charlotte. I fed her, groomed her, played games with her. I always did this at night while I couldn’t sleep, or my knee was aching.
She died, though, because I didn’t touch the game for a few days. I must have been sleeping for once, but I don’t remember. Anyway, when I booted that game back up, I guess I forgot to turn the Real Time feature off, so Charlotte starved to death. If that's not enough, the game guilt tripped me for it! “Uh oh! You forgot to feed Charlotte♀. :( Try Again?”
On the bright side, I suppose such a game can be a good way of teaching kids that feeding your pet is important, but it also seems like a good way to traumatize children who are sensitive or know the value of life. Heck, I feel traumatized! Who the heck says something like that? “Uh oh. You forgot to feed your pet. Naughty naughty. Should have been more careful. Should have paid closer attention. Should have cared more and listened to your coach. Try again?” How about no? I can never try again, now can I?
I mean, maybe I can with a stupid virtual pet, but that's not what I care about. It’s funny how one misstep can change a girl’s entire life in an instant. I was so good at volleyball, and I still love it. I started playing casually at the beach when I was little, and at backyard barbeques, too. It was my favorite thing in the world, the number one thing that made me feel alive. When I reached high school, I watched the senior girls play volleyball in my freshman year and decided I wanted to be on the team, so I trained all the right muscles, learned all the best warm-ups, practiced practiced practiced, and got pretty darn good at what I did.
I got much better with coaching. Coach Starr was a burly tower of a woman with wide shoulders, curly gray and red hair, and an explosive voice that boomed through the entire gym. She was blunt, didn’t waste time, and was a stickler for warm-up exercises and proper footwear. She’s had both of her knees replaced, and wears her scars as badges of pride with her cargo shorts. Battle scars, Mace calls them.
There were quite a few bad habits I had before joining the team, my worst being that I was much too eager. I’d forget to warm up constantly on my own, thus leaving myself vulnerable to injury. I also had a tendency to show off. Coach Starr loved to prod me for that. “This isn’t television, Bennett. I didn’t train you to showboat for audiences and cute boys. I trained you to play volleyball. You’re on a team, now act like it!” I didn’t find this amusing at the time, especially since she wasn’t wrong, but I can hear her in my head every night. I am ashamed every time I see her now. I wonder if she’s disappointed every time she sees me.
Yeah, I do have talent, but I was a mess in the beginning. I wanted to argue with Coach Starr, but several of the girls took the edge off by encouraging me, Mace and Candie especially. The girls did so much to help me out.
I’ve loved and gotten to know so many people in volleyball. I wanted to play professionally. I worked toward that goal day after day, night after night, completely enthralled. I was so happy.
But senior year for me and the girls is underway now, and I couldn’t even try out this year because I tore a ligament in my knee the first week at camp this summer!
It doesn’t hurt as bad now as it did then. Have you ever heard the wet “pop” of a body part before? Pray that you never do. The pain that followed was unreal. I’m generally a cheerful person and I don’t cry often, but let me tell you. That “pop” had me on the ground screaming, my face burning red with tears. I was rushed to the hospital immediately.
Though the pain alone was traumatic, the real injustice of this injury is that it isn’t even volleyball-related. I’d go as far as to argue that it’s not even sports-related. Of all the stupid things, I wrecked my knee in a botched cartwheel, fooling around during a game of frisbee golf. Frisbee golf! I’m the frisbee golf girl, everybody! This is what I mean when I say I get too eager. Frisbee golf is the last sport anyone expects a life-altering injury from, yet I did it. I found a way. Go me!
I don’t understand how I destroyed my knee this badly. It doesn’t even make sense. I’ve forgotten to warm up and stretch countless times, and nothing like this has ever happened to me, or anyone else I’ve played with before. It’s almost like a miracle. A bad miracle. A one-in-a-million chance, and I was the lucky winner. Is this what mom meant every time she went on one of her tirades? “You teenagers all think you’re soooo indestructible! Then WHAM!” You’d better believe I got an earload of that when I came home two months early from camp with crutches and a purple and green knee. Thanks, mom. Like I don’t feel stupid enough already.
Especially after Coach Starr drilled stretching exercises and injury prevention into our brains like clockwork! I cannot tell you how often I’ve heard the words “tendon,” “cartilage,” “meniscus,” and of course: “ligament.” Much of my volleyball days were topped off with lectures on how much I don’t want to wreck my knees. At the time I thought Coach Starr was blowing off steam, given her condition. I didn’t take it seriously. The other girls shrugged and giggled through it, too.
Then it happened to me. I got a third-degree tear on the anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL for short, on my right knee. If I ever want to safely play volleyball, or most other sports again, I need surgery. I have to get a graft to replace my torn ACL and stabilize my knee. It’s not safe for me to play competitive sports, or even do any real workouts involving this knee otherwise.
Not to mention, my family can’t afford surgery. I’ve been on bed rest, crutches, ice, anti-inflammatory drugs that hurt my stomach, and even my Aunt Delia came over from the city and performed some ancient healing ritual that involves “balancing energies” or something. Something she does at one of the community colleges out there. It didn’t do anything for me, but I thanked her anyway.
I flex the rest of my leg regularly to try and keep it in shape, but the more time goes by, the more pudgy and bloated I feel from inactivity. It’s so unfair. I want to play volleyball! But I can't even take a long walk in the park, let alone play. This mundane non-life of inactivity is bumming me out big time.
I don’t understand how anyone can live this way personally, and I have several cousins, friends, and acquaintances who sit around for hours watching television, playing video games, or messing around on their phones. Even my mom is a total couch potato, and she’s gained so much weight over the years. I’m terrified that I’m approaching the same fate, so I ought to stop eating junk food. Mom keeps buying it, though. I need better willpower, but it’s hard. I’ve never had to think about my diet much before. I always burned off enough energy that I could eat whatever I wanted, however much I wanted. Suddenly, I have to think about it, and I’m not in the habit of doing so. I feel like I'm totally screwed.
Well, anyway. I’m barely off crutches right now. They’re leaning against my closet door just in case. I almost always wear a knee brace. Sometimes I use a cane on bad days, but I always use the knee brace at least. Walking is awkward without it, and I don’t want to injure myself any more than I already have.
Hobbling through school day after day is embarrassing, too. I feel like everyone’s staring at me, whispering about me, spreading weird rumors, or worst of all, the giggling. Nothing raises the hair on my skin like giggling these days. If I hear a giggle, I blush, even if it has nothing to do with me. I don’t feel like me at all, but I try to keep a smile on my face for my friends and my team. It’s no fun having anyone feel sorry for me, and it won’t do me any good anyway. I don’t want to be depressed like Uncle Tony, or my mom.
For my own good, my parents, my doctor, and my school all forbid me to live the volleyball life that I want, and therefore I am pent up. The only exercise I can do now is swimming at The W, and that’s not open in the middle of the night, which is when I do most of my moping. I don’t like moping, though. I have to make the best of this, so I think about what I’m going to do tomorrow.
“I suppose once I’m done perfecting another of Pakhi’s flawless paper flowers from memory,” I said out loud to the sad dog-shaped pile of laundry. “I can binge-watch another show on Reeltime.”
Reeltime has documentaries on everything, from why fish guts stink to why every politician that ever was and ever will be is crooked. Personally, I like watching the one about the landrunners. I’ve seen it three times now, and I want to do what they do.
Landrunners are these groups of people who jog from coast to coast. They take a bag of provisions with them and set off, three thousand miles in one direction, three thousand miles back.
The east coast starting point is only about two hundred miles south of where I live. Lately, I’ve been dreaming about running across the country. I’d like to get away from it all: school, parents, boredom, solitary confinement. That’s what it feels like right now at one in the morning, with nowhere to go, and no one sober to talk to. Just me, my dog-shaped dirty laundry, the games that I don’t want to play, my television that I don’t want to watch, and my painful pudding knee that needs surgery to get back to the way it was.
I can taste that landrunner life, though.
I find that more interesting than college, honestly.
It’s a good thing my grades are decent, because what kind of sports scholarship am I going to get now with no ACL in my right knee? I swear I’m gonna turn eighty and still curse the day I decided to cartwheel during frisbee golf.
“I suppose that’s enough moping for one night,” I said, gathering my pillows. I elevate my knee on those pillows, close my eyes, and try to will away the words “frisbee golf” and “ligament” and “pain.” After what seemed like hours, I managed to put the word “homework” in there. I usually wait until morning to do my homework, but I’m so bored and so not falling asleep that I pull it out and do it now.
That’s right. Even homework is a welcome distraction.