I don't know where I am or how I got here.
It's dark, dank. I'm on a bench seat, in the company of other males. I can smell them, feel them, their shoulders against mine; the hair on their legs antennae reaching out, communicating, intertwining. Electricity, excitement.
There's a violence in the air, too. Bestial groans, whoops, laughter, swearing.
Someone's yelling at me, in my face, someone else slaps my naked thigh.
A cell? A paddy wagon? A sex dungeon?
Boy, things must have gone seriously pear-shaped this time.
Where am I?
Where am I?
I'm shouting now.
You all right?
I recognise him. He's a friend, I know his name, know where he lives, across the road from me. More importantly, I know where I live, know who I am. Thank God.
Where are we?
In the change room ... you had a blinder, tackled like a cattle dog ... you all right?
I've never been so proud. Everyone said how well I played. One of my best games.
I just wish I could remember it.
Bits and pieces have come back over the years. I'd been playing lock that afternoon. Even if I was a bit short for the position and lacking the requisite horsepower, I liked the back row because I did love to tackle. I'd clatter into their legs, pull them down, grapple, somersault into the turf. I suppose that was the cause of my concussion, a stray knee in the temple, the occupational hazard of youth, arrogance and bugger-all technique.
This was rugby league, playing for my school. I was 16 and had also just begun lining up in the town's senior union comp on the weekends. I was in third grade with the old blokes. I was no talent but footy was just what you did in the heartland and it was that year, thanks to the confidence that coursing testosterone and muscle development tends to give a young man, I began to really enjoy the two very different games.
MORE B. R. DOHERTY:
Barely two winters later, my underwhelming dual-code career would be over, snuffed out. Not because of concussions (I'd estimate maybe five by the time I was 18) but broken bones, collarbones, to be precise, that flimsy scaffolding so unreliable amid the vicissitudes of teenage endeavour. More arrogance led to one them failing to knit, and I ended up with a sizeable spur poking out from under my shirt. I'd literally pull the flesh off it, rearrange things so my malformation didn't interfere with movement and nerves.
Naturally, I ended up under the knife, the spavin was planed from my clavicle under general anaesthetic but more drama ensued a few weeks later after the surgeon missed some sutures and they turned septic under my skin. A large abscess, a purple bruise swirling like a poison nebula, formed above my left nipple. After it became obvious the wound had become chronic and being the son of a nurse, and therefore a devotee of home surgery, I fired up the fluorescent tube above the bathroom mirror, gritted my teeth and took to the anomaly with the scalpel blade we used to sharpen pencils.
At the moment of dehiscence, when the rot hit my nostrils, when the pus hit the glass and the putrid stitches unfurled like spider legs from the deep hole in my body, I lost all sense of reality and was quite convinced something had laid eggs inside me and I was now witnessing the result of a sinister metamorphosis.
Thankfully, my Kafka moment was fleeting and the DIY stitchectomy was successful. The lesion dried and closed almost immediately, although the break combined with the (legitimate) surgery and maybe the infection has had a lasting effect on the bone itself which remains weak and terribly painful when knocked and I rub it absentmindedly when watching TV or reading.
I suppose I'll be rubbing it tonight as I watch the NRL grand final, thinking, like a Coodabeen Champion, about all those games I can remember, as well as the ones I can't.
Because of another good run from the Raiders this season, the family has followed the comp more than usual and I envisage various limbs draped over furniture tonight, as if a collapse of foals has wandered in from the paddock opposite the house and chosen our increasingly inadequate lounge room in which to catch the game.
I love to watch the kids' growing body parts, it's one of the simultaneous joys and sorrows of parenthood, and am relieved we've so far managed to avoid any great damage to all those perfectly functioning components (one twice-broken wrist).
As various diseases and traits can skip generations, I'm hoping my inclination for injury (too many incidents to mention now, but I was one of those toddlers who actually fell out of a moving car) will somehow shield them, as if lamb's blood has been slathered across the front door and the Angel of Death (or Dismemberment or Dislocation or Deformity) will pass us by.
Perversely aware of statistics which say accidents kill more Australian children every year than any other cause (by a great margin) and because of my own battered, sliced and diced frame, I've relentlessly shadowed the children ever since they could crawl.
As if the Omen franchise is on perpetual rerun in my mind's eye, I'm plagued by visions of deadly pitfalls ready to claim any one, or all, of our own demon seeds and, on a daily basis, I mentally interrogate more scenarios than Dr Strange did on Titan.
It's for similar reasons, I assume, I seldom dream of the kids, not willing to expose them to the unregulated and unpredictable jungle of the subconscious mind.
Either that, or they're just a drag.
My wife calls me paranoid and it's a family running joke my default response to any declaration from the children is "You be careful".
Dad, I'm going for a ride.
You be careful.
Dad, the news is on.
You be careful.
Rationally, I know I can't protect them all the time and, if the injuries come, I can only hope they're not severe. We certainly don't cloister our offspring; they muck about, play sport, engage in age-appropriate silliness and generally flirt with whatever disaster is lurking around the corner.
I'll always be a worrier, but I'm sure I'll eventually mellow. My dad-reflexes will slow, the trauma of my own blundering childhood will fade and I'll be too tired to stand in the way of the kids' birthright to cop a few of their own autobiographical scars.
Of course, they shall never learn how to drive.
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