I am a mutant.
Not the cool kind, with wings or a healing factor. No, I’m your run-of-mill genetic deviant with a mutation that does not improve my odds against the fittest. My gift is stiff ankles. To be medically precise the diagnosis was talocalcaneal ossification, which basically means that my heels are fusing to my ankles. This in itself doesn’t greatly inconvenience me; I have a somewhat restricted range of motion in my feet that sometimes puts stress on various ligaments. It was a Chevy that turned my relatively harmless mutation into a life-changing injury.
Mom did not approve of my friend Chuck. One day she fixed us sandwiches to eat. Chuck looked at it suspiciously and wound up burying it under his napkin. When I was done eating, he slid his sandwich into the trash. For a teenager, this counts as politeness. He didn’t make gagging noises or throw it on the floor, so in his mind he was courteously avoiding hurt feelings. Of course he was wrong, and I still hear about this slight whenever his name comes up.
I liked Chuck because he seemed happy being who he was, and this was completely outside of my experience. He did whatever the rest of us were doing without complaint, and if he liked sometimes to sit in his window wearing nothing but his underwear what of it? Plus, he had a car, a light blue Chevy sedan. That was another strike against him as far as my mom was concerned, but my friends and I loved the vicarious power and freedom of it. We’d take rides to anywhere and nowhere in particular, just because we could.
I was under strict instructions to never get a ride from a friend. A good part of my general anxiety has always stemmed from my inability to follow rules and my certainty of being caught breaking them. Oddly I only got busted once for accepting a ride, but it wasn’t for what I’d actually done.
I’d been invited to a party on the night of a varsity basketball game. I’d been told that parents would be there, so I was grudgingly allowed to accept the invitation. So I went to the junior varsity game to hang out before playing in pep band for the varsity game. My parents stormed in, having found out that there would not be adults at the party. This was news to me, but I was branded a liar and ordered home directly after the fulfilling my band obligations.
I was pissed at everybody, but what could I do? I waited for the varsity game to start, tooted my trombone on cue, and packed up. The first chair trombonist asked if I wanted a ride. I explained the situation, and he told me to get in the car. He drove aimlessly for a while as I ranted and blew off steam. When I’d come around to feeling better, he dropped me off.
Here’s the part where I got in trouble.
My parents weren’t hopping mad, but they were trembling with rage. They hadn’t realized (and would not believe) that there were two basketball games that night and that I’d be on band duty for the second. The junior varsity game had been in the 4th quarter when they’d arrived, so they’d expected me to return home shortly behind them. When that had failed to happen, my parents had launched an invasion of the party to search for me. I hadn’t been there, and everyone denied seeing me. That only convinced them that I was there somewhere.
Why they believed that an entire house full of teenagers would lie for me, I’ll never understand. I wasn’t Ferris Bueler, master of deception and beloved by all. I’m more shocked that nobody claimed that I’d just ducked out the back, just to sow some chaos.
Anyway, my story about a second game and a twenty-minute ride were dismissed, and I was grounded for not attending the party I was told not to attend.
This is to explain why I jumped out of Chuck’s car. I always expected to get caught, but not necessarily for things I’d actually done.
I lived only a half-dozen blocks from the high school, but the allure of piling into a car with my friends was great — even for a two-minute ride. I always got out at another friend’s house a block away out of fear of being seen getting out of the car. Chuck knew the score, and most days the little deception went off smoothly.
One day Chuck decided to be funny. He started to pull away from the drop-off point before I could get out of his Chevy and claimed that he was heading downtown. Filled with fear and possessed of poor judgement, I jumped. The landing wasn’t skillful; I splayed over the curb like so much dead deer. Amazingly I was unharmed, and I froze while adjusting to my survival.
If I’d played more video games, I would have known that you never rest until you’re on safe ground. As it was, my legs were still in the road. Concerned that I’d hurt myself, Chuck backed up.
I won’t describe the feeling of a large car backing slowly over my foot and coming to rest on top of it. The things I shouted to make Chuck roll forward worked after what felt like minutes. It seems that I sent him away after discovering that I could stand, but I really don’t remember anything other than limping into my friend’s house and waiting for the pain to subside.
At that point in my life I hadn’t been aware that you could walk on an injured foot, depending on the nature of the injury. My foot ached, but I could walk with only a mild limp. I weighed the prospect of recovery against that of explaining to my parents that I’d jumped out of a car I hadn’t supposed to have been in, and I decided that discretion was the wisest approach.
So it came to pass that my mutant power pinned my dislocated heel in place. Over time my limp became more pronounced, and pain came to dominate my life as arthritis built up in the joint. By the time I was 30 I couldn’t stand to walk more than a few blocks, and sufficient rest only brought the sharp jabs down to a dull throb.
As soon as I got decent health insurance I had a surgeon fasten my heel in a better location, making for a healthier gait and removing the space in which arthritis could form. I’ll draw a curtain over the details, while I still have a few readers. Some of my colleagues at the time got a bit queasy listening to me explain the surgery.
The surgery was six or seven years ago. I can walk now, and my doctor would like me to do more of it. Sometimes my foot aches after a lot of use, but so far it’s never approached even the background level of pain to which I’d become accustomed.
If there’s one lesson that I may impart from all this, it’s that you should really put on some pants if you’re going to sit in the window.