Dispatches | June 27, 2012

On a Wednesday roughly one year ago, I was up at the university rec center playing my regular game of lunchtime basketball. A shot went up, clanked high off the rim, and all the guys down in the paint jumped for the rebound. Being a guard, I was out on the perimeter, and crept down the lane in the hope of the ball being tipped free. It was, but not to me: the ball shot out toward the corner, and I turned to race it down. But one rebounder made one final jump for the ball. He couldn’t get there, but when he came down, he landed on the back of my leg. All his weight came down on the back of my ankle, anchoring me to the floor, and I went face first into the ground.

I had rolled a few ankles before, but nothing quite like this. I couldn’t get up. The pain was stabbing and constant, like my entire ankle was burning. My friend Marc came over and asked: how bad? When I didn’t answer right away, he asked if I heard a pop. I shook my head. Nope. I didn’t hear anything. Every athlete has heard these stories: there’s a sound that accompanies a torn ligament or a broken bone. I didn’t hear anything. So I was fine. Bad ankle sprain. No problem!

I got up and walked to the sideline. My right foot flopped, and I had to turn my toes at an outward angle to limp off the court. For a moment, I actually thought about going back to work before using a little bit of my brain and asking Marc to drive me home. I elevated my foot, iced my ankle, and took ibuprofen. My ankle swelled to double its size, purple bruises the size of quarters sprang up all around the bones, and I could barely walk on it. But I did. For five days.

The lesson, as always: I’m an idiot.

When I finally got smart and went to my doctor the next Monday, the prognosis was pretty easy: full rupture of the Achilles tendon. I spent the rest of the summer on crutches. In the fall, I had lifts in my shoes, slowly removing them quarter inch by quarter inch, until  my heels rested in the sole again. Twenty weeks of physical therapy. Lots of toe lifts, jumping rope, and then slowly beginning to jog again. I was playing ball again by January, but even know, my right calf muscle is a bit smaller than my left.

Because of this, I have a new appreciation for walking, an appreciation that even one year later, still hasn’t gone away. Kinda like the way you appreciate your health after you’ve been sick in bed for a week. But this stays with me: once a day, something happens when my ankle is just a little creaky. Not painful, just a bit tight, like a new rubber band, a reminder that something traumatic happened to the body. And because of that, walking, a relatively simple act that most of us don’t give a tremendous amount of thought to on a daily basis, really means a lot to me.

I bring this up because I was thinking about what a simple, easy pleasure it is to walk. Yesterday, our coffee machine went on the fritz (don’t ask) and I just grabbed my sunglasses, took the stairs, and headed out into downtown Columbia to get a cup of coffee. It was really easy. It was really nice.

Sometimes, I can forget that.

Simple can be good. Summer reading. Beach reads. Pen and paper rather than the laptop. The real basic stuff. Once we all get a little ways into thinking about our writing as a career—even as early as a college undergraduate who “wants to be a writer one day”—we can get pissy about who rejected our poems, what agent ignored our query letter, how the publisher didn’t do enough promotion for the book, how there is a deadline for turning in the second book, and all that other stuff. We can lose sight of what’s important.

We write because we like to write. We read because we like to read. Maybe now, mid-summer, when all writers, including me, worry about getting as much writing done in June and July and August, maybe this is the best time to remember that. We like to do this. And in the right frame of mind, it really can be as easy as that.

Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye