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Second place winner of The Art of Reflection Competition 2022
An Innocent Moment
The wind hit me in a rush, my chest heaving with each breath. I pumped my arms hard, my feet slapping the pavement with purpose. The pounding shuddered through my legs and torso. It wasn’t just a jog, but a competition.
“Want to race?” my dad had said, tousling my mop of brown curls.
Race? We never raced. Or spent time outdoors playing catch or ball. As the youngest of three, I was often left to find my own way.
“Sure. Where? In the yard?”
“No, in the street.” My dad came from Brooklyn, where everything happened in the street.
I ran on all cylinders that day, the summer sun hanging high, the New Jersey humidity thick like hot wax dripping over me. I ran past my friend Glenn’s house, the smell of fresh-cut grass in the air. I passed old man Zelenski’s towering maple tree. I passed my home, my suburban sanctuary, a white and brick two-story Cape. In the distance stood the finish line, a telephone poll at the end of our block, the prize almost in reach.
I sprinted the final stretch, only one house length left to go, my Coke bottle glasses sliding down my nose with perspiration. My dad ran just a few yards ahead of me. Despite his long strides, maybe I could still overtake him. At age eleven, I knew what it meant to win. I ached to live up to the moment, this innocent moment.
But everything stopped. Abruptly. Dad tripped, his long frame soaring forward, arms outstretched to cushion his fall. A resounding crack echoed off the asphalt. He crumbled.
He struggled to get up, his hands no longer functioning as supports. I helped him. He was heavy. His entire body shook, but he held back the pain, his face rigid with effort. His hands looked deformed. One wrist dangled in an unnatural position, the white of bone exposed, piercing the skin. The fresh mark of crimson stained his hands, forearms, and shirt.
I walked him to the curb. The fear was palpable—mine. I didn’t know what to do.
“Jamie, go inside and get your mom,” he said through gritted teeth.
No words formed; ice creeped into my limbs and mind.
“And grab some magazines and rubber bands.”
I thawed on demand and ran ahead of him to the house.
Somehow, dad soldiered on, made it inside and sat down at the kitchen table.
“Roll up two magazines,” he said. “Long ways.”
I did as I was told.
“Place them around my forearm—like a hotdog roll. Be careful. Just past the wrist. We’ll use them as a brace.”
“O.K. Now what?”
“Take a large rubber band and stretch it wide.”
I focused on the conviction in his voice. Anything to wipe clean the image of his broken form from my tarnished memory.
“Good,” he said. “Hold the rubber band steady while I put my arm through it. We’ll need two or three of them to keep the magazines in place.”
Dad fractured both wrists that day. One, completely shattered, required a metal pin. In time, it healed and functioned, but it never looked the same, bent at an odd angle.
Almost thirty years later, I became a father to a son. With my wife, and love as our tender guide, we often found time as a family to play outside. One radiant summer’s day, little Joey was screaming down the driveway on his blue-handled, metal scooter when he fell, landing backwards on the pavement. Balled up, tears flowing, he cradled his wrist to his chest, the depth of his pain evident. With care, we scooped him up and rushed him to the emergency room.
“It’s a buckle fracture,” declared the doctor.
I didn’t know what that meant, and he could tell.
“At your son’s age, the bones are soft, more forgiving,” he said.
“They should knit back together in a couple of weeks. Good as new.”
Warm waves of relief rippled over me.
“I must admit, I’ve never seen a brace like this,” the doctor added. “What a creative solution.”
“I’d like to take the credit, but it was my dad’s idea. He was a medic in the Air Force.”
“Tell him I’m impressed. Magazines and rubber bands…now that’s one for the books,” he said, laughing.
I smiled. The compliment came too late. Joseph Sr. passed away over a decade before from kidney cancer. Tried as he might, he didn’t win that race either, the hurdles just too formidable to overcome. I guess dads were breakable after all.