Tag Archives: sports (playing)

Posture

 

She stood a solitary stalk, ball at her feet, bright-lit green field against a black fall sky. The breath between whistled-dead and play-resumed.

 

Half a field away, a pack of other players stared back at her even as they jockeyed in the box, twisted fistfuls of jersey. Waited for the kick to come.

 

She set her stance, a few paces back, and stood. They could wait.

 

Her hours previous spent self-conscious in the school day, a bulky bulb in cold soil. Around others, she arched, slumped shoulders curved over and caved in, shrank. Arms crossed around books to cover her breasts, new and awkward and obvious at eye-level to her classmates. Bell to bell, blood cells coursing through vessel halls, pooled classrooms, hour after hour. Geometry: right-angles, hypotenuses. History: Pyrrhus, attrition. Anatomy: the bones of the foot.

 

Baggy jeans and ponytail, sneakers and plain tee. Between first and second she spoke to a boy as he smoked by the gymnasium doors. Volleyed observations. He was short and comfortable, and she tugged at her own belt loops, her pockets, her shirt seams, kept tucking hair behind her ears, touching her face. May have stayed too long; awkward retreat.

 

And at lunch, seated alongside teammates who discussed lipstick and bangs, in her mind she replayed the exchange with the boy, pulled at it until it lost its shape, a tangle of threads that no longer resembled stitched fabric. Realized that her fly had been down the whole time.

 

Calcaneus: heel. She leaned over cafeteria Bolognese, collarbones hovered above the edge of the tray.

 

Alone on the field, though.

 

Upright, transformed, hands inert, arms hung an afterthought. Eyes forward, chin-to-chest, she scowled scrutiny toward the horizon, ignored the mass of players, a blur of blue and white in the foreground of three sharp lines, their steel squared corners. Measured her distances: goal to ball, ball to body. Rocked up on her toes, posturing. Proximal, middle, distal phalanges.

 

From this vantage, she could see clear mere seconds into the future: rhythmic steps to a rooted plant-foot, leg arced, pendulum, cranked down, across, over, into and through. She could hear the coming solid thwock of seams against leather cleat (cuneiform, metatarsal). The ball’s trajectory, she knew, was predetermined: just a few feet farther than the spot where the 20 other players had set their stances, would crane their necks, eyes wide, to watch as it arched, skimmed heights of humid air. On the silent field, from 50 yards away, she could hear the upcoming wisp of the keeper’s gloved fingers miss, the arc dipped under crossbar, upper 90, line crossed, the rattled skim down the back of the net. And only then the ball would finally find the ground again.

 

All this she saw before it happened. The tower of a girl, standing alone in the middle of the field, stock-straight as limestone statuary casting starburst shadows, the crisscross worship of stadium lights. The strength in immensity. She strode toward the ball.

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A Home Hockey Weekend Away

The best bar in the world.

The best bar in the world.

At one week before the tournament, the schedule comes out and shit starts to get real. Everyone on the team has her own job, her own life, stretching from north Tampa down to Port Charlotte. But now the shift to hockey lives ramps up on social media. Lefty, a sister-like friend and old-school Canadian defenseman, posts a “Timehop” status from five years ago: “Reading Hannah’s blog, it dawns on me I made it through an entire tournament without a single penalty!!! WTF is happening to me?”

I respond, “Hoping to do an account this time through; see if you can change the narrative a bit, hmm?”
The Friday game always garners the most adrenaline—a week’s worth of daydreaming of crisp passes and hard shots—but even more so this time, as I’ve got a big group of coworkers, friends even and accompanying strangers here to watch. It’s an honor, and heartwarming, up until the point I realize that we’re going to get dominated by the other team, and my contributions will be a single line-rush to the offensive zone and a pretty blatant trip that I somehow still didn’t get called for. “We” (my teammates) muster a couple of goals on a paltry number of shots, and lose 4-2. The awesome people cheer anyway.

Everyone is amped to blow off some steam, especially considering we don’t play again until Saturday afternoon. But anchoring my mood is a 7 a.m. “agreement” (I didn’t realize it would be so early) to help Mrs. Harrible man the check-in table. Still, there’s a crowd out, and people need beer. We all down a couple Bud Lights while standing in crowds around the lobby, exchanging numbers, trying to sort out plans. A few of us, along with the remaining fans, head to Applebee’s for a bit. Around 12:30 I meet up with another group downtown. It’s loud and smokey and I’m relatively subdued—a whiskey here, a beer there—and make my escape around 2. Teammates J.D. and Kamikaski show no signs of slowing down.

The 7 a.m. arrival was never going to happen. At 2:30 a.m. I make it official with a text to Mrs. Harrible: “Sorry, dude. Everybody came out tonight instead of tomorrow. Aiming for 8:30.” It’s kind of a shitty thing to do.

Up at 7:30 and make it to the rink by 8:30. I’m surprised my back isn’t worse, but the lack of sleep is already worrisome. I question the wisdom of my McMuffin breakfast (and the caffeine content of McDonald’s coffee). I sell a few raffle tickets and try to avoid nodding off. At 11, as other teammates have arrived, I beg off—45 minutes to drive home, 45-minute nap, then 45 minutes back to the rink by 1:15 for our 2 p.m. game. I regret nothing about these decisions.

Kamikaski, apparently, regrets the shots that happened before, during and after my time at the bar. She’s only moderately late to the locker room, but misses the first shift or two due to an unscheduled appointment between her head and the toilet.

It’s the same team again, and while our shot total goes up, we struggle finding the back of the net. Frustration mounts. The other team is both physical and winning, and the refs miss a couple of opportunities to intercede early—illegal checks and behind-the-play high sticks, coming and going from both teams. Kamikaski lowers her football shoulder pads into the other team’s star, who responds with a two-hander to the helmet and a squealy rebuke to our bench. Quick Little K gets crunched off the puck in the corner. Furious warnings from our bench, “You better call something or this is about to get really bad!”

During a scrum in front of our net, an opposing player goes flying. Coasting toward the penalty box, Lefty stops for a moment in the doorway, seeing me on the bench: “Your wish is my command,” she grins.

Final score: 4-0. Blessedly, we get to keep the same locker room, which will stay a sea of stank, wet gear for the three hours until time next to suit up again.

Between games, Captain Beerslinger heads out to get more beer, but in the meantime, we need beer, so we snag a couple of pitchers from the snack bar and plop around in front of college basketball, bullshitting about whatever and rehashing old stories for new teammates.

Our goalie ambles over balancing plates stacked with soft pretzels and neon-orange nacho cheese, turns her back to deflect the ribbing: “Don’t worry about what’s going on over here.”

Keight, a newer addition but one of the stronger and more experienced skaters on the team, shows up with a Subway sandwich and a 12-pack of…”Azulitas?” I ask.

“…what?”

“Haha, dude, those are 8-ouncers.” There’s an ongoing discussion of the merits of smaller serving sizes even when the same total amount of beer will be consumed. More contributions come. Within an hour, despite our best efforts to keep up with supply, the cooler is overflowing.

harrible

Mr. Harrible and an Azulita.

The 6 p.m. game takes effort, but at least it’s a different team this time—a selection of players from Alabama and Georgia. We go the entire second period without a shot on net, but it’s more competitive than it sounds. My best play—a steal at the blue-line and potential breakaway—was negated by a prolonged stumble of wobbledy ankles and eventual fall. I keep my cool about it until a linemate mentions how close it was to an awesome play. “FUCK!” I respond.

Later, Little J, who’s been our lone fan for the day, commends my ability to shield the puck even as I fall down. Good man.

An opposing player “goes batshit crazy,” to Kamikaski’s estimation, and attacks J.D. after the goalie covered the puck. Somehow both players get penalties. Kamikaski and her football pads are ready to nail someone, but order prevails.

Shut out in another loss.

Postgame pizza party to watch even more hockey at the Harribles’ house. The young ‘uns—Little K and Hands—show up with, I shit you not, juice boxes and fruit-by-the-foot. Lefty and I put cheese puffs on our pizza. Inspired by my negated breakaway, Hands shows me—and then everyone else—a video of a runway model wobbling and falling in too-high heels. Guffaws. “I hate you all.”

Sunday locker room conversations are both celebratory and somber—work and real life loom, and talk turns to impending deadlines and asshole fourth-graders. Male hockey players are predominantly blue collar—landscapers, plumbers, welders, firemen. Percentage-wise, female hockey players are overwhelmingly teachers. I could run down a few theories for why this is, but maybe it’s better you ponder it on your own.

The game is our best yet—a 2-2 tie against the out-of-staters, despite the fact that J.D. had her own batshit moment and got tossed for mouthing off at the ref. But I’m subdued by exhaustion, frustration and an inability to get my juju going. I try not to let my cloud affect the team’s celebration, and it eventually clears. Yet more post-game locker room hangout time–feet on bags, beers in hand–stretches indefinitely into the afternoon.

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2015

I’m not a resolution-maker (any resolve I have in one moment can easily be undone by counter-resolve in the next), but if I were, I’d try to commit to posting more here. Anyway, here’s where things stand.

Work: A decade at the mag come March. Regular features, health column, etc. etc. No longer allowed to throw things at Tiny Red. Chugging along.

Health: Hoping to address weight gain at doc appointment on Monday with some prescription adjustments. Knees and fingers, wrists and toes (wrists and toes) have not sustained any setbacks of late. No word on when the head will heal. Third nipple going strong. Third nostril has been taken care of. Spackle works wonders.

Apartment: Aside from mold in the shower (FOR SHAME), staying on the landlady’s good side for the most part. String of lights by the fence makes for kickass nighttime cornhole. The hill are alive with the sounds of gunfire and ghetto birds.

CJ: Eats the mattress. Has only fallen off the loft once thus far. Still takes the stairs down one at a time. Somehow found a new lizard dealer in the neighborhood. Bitch has a problem.

Sports (playing): Between being out of shape and younger/calmer than most people out there, didn’t really catch on with the 7-v-7 soccer league. All-new hockey team of strangers (due to a league draft rather than the standard put-your-own-team-together format) has more promise than I would’ve expected—thanks in part to a knuckleball goal in game 1 that helped put me in the teammates’ good graces. Very much looking forward to a women’s tournament in Ellenton next weekend. Considering headis.

Sports (watching): Aside from the occasional lapses in defense, Bolts have been fun to watch. Bucs were very much not (hoping for Mariotta instead of Winston). We’ll see if the Maddon-less Rays can hold my attention come spring.

Eating: Lettuce, but only as a vehicle for Ma’s blender Caesar salad dressing.

Drinking: Beer. Bourbon. Purell.

Social life: See above.

Love life: Tiny glass animals. Blaming the blue roses.

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The Day After (A Hockey Tourney by the Beach)

Shaky-hand locker-room selfie!

Shaky-hand locker-room selfie!

Sunburned and hockey-sore,

Whiplash, backache,

Slew-footed tailbone ass-pain

And butthurt: losing sucks.

Puck-bruised (self-inflicted warm-up shots

And others from more legitimate sources),

Leftover pretzels, beer cans, wet gear—

Dear god, the laundry—

Crumpled coozies, sandy coolers,

Reliving recent minor glories and glorious minors,

Oh-so-many missed passes and

Ridiculous, hysterical slips and stumbles,

Collisions, whiffs, fluttered wristers,

A sorority of blue-paint scrums and handshakes,

Of locker room beer and gear-bag ottomans:

Alpha Chica Ow.

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Not as Good a Long Day

footTV

Started out a standard Sunday: Up at 10 for Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me and Radiolab, leftover pizza and coffee. Settled in with some Fandemonium and laundry.

2 p.m. left for the rink for our 3:15 game.

3:45 contemplated vomiting in pain.

Game had started well enough; got an assist. But not long after that, I was rushing to the back boards to get a puck that had been dumped in. Just before I got there, I turned in anticipation of (hopefully) snatching the puck clean and pulling it behind the net.

Instead, I lost an edge and in a blink went feet-first into the boards.

Feet-first always looks bad—it’s not an unusual source of hockey injuries—but I’ve done it a hundred times without incident, usually because I have time to position myself and/or bend my knees to absorb the impact. But this happened so fast. I saw a flash of light and for a brief moment thought, “Oh, this is one of those things that just looks bad.”

But within moments, the pain crept in, leaving me scooting forward on my hands and knees, and then knees and elbows, head on the ice.

Two guys—one from each team—helped me to the bench, one skate gliding, the other hanging.

There on the little recessed goalie bench, in a shaky daze of adrenaline, I took off my helmet. And there was a roach in it.

Apparently in times of sweaty, adrenalized semi-consciousness, bugs haunt me. It’s like they’re my incapacitated spirit animals or something.

Seriously—and this is the only time I will ever say this—but I couldn’t give a damn about the roach. The pain was preoccupying. Then after a few minutes I started pouring sweat and feeling nauseous. I wasn’t ever aware of an imminent fainting (although I’m not sure you ever see that coming without following through), but I figured I might have to throw up on someone’s backup stick, because I couldn’t fathom moving beyond leaning forward, and even throwing up on my pants didn’t seem to be something I should care about at the moment.

It was halfway through the first; a full period and a half went by before I could pay attention to the game. I’d left the team with eight skaters, and even as they scurried around me exhausted, I couldn’t even contemplate what was going on on the ice. I wanted to, but nothing existed beyond my lower left leg.

But that was the worst of it. After the game, with lots of hopping and scooting and help from my friends, me and my stuff got sorted out and stuffed in my car. Mrs. Harrible accompanied me to the ER, where Ma and Krazy Kevin eventually joined us. The docs gave me drugs and a splint and crutches and a diagnosis: broken fibula.

splinting

The PA prepares my splint.

So that’s that. After post-hospital dinner and a trip to CVS (yay pharmacy drive-through), I didn’t get home until 10. It took me five minutes to make it from car to door—my gear stayed put—and simply walking from here to there is now an awkward, painful spasm of hops, stumbles and crutches akimbo that leaves me panting and sweaty. My right leg is already exhausted. Every little task is some combination of baffling and grueling: feeding the cat; getting my water glass from the kitchen to the couch. I haven’t yet figured out an approach to bathing that would be sufficient for hockey stink.

ma kevin

Krazy Kevin keeps Ma entertained over dinner.

Still. Intense physical pain has a way of singeing off neuroses; hydrocodone amplifies that effect. So thanks to those two, I’ve mostly been basking in the loveliness of friends and acquaintances alike—feeling sincerely appreciative of the attention, instead of the guilt and embarrassment I’d expect to feel:

  • A total stranger from the other team helping get me to the bench.
  • Teammates I’ve only known through a handful of games gathering my gloves and helmet and skate and stick and socks from the bench, asking after me in the locker room, fetching an office chair to roll me to the lobby, even spending quality time with my stank feet to strap ice onto my leg with an Ace bandage.
  • Steadfast friends Krazy K and Mr. Harrible, one on each side, escorting me across the ice, taking great care navigating doors and corners.
  • Mrs. Harrible cheerfully taking me to the hospital in my own car, running inside to grab a wheelchair and dropping me off before parking the car, then joining me in the exam room.
  • Ma coming just to be there.
  • Krazy Kevin arriving after playing his second game of the afternoon, popping in to say hi, then staying another half hour alone in the waiting room because I was only allowed two visitors at a time.
  • Ma picking up the dinner tab to show her gratefulness, too, to these friends.

I’d gladly give my left leg for experiences like that.

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A Better Long Day than Usual

The backside of the sunset.

The backside of the sunset.

Sunday morning. I dreamt I was taking Thing 2 to some Main Street bar/restaurant, that I knew (or thought I knew) was nifty, but it wasn’t really living up—I had trouble finding it; it didn’t seem the same; the bartender/owner wasn’t very helpful. We somehow wound up, unfed, in a Wal-Mart parking lot.

That being said, it was a decent night’s sleep.

I would’ve lingered in bed, but when I got the wherewithal to look at the clock: 10:05. Motivation enough to haul myself up and turn on the radio for Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. (This week’s guest? Comedienne Tig Notaro, whom I’d conveniently read about just 12 hours earlier, catching up on TIME back issues.)

After that, Radio Lab—an especially unsettling hour of stories about parasites. Animals eating other animals alive. Intestinal worms.

I like to while away my weekend-morning radio time mixing puzzles and Wii golf, but since yesterday’s “productivity” involved finishing my latest puzzle—an elongated rectangle of Harley-Davidson memorabilia—I kept my arms and eyes busy for most of today’s two hour-long radio shows playing Wii golf and Wii Frisbee and Wii three-point contest.

Then killed time till 2 watching baseball and putting away laundry. Then off to the rink, a 45-minute drive of radio baseball—game-tying HR from Longoria. Go Rays. Go radio.

Not a great hockey game, but at least against a team not prone to confrontation and ugliness. I recently heard a snippet—a preview for some other show?—from some kind of cognitive scientist about his detest for the word “consciousness.” He felt it mislabeled something; it was a misleading catch-all. He cited the mind of a pianist performing—that the fingers moved without thought, and to think of their movement—to be aware, to be conscious—would screw it all up.

And someone else (oh, I’m excellent at citing my sources) recently mentioned physical activity among a list of meditative actions. I guess I’d known that, but I sort’ve thought maybe “sports-induced meditation” wasn’t considered legit among those who performed meditation as an activity in and of itself.

But for all that I dive into conscious descriptions of things in writing—or maybe because of trying to put everything to words—I’ve long appreciated sports for giving me some lovely moments of Zen: relaxed, focused autopilot. It’s amazing to me, to relax and let things happen, to see what I can do without trying to do anything in particular.

My brain is sharp but diseased; left alone, my body has always done pretty well for itself.

Anyway, today’s game was but a fitful bit of Zen. Sometimes—the best times—a whole game can go by without the urge to grab the wheel. Today I had some nice moments on the ice, but nothing that lasted. Like one of those nights where you get a bit of sleep, here and there, but nothing you can maintain.

And then I drove home. This past season marks the first time since my first months playing hockey, nearly a decade ago, that I regularly arrive at the rink, skate, and then go home. Years and years of post-game social pursuits; it’s weird to drive home in the daylight.

Weirder still after a 3:15 p.m. game—generally the earliest available. I’m at Publix before 5 and home before 5:30. It’s July. It may as well be noon. I fix dinner; I rarely feel like taking the time to cook on a Sunday. I eat dinner (stroganoff). I watch two hour-long episodes of Slings and Arrows, the last two of the first season: Hamlet. The story of Geoffrey’s mental breakdown.

It was still bright as hell outside. I’m fed, but I stink.

I went to the beach.

I’ve played hockey and then gone swimming before. (Hell, I’ve played hockey, gone to the beach, and then played hockey again, same day, but god only knows where that stamina went.) Still, so much recreation today, it seemed special to have the memory of cold toes fresh in my brain as I kicked off my flip-flops and walked through the sand, threw down my shit, took off my shirt and dove into the waves in the same sports bra I’d worn (god, how many hours ago?) under a pile of pads, trying to stickhandle around guys twice my size. From looking at ice through a cage to lying back in water over my ears and staring at the bright blue sky.

So that’s one way to get the stink off.

Later, while I sat in my wee little sand chair and read Gone Girl (about a journalist who kills his wife), a couple came between me and the waves—about 15 feet away—and proceeded to take pictures of each other. I swear to god, the nearest humans were 50 yards in front of me, and none to be seen down the other way on the beach (which, by the way, is about ¾ of a mile long). Why the fuck these two parked their asses right in front of me to take pictures, and then turned around and walked back in the direction they’d come is like…I dunno, it was that scene in the movie where the universe fucks with the main character.

But it was a lovely sunset.

I walked home with a phrase stuck in my head: “You can explain yourself all you want, but you are who you are.”

Anyway, here I am. I had to take a shower almost immediately—oddly enough, I can sit in hockey stink all day, but beach sticky-salty skin is nigh onto intolerable for me.

Now I’ve written a blog, one that’s pushing short-feature length.

And it’s…9:30 p.m.

I haven’t even been up for 12 hours. Technically speaking, my bedtime is two hours away. And it’s not a bedtime I necessarily adhere to.

Time to start the next season of Slings and Arrows, I think—the Scottish play, this time. Not sure what that says about my Monday. Maybe Mackers just needed a trip to the beach.

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Concussed

“How’s your head. Did you go to the docter?” An inquiry tonight from Krazy Kevin. Of course. As colorful on IM as he is in real life. (Obviously I like clean grammar, but I also like writing that captures energy and individual personality, and in this sense, Kevin is an exceptional writer.)

“Nah, if anything is shaky tomorrow, I’ll go, but I think it’s getting better.”

“When you came of the ice you gave me that look! I saw you on your ass but I didnt c what happened!”

“Haha what look? Fucking tall guy cut into the slot as I was crashing to get his rebound. Tried to avoid him but he turned the same way I did. Landed on my shoulder blades and hit my head on the ice.”

“That look like I just got shmucked and your not gonna say anything or that shouldve been a penalty! Ya that look! Whiplash!!”

“Hah, part of it was also that I got shmucked by my own teammate. I must have been looking at you to commiserate.”

Yeah, what with all the sports and my own brand of awkward agility, I’ve hit my head plenty in my life, and had my bell rung enough, I’m sure, to rattle the already unsteady foundation of my cognitive abilities. But this was a good ‘un.

Falling backwards on the ice usually means something’s amiss. Either someone hit you but good or slew-footed you or slipped you a mickey. (Hi, 1920s, so nice of you to make an appearance in my vocabulary.) That, or you’re still Bambi-ing around on your skates, and fortunately, I at least grew out of that a while back. Every once in a while you’ll catch an edge transitioning backwards—and you will undoubtedly be 20 feet from any other skater, probably during warm-ups—and you’ll find yourself with what seems like five or 10 seconds to contemplate how you wound up horizontal with neither foot available to catch your fall. And then you will land squarely on a single ass cheek.

So, as you’ve gathered, mine was Friendly Fire—a teammate zigging as I zagged in a perfect mirror image, and boom: The Violent Dance of the D League. And even if they’ve got 80 pounds on you, sometimes guys are shaky enough on their skates that they’ll get the worst of it. But this guy was tall enough that instead of hitting him up high, which is a great balance-fucker on shaky skates, I landed square in his center of gravity.

It must’ve been a good one, too, ‘cause the ref (among the most competent ones available) blew the whistle—basically a “hey, some fool’s incapacitated” stoppage of play.

Of course, I didn’t know that this had happened until I got to my feet, trying to give a reassuring fist bump to the poor guy who seemed to be repeating, “I’m so sorry—I didn’t see you. I’m so sorry.” I just knew my head had snapped back and hit the ice—not unfamiliar in my hockey career, and one of those things that I usually think looks worse than it is. The helmet means it doesn’t hurt; the weight of it just means you’ll have whiplash later. As I was shaking out cobwebs, the ref’s voice came into focus: “You gotta go to the bench for a sec, ‘cause I stopped it.”

At which point, apparently, I glared at Kevin.

I started figuring it was worse as the day wore on: The back of my head actually did hurt a little—the phantom feeling of a bump. And my shoulder blades hurt; I must not have landed on my ass at all. Landing on your ass hurts like hell, but not landing on it suggests a pretty good collision, and an especially bad landing for the head and neck. Worst of all, my teeth hurt. Well, they hurt like my head hurt—not hurt, but I was more aware of them than I should have been.

It took me a long time to realize that, aside from sports like boxing and pro hockey (where the teeth really are at serious risk), mouthpieces are solely for preventing concussions. And to be fair, it probably took me so long to realize that because I used to remove my mandatory high school soccer mouthpiece and stick it in my sock.

But it wasn’t until Monday night, more than 24 hours after the fall, when I got a stabbing pain behind my left eyebrow that made my left eye weep like a faucet, that I really considered the seriousness of concussions in general, and this one in particular.

I do think concussion-related degenerative brain disorders, of pro athletes especially, are a real and scary issue. Although part of the reason I know they’re an issue is that I know what it’s like, at least a little. Injuries in sports are to be triumphed over, and concussions are almost always not about pain in the present moment. They don’t feel serious firsthand—either at the time or cumulatively. I didn’t even miss a shift on Sunday. (And, see, I really am bragging about that.) I don’t want to stop playing, and I’m not even getting paid for it.

So this is why it’s good to have a lot of well-meaning people around you, hounding you to go to the doctor. I’m feeling better now, but I know a nasty bump to the noggin  and three straight days of headaches are good reasons to see a medical professional. But I think I’m-a be OK.

I will say I’m considering wearing a mouthpiece now. But I will also say that I probably won’t, at least not right away. Brain damage, indeed.

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