I was going through a lot. I’d been going through a lot for a while now. I couldn’t even really tell you what it was that I was going through because I didn’t even know. I just knew that I was feeling things I didn’t like and I wanted them to go away. But they didn’t. But on the outside, I looked fine. I was averaging 30 points per game, I had college scouts looking at me, and everyone in the school knew me. But I couldn’t figure out what was missing inside of me. So I tried drowning it out in sports.
“Watch your back!” my teammate screamed.
I’d managed to slip into an open part of the field just in time for the quarterback to spot me. He shot me a bullet pass and I caught it at my waist. I turned to sprint off, already feeling myself rushing to the makeshift end zone on the other end of the park.
But I never made it.
The next thing I felt was a brick wall smash into me from my blindside and I was out on my back. Everything went black for a second. My ears were ringing. My head was spinning. And my whole body was aching.
I lay there for a second, dazed, then blinked and my vision came back into focus. But there was pain. There was pain everywhere. Especially in my leg. I could move it, but I screamed from the tension. It wasn’t broken, but something was hurt. Something was hurt bad.
“You alright, bruh?” somebody asked above me.
No. I wasn’t. And I didn’t wanna play anymore. I wanted to go home.
“C’mon, we need you. Walk it off.”
And all of a sudden, everything I’d been stuffing down started bubbling up to the surface. My grades slipping. The girls who’d rejected me. Me still feeling like a “little man”. Being scared to go to college. And now this stupid injury.
“C’mon, walk it off.”
“Get up. You got this.”
“We need you.”
“You gonna stay down there and cry?”
“He didn’t even hit him that hard.”
“Don’t be a pussy.”
“Be a man!”
And when I heard that last one, something clicked in me. I locked my jaw, took a few deep breaths, and stuffed everything that had been resurfacing back down where it had come from. Then I reached up, grabbed my teammates’ hands, and they pulled me back to my feet. The pain was still there in my leg, but I walked around a few times and shook it off. It didn’t go away, but I pretended it did. Because that’s what I was supposed to do.
“I’m good,” I lied to my teammates.
And they believed me. And we went back to the game.
But my pain didn’t go away. But that wasn’t what pissed me off the rest of the game. It was three years now and I still didn’t know what in the name of testosterone “be a man” was actually supposed to mean.