I’m Not Broke (But You Can See The Cracks)

To say that resetting my broken jaw without anesthesia was painful is a monumental understatement. To say that showing my face at school later that summer was somehow worse is straight up fact.

It was, perhaps not surprisingly, a love triangle that found me in a bloody heap on the sidewalk in front of the Wawa. It was a misunderstanding. Nonetheless, I was on the receiving end. And in one fell swoop, I was out cold.

I came to slowly to the sound of my attacker and his entourage taunting me. I knew immediately that my jaw was broken. The ER doctor at Paoli Memorial Hospital confirmed later that it was broken in two places, and dislocated from both joints. And then he relocated.

The story is well documented. In short: flash, crack, blood. Lots of blood. I was filled with gauze, shot up with Demerol, and drifted off. When I woke up 18 hours later, my teeth were woven with metal wire. My jaw was locked shut for eight weeks.

I spent the balance of that summer in hiding. I went out. I saw my friends. I did things. But I was in hiding, stoned morning, noon, and night. Or nearly so.

The first day of my senior year approached quickly. I had already faced my attacker in court. Despite a rich history of violence, and my appeal to the judge that he be forced to deal with that violent streak, he got probation. In other words, he had to be home by midnight. Nonetheless, we found ourselves running down the railroad tracks evading cops at a party later that summer. He drove me home. Well after midnight.

Back to school, there were rumblings from a small but vocal minority.

“He had it coming.”

“Glad someone finally kicked his ass.”

I was shamed. I was embarrassed. For getting sucker punched.

The shadow that followed me through those hallways eventually cleared a bit, but never fully dissipated. I stayed stoned for nearly ten years. I still feel shamed. And embarrassed. For getting sucker punched. Worse, for putting myself in front of that oncoming fist.

Sometimes you don’t see it coming. Sometimes it blindsides you. Sometimes you do see it coming, and it’s equally disorienting. And sometimes you find yourself spinning around, dizzy from making the same fucking mistakes over and over and over and over and…

And then you break the cycle. You face the day, shake the naysayers, and get on with it. Because there’s work to be done. Even if you’re still aching, there’s work to be done.

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