"Wah . . . wah . . . ." Mark's eyes were wide open, staring at the orderly. Spittle dripped down his chin, drool pooling on his right thigh.
"What's the matter, Markie," the orderly asked. "You want some water, buddy?"
Engrossed in the football game, the orderly's eyes never left the television screen. When the high school team gained 15 yards, he forgot his patient had made a sound.
"Naa . . ." the second orderly said as he ruffled Mark's hair. "He don't want no water, man. He's cheering his team on. Ain't that right, Markie?"
The second orderly bent down close to Mark's face, and laughed. Tears welled up in Mark's eyes. His vision blurred, and he blinked rapidly. Once, twice. Still laughing, the second orderly shook his head and walked away. Tears rolled down Mark's cheeks.
Mark remembered what it had been like before, when he was the team captain of Northview High's football and softball teams. Everyone respected him. They admired his ability . . . his looks . . . his brains. . . .
"Yo, Mark, my man! What's up?" Tad slapped Mark on the back.
Mark grinned and glanced at his friend. That's just like Tad, he thought. Just barely in time for first period.
"Glad to see you made it, Tadpole," Mark said.
"Man, what'd I do to you?" Tad turned to his locker. "You know I hate it when you call me that."
Still grinning, Mark closed his locker. Tad grabbed some books, looked at Mark, then smiled. The two friends walked down the hall in compatible silence.
"Hey, Mark, great game last night," Sheila said.
Mark nodded. Sheila's pretty enough, he thought, but pushy. He knew the beautiful, petite blonde wanted him to ask her out.
"Oh man," Tad said, "you realize you could have that babe so easy? Must be nice, buddy?"
"Yeah, I know," Mark said, "but I'm happy with Melody. You know we've been going together for a year now."
Tad stopped in front of their classroom. Staring at Mark, he thought, if I was six-foot-two, star of the football team, and muscles all over, I could have any girl I want, too.
Mark entered the classroom, walked quickly to his seat, and sat down. He saw Tad casually saunter into the room and stop to visit with several of their classmates. Choking back a laugh, Mark watched his friend performing his familiar 'this-will-impress-the-babes' ritual -- right hand combing straight back through his shoulder-length brown hair as he rocked up onto his toes. At five-foot-seven, Tad was the shortest guy on the football team. He was always trying to appear taller, especially when there was a girl around.
"Oh, Mark," Tad said, "your lady-love has arrived!"
Smiling, Mark turned towards the door. A tall, stately redhead walked into the room. His breath caught in his throat as he watched her graceful, atheletic stride. A warm feeling enveloped him when Melody turned and blew him a kiss, and he felt his face redden. God, he thought, I'm so lucky to have her!
"Hi, Sweetie," she said. "What time will you be finished with practice? Maybe we can hang out at the mall tonight."
"I'll pick you up around six," he said. "Then we can grab a burger before we go to the mall, okay?"
The bell rang. Melody hurried over to her desk and rapidly opened her books. She glanced at Mark and gave him a thumb's up sign. Their date set, the rest of the day flew by.
Mark changed for practice in the locker room. Spirits were high, and the entire team shouted bantering calls to one another. This was the last practice session before homecoming game with their rival, Southview High.
Hyped, raring to play, the team charged from the locker room. The coach split the team into two smaller squads. Mark, pulling his helmet on, jogged out to his central position. Tad ran past him, bumping into Mark's arm as he was tightening his chin-strap.
Mark didn't realize the fastener on his chin-strap had not locked into place, when the ball snapped into play. Jeff and Rob, the opposing squad's muscular, 250-pound linebackers, charged Mark.
Tears welled up in Tad's eyes as he saw his friend's helmet fly through the air. The muscles in his chest constricted. His lungs burned and he swallowed quickly, trying to control the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. The sickening crunch of Jeff's cleat connecting with Mark's head was etched in Tad's brain, forever. Tad vomited on the field.
You know, memory is a funny thing. I can still remember Jeff stepping on my head. His cleat kinda crunched -- or maybe that was my skull, but God it hurt! I knew it went all the way through to my brain cause I got cold, and my fingers felt funny -- like a bunch of needles were poking them. Then, everything went black. . . .
The doctors were pretty cool, the way they shouted "stat" and all. I know they tried to fix me, they really did. But, I think they quit too soon. At first, they were always in my room, waking me up for this test and that test. Then, weeks turned into months, and their visits slowed to almost nothing. They'd just come into my room, write in my chart, then leave.
Even my friends deserted me. Oh, sure, at first I got dozens of flowers and stacks of cards. That was pretty cool. Of course, Tad and Melody would stay for hours. They made sure to give me all the dirt from school. Sometimes they'd talk to Mom and Dad. Even Sheila and Jeff stopped by a lot.
But when they moved me from the hospital to this place, I stopped getting mail and flowers. Sure, Mom and Dad still come once a week. Tad use to come by every month. And Melody -- my lady-love, as Tad would say -- came twice, then stopped.
I know the doctors say I have a traumatic brain injury. Mom cries a lot now, too. Sometimes, she holds my hand and rocks back and forth saying "Why," over and over again.
And that's what I want to know. Why me? Why can't they see I'm still here? Why can't they see I'm still me? Why . . . why. . . .
Author's Note : This story was written on October 3, 1996, after hearing about a minor injury to a player on the Notre Dame team. As usual, *smiles* I began to ask myself "what if . . ." and soon came up with this offering. I hope my piece of fiction raises some "what ifs" in your mind, that you are now better able to consider what might be happening, within the minds of those unable to tell us. Shari Lyne