A thick layer of snow covered the field where a handful of seventh grade boys organized themselves for the daily game of football. Each one of them dreamt of becoming a famous sports star. Each one billowed out storms of frozen breath as they tensed for the next play, a field goal attempt.
The stuff of which autobiographical classics are made.
I, a slow kid of 13 years, was determined to stop those points from happening. So, as the opposing player jogged to the football to plow it into my end zone, I barrelled in his direction and stopped that field goal... with my face.
It hurt as much as a frozen and dimpled hog's skin slamming one's eye should hurt. I don't remember crying out but I could have. I stopped, looked down at the stationary ball and crumpled to the ground vaguely aware of the sounds around me. I don't remember smiling as I lay face down in the comforting snow, but my friends tell me it was pretty funny.
So why the self-indulgent story?
It's because I had to tell it. And I hate to say it, but I think it is connected to being a guy.
You may have noticed that when a bunch of guys get together there is almost always a discussion over who has hurt himself the most or who has heard the most disgusting sports injury tale. It starts with the messed knee from rugby, then moves to the bloodied face from the backflip-gone-wrong to the inadvertent enema from cliff-jumping, and finally ends with the story of fencing team member Vladimir Smirnov who, during the 1980 Moscow Olympics, had his mask, eyeball and brain pierced by a rogue foil.
"That's disgusting," everyone agrees and verbally rebukes the final story-teller while they all silently take mental note of the tale which clearly "won" so that they can use it with another group.
This is the phenomenon of male one-upmanship. It is, of course, the game we are all genetically pre-disposed to play around bonfires, water coolers and Starbucks counters the world over.
For men, these stories of gore are our extension of the playing field. For even if we are losers at the physical sport, we can dominate in verbal sparring. Some women, on the other hand, just don't understand.
Women, I'm just trying to help you see why we tell the story of Uncle Lee's unfortunate sea-side castration. We tell them because they ironically make us feel more like men as we repeatedly enter into competition for the alpha male position. One-upmanship of injury is what aids those of us who have never played football since that fateful day in grade 7 to maintain our masculinity.