Busted Lips & Lunch Money

A few days ago I got my first piercing. You could say it was all a bit unusual and spur of the moment. To be honest, I never thought of myself as a piercing person. Ok, there was a moment or two in the middle school maze when I contemplated whether I could pull off a diamond cubic zirconia earring. Disclaimer, at the time I also wore t-shirts three sizes too large and my favorite meal was lunchroom pizza with ranch dressing. So  it is fair to say that that does not count. Nevertheless, I ended up getting my lip (of all places) pierced late last week.

Like most piercings it happened pretty quick. Unlike most piercings, I had it done during a basketball game. A few seconds after losing the tip, my man catches a post entry seventeen feet out, takes one wide eyed glance at me, the basket, back to me again, then puts his head down and barrels towards the rim. In textbook fashion, I cut off his blind charge. In textbook fashion I threw my arms straight up and bodied him with my chest. And when he was supposed to throw the ball out of traffic—his path impeded, he instead cleared some space between his elbows and my face then flicked in a shot that should have never graced the FGM column.

I was not too thrilled about losing the tip or being scored on (or elbowed in the face for that matter). I made it down the court and misfired an uncontested hook shot of my own just before a ref stopped play and deemed my face a “contamination hazard”. One of my teeth—I am guessing either a lateral incisor or canine—punctured my lower lip during that first play. Amid the chants of “bro, you’re leaking”, my teammates best described the scene as a bad vampire flick—something like the Twilight series I suppose. I like to call it an unconventional first piercing.

During the hydrogen and peroxide shower that followed, I had a few moments to marinate on the bloody situation. Dab dab. Painless. Dab. I wonder if this is what fish feel like when they— Dab dab dab. Probably should have woken up early and got fitted—dab—for a mouthpiece a few days back. Dab dab. Mouthpiece would not have stopped my bottom teeth—dab—from going through my lip though. Dab dab. Do they even make bottom row mouth pieces for basketball? Dab dab dab. Crazy. No offensive foul or anything though? Dab. Bullied. Dab. Shit.

My coach at Stanford would call it getting your jacket taken on the schoolyard. My current coach fancies the analogy of Jimmy punching you in the face—BAMMM!— and taking your lunch money behind the gymnasium. One way or another, (literally and figuratively speaking) I was cold and hungry sitting on the bench nibbling a dry mound of gauze and waiting for the trainer to clean my jersey.

Could I have avoided this mess? Was the elbow even intentional? Neither question mattered. Bloody mouth or not, I had failed the first test of the game within the game; I did not hit first.

While basketball is very much X’s and O’s, making shots, and getting defensive stops, it is just as much a game of shear aggression and undiluted willpower. It is a mental match of strong first impressions and short memories. And as my opponent aptly demonstrated, it is a game where unbridled determination can trump textbook technique. Therefore, when the ball goes up, you must ask what message you will send to your rival. That they will be warm at recess and smacking on an extra piece of pizza come lunchtime? Or that they should think twice about trying to take your coat and $2.50.

So there I sat quarantined on the bench plastering my face with our trainer’s homemade vaseline and blood coagulator goop. My jacket was pulled half over my head and Jimmy was reaching for my pockets. The thought of it all left a bad taste in my mouth. But sometimes we need these reminders from the game. It is just that sometimes these reminders taste like bloody medical gauze and Neosporin. Rightfully so.

As I sit here writing on my day off, I am reminded the game favors those who bring the fight. There is no time to wait for it to come to you. To wait is to be unsuspectingly knocked on your heels. It is a matter of always being a step behind closing that deal. It is always hoping for a window of entry into that competitive market space. Or perhaps waiting is sitting on the bench with a faucet lip, your team down eight points early in the first quarter. Basketball? Everyday life? The lesson is the same. The beauty is that you can tuck a wad of cotton under your lip, clean your jersey, and get back in the fight—so long as you are willing.

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