I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that's real
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything
—Johnny Cash, Hurt Lyrics (Originally by Nine Inch Nails)
Dwarfed by the massive cabinetry, the granite island, and the high ceiling, he stops in the kitchen. Stinking of racehorse liniment, he pops open the Keurig and feeds it a cup. The Keurig dutifully fills a YETI travel mug for the road. The aroma of hot coffee, he knows well — the scent of unconditional love.
He has at least a five-hour stint ahead: a drive to rural Texas, a son's baseball game (three hours, including pre-game warm-up, all under an angry sun — the forecast is for 102 degrees), and the return trek, after the day is lost or won.
In the driveway, he tweaks his partially torn pectoral muscle as he tosses the heavy baseball gear bag into the back of his pickup truck, momentarily forgetting his recent gym misfortune. He is assisting his son who still scrambles to find his ball cap.
"You ready yet?" he asks, sweat already dampening the back of his T-shirt, as he climbs into the driver's seat.
"Let's go," his son responds.
They drive the hour in silence, except for the radio, from which Johnny Cash croons a tune that reeks of melancholy and pain. The son mentally prepares for his upcoming on-field performance. The father mentally reviews his life and wonders how time has ebbed away so quickly.
In the middle of the first inning, another father stops to greet him. The forceful handshake causes him to grimace.
"What's the matter?" the other father asks, perplexed.
"Training injury," he mutters as he momentarily looks back to the field.
"Why are you still training so hard? For your bone density?"
He doesn't respond. The real answer is that he does it to maintain his sanity, but if the other father needed to ask, he wouldn't understand the response.
The son hits a double. He does not cheer, but he smiles on the inside. He sips the hot coffee, as sweat pours from his brow in a constant stream.
He is training his daughter in the garage gym. She is thirteen years old. He's teaching her how to sit back on the box while squatting. Keep your knees behind your toes. Keep your back tight and explode off the box.
"I am going to train too," he says.
"Are you going to do the same stuff I am?"
"No," he says. "I have upper body training today."
"Are we going to train my upper body?" she asks.
"Yes. On another day."
Between her sets, he warms up and prepares to floor press. His shoulder has been feeling healthier and over the last month, for the first time in a long time, he has felt his strength steadily improving.
He begins, as always, with the bar and works through diligent progressions to prepare himself both physiologically and psychologically to handle the heavier weights. Between the sets, he rests while putting his daughter through her paces. She is doing well (as with everything she does). Her form is impeccable for a beginning trainee.
He wants to hit four reps at a high percentage of his max. The first double moves well. He is pleased.
During the second double, his pec tears. The bar crashes to the safety pins, inches above his face. For at least the twentieth time, the Collegiate Power Rack saves his ass.
I hurt myself today.
Two Years Earlier
“How long have your shoulders been bothering you?” the physician probes, as he manipulates the patient's arms through a limited range of motion.
“Not sure,” he says. “Maybe twenty-plus-years?”
“Essentially as long as I can remember.”
The physician reviews X-rays of both shoulders and dons a look that is both stern and somber.
Maybe this is a bad idea.
“Your shoulders are both damaged. I’m surprised you are doing as well as you are regarding range of motion. I am surprised the pain is not worse. The head of your humerus is misshapen from all of the heavy wear and tear over the years.”
Stop the heavy bench pressing is the “medical advice” dispensed.
I focus on the pain — the only thing that's real.
He leverages himself out of bed, careful not to use his right arm or elbow to prop himself. Struggling to wake, he ambles to the laundry room, feeds the dogs, let's them outside, and returns to the Keurig.
He sits at the kitchen table and takes an initial sip of coffee — unconditional love. Maybe he's done with the heavy training, he considers for an instant. What’s the point?
Alternatively, he decides it is time to re-focus on deadlifts and squats.
He consumes the first cup and sits for a few moments more.
The old familiar sting.