I did a bunch of demerol when I was 13 years old. I was in a hospital in Plano, Texas, and I had both feet. 

 

I still have both feet, but at the time, it came as a shock to me. 

 

I got hurt playing football. 

 

I played strong guard for the Wilson Rams, and my running back, Jessie, was a dipshit. He tripped and speared my lower leg with the crown of his helmet during a trick play.  

 

Essentially, our coach sent in every running back we had—loaded the backfield, if you know the lingo—so that the Renner Raider’s defense thought we’d be running. 

 

The center hiked the ball to the quarterback. He handed the ball off to the halfback, who faked a handoff to the fullback before pitching the ball to the tailback, who then passed to the quarterback who had made his way downfield and assumed a receiver’s role. 

 

Trickeration, some people call it. Gimmickry, others say. 

 

The whole point is deception. 

 

But Jesse, my dipshit fullback, tripped on his own feet, ended up head first in my lower extremities, and  I came to on my back with my right leg in the air, and my foot wasn’t where it was supposed to be, and wherever it was, I couldn’t see it. 

 

Boom.

 

My mind went wild—the broad October sky shined black above me. 

 

Under the Friday lights of a Texas autumn night, I screamed, “My foot. My foot.” The crowd fell still and some of my teammates were puking. “Where’s my foot?” 

 

My hands searched the ground for my torn-away part. My heart beat my brain with blood and my breath felt frantic.

 

One of my coaches—I can’t remember their names—screamed into my helmet, “Shut the fuck up,” and I went still, and my body thrummed in the tangy, grass-scented air because maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I could hear the crowd holding their breath.

 

“Think it’s just dislocated?” someone said. 

 

“Hopefully,” was the answer. 

 

My foot was still on me, just hanging the wrong way. 

 

“What’s your name?” they asked, I guess wanting to see if I was addled beyond comprehending myself.

 

“Brian Carr,” I told them. “Did we get the first down?”

 

Everyone—but who were they?— laughed and things felt easier, and then I was in an ambulance, and then I was on a bed, and then I was listening to directions, and then the true pain came. 

 

The night cut in and out. My whole body quivered like the ribs of a kicked dog. 

 

“We can’t put you completely under,” a doctor said. I was bathed in light, but maybe my eyes were closed. “We have to turn your foot back around, and you ARE going to feel it.” 

 

The twisting began. 

 

Even now, I can hear the gnash of the process. The same kind of noise any accident makes. Drop a glass on the tile floor. Rear end another driver on the highway. Bang and crunch and fuck and shit. 

 

I yelped curses at God, bleated like a dying goat, lowed anguish unintelligible. 

 

A great darkness pulled across me. The world rattled closed in heaves. 

 

When I woke up, they gave me a button. 

 

/ / /

 

Demerol “is an opioid agonist of the morphine-type.” 

 

According to the FDA “[s]uch drugs are sought by drug abusers and people with addiction disorders and are subject to criminal diversion.” William S. Burroughs listed demerol as one of many forms of “junk.” Michael Jackson sings about it on the album Blood on the Dance Floor. “Demerol,” he croons in the now-clearly cry-for-help anthem. “Demerol. My God he’s taking Demerol.”

 

I liked it so much, I didn’t mind my leg being broken. 

 

After my foot had been spun around like a propeller, the doctors rigged me up to a machine that dosed me with demerol when I pushed a button that I held in my hand like you might a retractable pen, going click click click click click.

 

In theory, I could get a dose every five minutes, but I just kept mashing the button until the thing worked, and whenever the machine okayed it, my left arm went warm and a wave of jubilation flittered through my blood, starting at the spot the medicine hit. I’ve never felt anything as warm. I was a kitten and God held me to his chest. Comfort crept through me. My mind sagged. My body mellowed. A warmth like that is hard to find. 

 

I was in a room, waiting for surgery, mashing a button, feeling real good. Episodes of Bat Man came on the television. Adam West was fighting villains in Gotham. The screen said Bang, Pop, Kapow!!!

 

My button went click click click click click. 

 

My body went Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha like a train

 

At some point, my coaches came to see me. 

 

“The worst part is,” one said, “it didn’t even work.”

 

I was fading in and out. “The worst part?”

 

“The play.” A long silence ensued. My coach looked out a window. Maybe his name was Johnson or Thomas or Wells. 

 

“We didn’t win?”

 

He shook his head no. 

 

I mashed at my button.

 

“It wasn’t your fault,” Coach said. “And it wasn’t the play. You did everything you were supposed to do. Sometimes things just go wrong for no reason.”

 

/ / /

 

Talking to the Washington Post in a 2019 interview, Chicago Bears’ head coach Matt Nagy waxed philosophical on trick plays. “[I]if you just stay vanilla and you just try to continue to run the same things over and over again, eventually defenses will figure it out and they’ll stop it.” 

 

My button went click click click click click. 

 

Nagy said “creativity” and “misdirection” is “hard to defend.”

 

My button went click click click click click. 

 

There’s the Fumblerooski. The Boncerooski. The flea flicker. The Statue of Liberty. 

 

My button went click click click click click. 

 

/ / /

 

I only sorta kinda remember being taken to the operating room. I remember another episode of Bat Man was coming on. It was the second part of a two parter, I think. 

 

“I want to see how it ends,” I told the nurse when she came. 

 

“Bat Man wins,” she told me, “the good guy always wins.”

 

I clicked my button as she wheeled me out of the room, but I have no idea if it was rigged up to anything. 

 

/ / /

 

Here is how an opioid agonist work: it’s a fucking trick. 

 

The drugs “bind tightly to [your] opioid receptors” and “reduce the sending of pain messages.” The pain is still there, you just don’t feel a thing. Except good. You feel the good. The good washes over you like salt water, like Willy Wonka’s chocolate waterfall. Like syrup. Honey. Goo.

 

The doctors cut open my ankle, pulled back the skin, mashed the bone shards into place, and drilled 13 screws into my tibia and fibula and sewed me back up. 

 

They wheeled me back to my room. They hooked me back to my machine. Bat Man was over. I was in and out of sleep. Whenever my mind was on, my button went click click click click click. 

 

I was healed. I guess.

 

/ / /

 

Here’s how addiction works: no one really knows. 

 

Narcotics Anonymous claims that there “is much public debate over the question of whether addiction is a disease, and we do not choose to become involved in this debate.”

 

In rooms of recovery, you’ll hear people wonder: was I born an addict, or did I become an addict?

 

Is it nature or nurture? 

 

Would Bat Man be Bat Man if his folks were still alive? Would he Bang, Pop, Kapow people anyway? Fight crime and go home to help Alfred take care of his aging parents? Visit them in nursing homes with flowers on the holidays?

 

But I didn’t get addicted to opioids in the hospital.

 

The last time I did demerol was when I was 13 years old. 

 

I was in the hospital. 

 

I had both my feet.

 

I was doped up and drowsy, and a nurse was about to teach me to walk on crutches. She put a belt around my waist, and I walked woozily down a hallway.

 

“It hurts,” I told her. “Do I get any of that stuff to take home with me?”

 

“Stuff?”

 

“The button stuff?”

 

“No,” she told me. “That stuff’s too strong. Most likely they’ll give you Vicodin.”

 

/ / /

 

Last night, I was in a basement of a church in Franklin, Indiana, listening to a man thank God for his sobriety. I’m 40 years old. I don’t know how old he is, but he’s the type that you’d call an old timer in the recovery rooms. His story is his story, but half the folks—probably some 100 of us—came to be an addict the same way I did. 

 

Accidentally. 

 

From the time I left that hospital until the time I was 34, I bet I didn’t spend two consecutive days not on a substance. Since I hit 34, I’ve been working to be clean. But it’s not a bone you can screw back together, and when you travel the hard hit realms—the overcast midwest with its myriad stumblers, small town dawdlers who’ve been pulled astray by substance—you can taste the trickerations afoot. 

 

People think that what they need is the thing that’s killing them. Sometimes I think that too. Lots of times, I know better. But not always. 

 

In that basement, the man spoke of God. How God had come to heal him. How the universe sent him signals to listen to. 

 

It was a pleasant evening. The windows of the basement were open. We sat underground, but near the roof, windows opened to near the earth, and a breeze drew through, and we strained to listen to the man’s story above fans that oscillated. 

 

“God is my steering wheel,” the man said, “not just my. . .”

 

Something changed. The 100 of us bruise-colored addicts snapped our necks.

 

“There’s a bird in here,” the man said smilingly. It must’ve flown in through the window. 

 

But something changed again.

 

“Fuck it’s a bat!”

 

And it was. An Indiana Bat was fluttering in its drunken way. Stumbling through the air, you might call it. And half the addicts nearly shat themselves. 

 

Bang. Pop. Kapow.

 

Grown men dived beneath tables, women shrieked in fear. 

 

But not me. 

 

I sat smiling. I knew that motherfucker. He was a trick play. “I’m a bird,” he told us, just long enough to get inside. 

 

“And then I will haunt you forever.” 

 

And he bounced up and down in the recovery room. Doing his thing. High above us. 

 

And all of us strugglers had to make some sort of meaning of his existence. All of us had to decide what it was he meant. And what we should do after we saw him. In the basement. In the world.

 

 

Brian Allen Carr is from Deep South Texas and he lives near Indianapolis. His most recent book is Opioid, Indiana.

One response to “Trick Play”

  1. Eric Rosenbaum says:

    Nicely written. Trick plays, bats, addiction all work together. I found the description of the demerol experience especially convincing and compelling. Also, what you didn’t have in there related to addition, recovery, etc.kept it sharp throughout.

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