Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Year of the Frog

Close the door behind me. Remove suit jacket. Loosen collar. Roll up shirt sleeves. Hands on the bathroom counter. Head down. Wipe sweat. Okay. Okay.

Inhale. Exhale. Breathe.

Rinse my hands in the sink. The water runs crimson then clear. My knuckles, his blood. Sounds echo in my ears. Thud of fists against flesh. Crack of breaking bones, arms and legs, like branches becoming kindling. His screams filled my ears until there was no space left and they spilled on the floor, pooling at my feet. Had to get away. Said I needed air. Let Chuck and Liam mop up.

Inhale. Exhale. Breathe.

First, dry swallow a few pills. Always pills. For the panic and the pain. Headaches, knee aches, soul aches.

Second, remember what the doctor said: know you, your history.

Third, stare into a mirror and speak story.


They call me The Frog. Always have, ever since a fat kid from Quebec laced up his skates in rural Saskatchewan. My great great grandfather on my dad’s side was Métis, born to a French fur trader and his Cree bride. Dad’s story was less history textbook, more shitheel. Determined to hit the west coast, he dumped his pregnant teenage girlfriend in Moose Jaw and drove away in a two-seater MG. Three’s a crowd. I was too young to remember but what you don’t know still hurts you.

Mom did her best but I was lost until I was found.

The ice rink is a temple: pray, young man, pray.

Hockey saved me. Every team was a puzzle and I was a piece. I fit in. Hockey provided purpose, a part to play. And the role of enforcer was built into my DNA. Nature grew me big. Weights grew me bigger. Practice taught the bulk what to do, how to move. Training camp perfected it. The season destroyed it. Off-season rebuilt it. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Inhale. Exhale. Breathe.

Went from Juniors to Major Juniors to the AHL. Then, one day, got the call: The League, the NHL. Second week in, this young buck messed with me in practice. He had a lot to prove. I had more. We threw gloves. He was pretty, always styling his hair in the locker room. He wasn’t pretty when I was done. Broke his nose, jaw, cheekbone, left eye socket. Blood and teeth on the ice.

So, back to the AHL. Buses. Motels. Rinks. Stitches. Bandages. Surgery. A few years passed. Too much ice time. Too many grudges, fights, concussions. Bad mojo.

Retirement chose me. Life was drawn curtains and infomercials. TV dinners. Boredom. Silence. Depression. Pills for the panic and the pain. Six months in the phone rang and this time it wasn’t the creditors. Instead, a voice from the past, an introduction at a party. Once upon a time, once upon a city.

Come work for me, said the voice.

Doing what?

Like a brand manager. You know, you’re out there in the world making sure people respect the brand.

I mumbled a yes. Respect is everything.

A year ago that call saved me. Two more months of retirement and I would’ve ate the end of a shotgun for dinner. But it damned me too. Blood and teeth on concrete look different than on ice but the meaning is the same. Like this guy tonight, pissing himself, sweating bullets. He didn’t respect the brand so he’ll be in the hospital for months. Tube feeds. Bedpans. Casts. Rehab. Learn to walk, how to wipe his ass. I didn’t ask the boss why. I do what I’m told. The team is a puzzle. I am a piece. I fit in. There is a place for me.

Inhale. Exhale. Can’t.

Heart beating too fast. Walls closing in. Remember what the doctor said. Strategies. Mechanisms. Mantras. Okay. Okay. Fill sink with cold water. Plunge my face in. Scream. Nobody hears but me. Repeat. Repeat. Lift head out. Slick hair back. Dry face. Put jacket back on. The suit is custom, wrapping around me like a blanket. Smooth out wrinkles. Brush away warehouse dust. One last look in the mirror. Know you. Exist. I’m the Frog. I’m the Frog. Okay. Okay. Leave the bathroom. Close the door behind me.