Good Sports

There’s a place in Matawan called Good Sports. It’s a huge, indoor roller hockey rink/soccer field with a bar on the second floor. The bar itself is surrounded by tall plexiglass windows, so you can look down at the game in progress while you drink endless pitchers of Bud Lite and listen to Springsteen on the jukebox. When you walk into Good Sports downstairs, it smells like a sweaty sports arena – salty with a lingering odor of shoddily stitched socks. There’s even a slight stench of chlorine, as if you’re about to shake off your shoes and jump into a blue, inground, indoor pool in the winter. The stairs - a long, wide stairway with a wide, wooden railing and wide, wooden steps, lead to a short hallway and then an oval-shaped watering hole with bathrooms on opposite sides of the stools. After you get past the tenth stair, the salty chlorine smell begins to merge with whiskey and tiny, half-burnt pizza pies and shots of the Cuervo that lines the edges of the right side of the bar, near the hockey. A group of guys, all in their mid-twenties, hover near the plexiglass, fogging it with their liquor-infused breath, screaming, "Get it Dave! Slam it away from him! Yeah, that’s it, kid! Take it back!" It’s Wednesday night, the puck is flying, and the pitchers are flowing like rivers of drunk. I never thought to look behind me on the stairs. I never thought to tell him not to do it.

My siblings and I are very accident-prone. Melanie often says we trip over invisible air molecules, devoid of smell and sight, just in the way all the time, causing us to literally trip over thin air. Dylan’s nickname is Spillin’ Dylan. It rhymes and it fits. The worst part about the falling down is the ironic, metallic smell of the blood that seeps from scrapes and bruises and tiny, concrete scratches. It’s the smell of defeat, of the temporary loss of motor function. But I’ve never smelled as much metal as that night at Good Sports. I’ve never seen an air molecule look so big.

Kids always slide down railings. It’s that feeling of adventure that fuels the mind of a fearless child. The feeling of weightlessness as you slide down, your arms flailing out for balance, your feet smacking the floor with a triumphant thud. It just never occurred to my brother that this particular railing was thirty feet off the ground, and that even without the pitchers of Bud Lite and the shots of tequila, his coordination isn’t exactly top of the line. He just planted his ass on the wide, wooden slope and let loose. I turned around, watched him fall the thirty feet as if the soles of my feet were super-glued to the salty, smelly floor in front of the front door. And his head hit the ground first. The stench of defeat was all around me then, as I kneeled in the pool of my brother’s blood with his unconscious head in my lap, screaming for an ambulance with the lungs of a first class horror movie queen.

Once he fought his eyelids open and was strapped into the red and white ambulance, I sat next to him, antiseptic and shiny needles invading my nostrils, making him sing Tom Petty songs to stay awake. The bar had emptied out and as we pulled away, I saw them all standing in front of Good Sports, the tiny pools of blood that had seeped out the door beginning to gather at the toes of workboots and high heels and still-cooling rollerblades. I looked to my right and saw Spillin’ Dylan in all his glory, confused and as scared as the two year old who knocked his two front teeth out on the hard, black driveway all those years ago. I squeezed his hand and I told him that the EMT who had helped to load him onto the stretcher smelled like a dirty old sub shop. When he laughed, the cut on his right eye squirted a small amount of blood and I wiped it off with my sweater like a tear.

Leaving the hospital that night was like leaving the weightlessness of childhood in a cardboard box in the back of an attic. There would be no more careless sliding, no more smelly tequila breath on the second floor of Good Sports. Now there was only a black eye, seventeen stitches inside and out of his swollen ear, and the silence of knowing your little brother almost died on the sweat-sock smelling floor of a roller hockey rink. The radio stayed off and my eyes stayed on the road. The relief that cruised through my senses stayed only for the sweet moment when he looked over with tears mixing with the dried blood in his eyes and said thank you. And Route 34 was a dark journey that night, with a frazzled mother at the end of the road, smelling the own salt in her tears as her babies pulled into the driveway.