Concussion Year


By  Elizabeth Crowell

          These were the students who had concussions that year. Thorny Wilkins was taken down in the first game of the season at the twenty-yard line as he reached into the air to catch a muddy football. He fell backward and was out for five minutes when he woke to someone saying, “There goes his scholarship.”  
          Tammy Hart butted heads with the Acton High School recruit for UNC in the semi-finals of the soccer tournament of champions. The only class she could attend for months was watercolors. 
          Henrietta Samuels was hit in the head by a field hockey ball between her eyes and still manage to get the goal.
          There was Jonah Mosher, who got hit by a car while running a leg of his cross-country race along Cherry Tree Road. Sam Adelson, too, in soccer, collided with his opponent on a slick, rainy field. There was Jamal Winston who had come out to the suburbs of Boston all these years from the inner city, who had been recruited by Cornell and by Dartmouth because of his soccer prowess, until he tumbled miserably into the goalie. He was so concussed, he could no longer ride the bus to school and was in the hospital the weekend of the SAT’s. 
          Winnie Meyers got pounded on the ice the first day of girls’ ice hockey tryouts at five-thirty in the morning (the only time the girls got playing time) and went down, her head slamming on the unyielding ice with such force that everyone swore they heard a crack. She was out of school for the rest of the year, and when she went back, she couldn’t remember anything for two days, including two of her best friends.
          There was Ted Howes, who, along with failing all his classes, managed to concuss himself during a game of ping pong for gym by reaching wildly with his paddle for the ball, tripping over a freshman book bag and slamming his head on the gym floor. 
          There was Ben Yankowitz who was hit by an errant shot put in the pit of the indoor track. 
          During a synchronized skating competition, the end of Laura Liu’s line was whipped by the force of a turn. She skidded into the boards in a lime-green leotard (the entire line was supposed to represent the forest in Hall of the Mountain King) with such velocity that her eye socket was smashed and the edge of her skate cut right through the arm of another skater. 
          There was Lillian Chen, who had been working late on her science project and whose head was slammed by the door of the restroom by her lab partner, Meredith Hall, who had gone to throw up. There was Abby Jenkins, hit by a volleyball spike. 
          And Dean Powell, who attempted the lip on Tuckerman’s Ravine on a stormy, snowy Christmas Eve when the mountain had been all but evacuated. 
          And Olivia Brown, who had a car accident in which she was intoxicated, but not at the wheel, and went right from the backseat to the dashboard and who, everyone agreed, was lucky to be alive.
          And Abdul Pachtal, who, in an effort to catch a golden frisbee at the state Ultimate Frisbee championship, knocked squarely into the head of a member of the opposing team. For two weeks, during AP exams, he had to sit in a dark room.
          There was Pete Lee, who decided not to wear his helmet on the last ride of the season and snowboarded down the local hill, flew off a rock he swore he’d never felt before, the snow having melted somewhat, and who started smoking pot heavily for the way it dulled the throbbing in his head.
          Then, there was Billy James, who went to the Nurse’s Office one day complaining of a headache. The nurses were kind people—far kinder than the teachers and administrators. They asked him if he could sleep, and he said no, and he told them that loud noises made him cringe, and that he was having some trouble remembering. The nice nurses recommended that he be checked out. His mother took him to Dr. Parente, who asked him other questions and shown a light into his eyes. Billy wished that he could see what the doctor saw inside his head. The doctor was not satisfied by this view and suggested he get a CAT scan. They discovered that it was not a concussion, but a tumor, the size of a golf ball, growing in his head. A year later he would be dead, and they would dedicate a bench on the school campus in his name. 
          And late, too, during the assassination season, Vicky Sondheim slammed into Jo Tierney as they screamed at the wild and sudden assault of three boys dressed in Dartmouth sweatshirts on the field. 
          The weekend of graduation, in what was not a drunk-driving crash, George Kuo was hit by an old lady in Crown Victoria. It crushed the old family Toyota sedan that had carried his father, mother and he from Quincy to Colonial Hills, to their first rented apartment named after a Revolutionary War hero, then to a small, ranch house, now demolished, and now to a modest colonial they had bought with the money that Thomas Jolles, the developer, had given them for the ranch. The next spring a large McMansion bloomed where the ranch had been. 
          These were the students who got concussions that year.


Elizabeth Crowell grew up in NJ and has lived in the Boston area for twenty years. She is a graduate of the Columbia University MFA program and has taught high school and college English. Her work has been published widely. She lives outside Boston with her wife and two children.