90: Best Days of Your Life

90: Best Days of Your Life

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times for Teens

Best Days of Your Life

Good judgment comes from experience, and often experience comes from bad judgment.

~Rita Mae Brown

When I roamed the halls of Triton High School, back when I’d hastily scribble out homework assignments during homeroom and sleep until noon on Saturdays, there was a single phrase that always made me cringe: “These are the best days of your life.”

As a teenager, I imagined adults never left the house unless armed with this nugget of wisdom. It came from all directions. My mother, father, grandparents, aunts and uncles — even the deli guy down at Pathmark felt the need to play the sage one day as he sliced my provolone.

They could have delivered the message in Pig Latin for all I cared.

Did they really expect to convince me of this? I mean, I spent most mornings in geometry class, locked in an epic battle between gravity and my eyelids. I’d sweat through three shirts every afternoon running sprints on Coach Reilly’s baseball field. I stocked away most of my evenings on the shelves at Drug Emporium, right beside neatly lined rows of mouthwash and deodorant. Life didn’t seem like much of a paradise.

Furthermore, adults couldn’t know how it felt to have college essays and applications pile into a mountain of guilty procrastination. They couldn’t know the emptiness the first time you realized that someone who interested you greatly didn’t have the same interest in you. They couldn’t know the fear of being invisible — to be a nothing in an environment where status meant everything.

They could never know. Or, at the very least, they could never remember. Could they?

Something happened at the tail end of my junior year that changed my outlook on life forever. There was a baseball game. I stood at my usual post at second base, watching a base runner dangle dangerously off first. There was a bunt — a bad one — that took one hop before the pitcher scooped it up.

“Two! Two!” I called as I covered the bag. The pitcher, a bit surprised by my risky strategy, spun around haphazardly and fired a bullet that was destined for the outfield. I dove to my left and felt the ball cradle for an instant in the webbing, and then BOOM!

My bones chattered all at once as they struggled to absorb the blow, and my insides lurched violently against my spine.

“That’s it,” I thought as I tried to focus on the blurry images of my teammates circled above me. “My ribs are shattered.”

In the waiting room, after a bumpy ride to the hospital in my dad’s car, my parents filled out paperwork while I grew weaker and weaker. I had apparently timed my injury to coincide with the busiest day in medical history. One hour turned to two. Two to three — until the throbbing pain in my gut took a sinister form. I struggled to convince myself that a six-headed alien was not about to burst through my abdominal wall.

“Mr. Morelli, we can take you now,” called a weary nurse. My parents wheeled me to an examining room where two more nurses took turns poking and prodding my ribs with their index fingers.

“Does this hurt?”

“No.”

“This?”

“Nope.”

“Well, Mr. Morelli,” one of the nurses said, “it looks like your ribs are tip-top. You’re free to go.”

Free to go? Did she really just say that? Don’t get me wrong, it’s always good news to find you’re in perfect health — but the pain? It didn’t lie. However, the most extensive medical training I’d received up to that point involved Neosporin and a Band-Aid, so I followed doctor’s orders. I struggled out of the hospital bed on wobbly feet and began the painstaking process of pulling up my pants.

That’s when fate intervened. A resident, who was passing through my examining room on his way to a cup of coffee, happened to glance in my direction. Then, with eyes wide and brow wrinkled, he did a double take

“Son, get back in bed immediately,” he said sternly. “Nurse! Let’s get an MRI on him this instant.” They wheeled me down a hallway at breakneck speed and stuffed me inside a weird, tube-like contraption, all in one motion.

When the doctor returned with the findings he said, “Mr. Morelli, you’re suffering from internal bleeding due to the fact that your spleen has been severely ruptured.”

“What the heck is a spleen?” I asked.

“Well,” he said, “It’s an organ that provides support to your circulatory system. You can live without it, much like the appendix. But we need to act fast if we want to avoid a transfusion. You’ve already lost a significant amount of blood. We don’t have the facilities to perform a splenectomy here at the hospital. We’ll have to fly you to Cooper. It’s a trauma center.”

As if on cue, the rapid chop-chop of a helicopter punctured the air as it descended onto the hospital roof. The nurses wheeled me outside and two paramedics quickly folded up the legs of the bed, shoved it inside the transport, and strapped me down. The ride to Cooper was a blur of sweat and clenched teeth.

Long tubes of fluorescent lighting whipped past me like the dotted lines on a highway as the paramedics wheeled me through another bustling waiting room and into the prep station for surgery. The room was lined with hospital beds, maybe six or seven wide, all occupied by patients with injuries ranging from heart attacks to gunshot wounds. For a tense moment, the heart monitor attached to the gentleman beside me bottomed-out and a medical assistant rushed over to erase the flat line.

“I’m going to die,” I whispered to myself for the very first time.

And then I was briskly wheeled out of the prep room — ahead of all the others — and down a long corridor to the operating room. The surgeon lowered a bright light from the ceiling, injected something into my IV, and told me to count down from ten.

“Ten, nine, eight...”

I woke up the next morning with twenty-six staples and a jagged incision blazing a trail from my sternum to my waist. It was at that moment, with my family huddled around me and the rush of panic long removed from my body, that I had a most peculiar thought: Maybe, in their own way, the adults had been right all along. Maybe these were the best days of my life. Maybe it even went beyond that. Maybe the single best day of your life is the one you’re currently living.

My road to recovery was a long and winding one indeed, but the experience itself remains indispensable. Since then, not a single day has passed that I haven’t enjoyed, respected, and cherished. I’m now certain that each day we’re living is a priceless collection of moments to be treasured.

~C.G. Morelli

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