The Rising(9)

“The hospital’s been alerted to have a neuro team standing by,” he heard a voice he didn’t recognize say.

The field, the stands, and everything else were back, the machines gone.

“Can you hear me, son? Just nod if you can.”

Alex could but didn’t. The activity around him settled into a restive frenzy, teammates kneeling in a semicircle with some praying, the world gone hazy and captured in soft focus in the spill of the bright light pouring downward. He felt himself being strapped to a board, then lifted onto a gurney and hoisted into the ambulance’s rear.

Alex felt a clog in his throat and for a moment, just a moment, thought his breath was being choked off for good this time. Then he realized it was fear, a cold dread arising from the reality just beginning to dawn on him through the haze.

Alex started to choke up, felt the tears first welling in his eyes and then spilling downward. From the ambulance’s rear, his gaze locked on the scoreboard, frozen with two seconds left in the game, the Cats with the ball and just one victory-formation kneel-down from winning the Central Coast sectionals. And they’d be moving on to the Division 3 state championship round after an undefeated season, thanks to their All-American quarterback, now lying broken in the back of an ambulance.

Just before the ambulance doors closed, Alex spotted Cara Clarkson, his girlfriend—most of the time, anyway—standing frozen on the Wildcat head emblazoned on the fifty-yard line. She used the sleeve of her cheerleader uniform to wipe away her tears, her pom-poms shed halfway between the sideline and midfield.

Alex, she mouthed. Alex …

“My parents,” Alex heard himself say, as the ambulance tore off with siren wailing once it reached the street fronting the high school.

“Take it easy, son,” a paramedic said, hooking up an intravenous line to his arm.

“My parents,” he repeated, thinking how they’d never wanted him to play football in the first place, how he’d started practice freshman year without telling them, that work parlayed now into a host of scholarship offers.

And suddenly that’s what Alex was thinking about—all those scholarship offers, including the one he’d settled upon. Alex’s father, Li Chin, taught mathematics at San Francisco City College, where he’d recently been awarded tenure. His mom, An, had some fancy title but was little more than a glorified cleaning lady where she worked. Money was tight and had only gotten tighter in the wake of the economic downturn that had seen both of them suffer, first, wage freezes and then a modest reduction. Alex needed football to pay for college, and now who knew if football would still be there for him?

That thought started the tears flowing again, his stomach twisting into knots. Alex couldn’t just lie here helpless. He had to know, had to try.

He willed life into his feet, pictured them moving. At first it felt like his brain was disconnected from his body but then he felt them wiggling. Imagined he knew the feeling a baby gets when it takes its first step.

Recharged, he willed the same life into his fingers, then his hands. Watched them spasm briefly before beginning to obey his commands.

“Easy there, son,” the paramedic warned. “Stay still now.”

But he could move. He wasn’t paralyzed.

“Alex Chin,” the paramedic was saying now, reading off a clipboard as if surprised by what it said.

I’m adopted, you idiot, Alex almost said, used to the double takes people gave him when they saw his name before they saw him.


The Chins had adopted him as an infant, never once making him feel different or out of place in their home. If anything, as a young boy he thought there was something wrong with him. Why else would he have sandy blond hair and blue eyes? He’d stand in front of the mirror and pull his eyes to the side, hoping to train them to stay that way so he could look like he was supposed to, like his mother and father. As a result, he’d learned tolerance early and never judged anyone based on anything other than who they were as people, just like he hoped people would judge him. The only time he ever got into fights was in elementary and middle school when somebody made fun of his parents.

It was the one thing he couldn’t tolerate, the one thing he’d never grown thick-skinned about. He didn’t mind when somebody called him Alex Chink. But once they made fun of his mother or father, all bets were off and somebody was going down.

That thought brought a slight smile to his face, though his eyes were still wet with tears. At six-foot-one, he towered over Li and An Chin, both naturalized American citizens who nonetheless bore the brunt of prejudice and wrath against China. Alex had long grown used to the caustic stares cast his family’s way, like they were doing something wrong by being together. So when he first started playing football, he’d launch himself at opponents with a fury bred of the anger left over from those looks, those stares, those lingering glances. He couldn’t hit bigots and the small-minded, but opposing players on a football field were something else again.


The siren had stopped sounding. The ambulance bucked to a halt and the rear doors thrust open to reveal the familiar California Pacific Medical Center sign. Alex closed his eyes and when he opened them again, figures draped in light blue medical scrubs were walking on either side of the wheeled dolly into the hospital.

I’m all right, he wanted to tell them through the clog in his throat, I’m okay.

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