They called me last week, one of many calls from one of many tests, one of many notifications that are vague enough to be terrifying. “Please call me back about your x-rays.”

I do. No sign of degenerative arthritis in any of my joints. Good.

“When did you break your left ankle?”

I answer that I’ve never broken my ankle. They’re quite sure that I have, an old break. They also say that I have soft tissue swelling around the joint. I thank them and we hang up.

Two hours later, my curiosity gets the better of me. Sitting in a borrowed cubicle in the ICR office, I call them back, ask for details in hushed tones. They throw multi-syllabic terms past me so fast that I can’t keep up typing them, and they get frustrated when I ask them to repeat. I finally focus on one term: “avulsion fracture.”  The phrase is short enough that both I and my fingers can keep up.

Again, I thank them. I hang up. Googling the phrase brings me nothing specific enough to be useful.  The fracture could have been mistaken for a sprain. My ankles are weak as kittens; I’ve sprained them enough times that I’ve lost count. The fracture could be treated with compression and rest; I’ve always wrapped my own sprains, or let my mom wrap them. The fracture could be on any number of bones, none of which sound familiar enough to be what I heard on the phone.

I call again to ask if they can read it again. They tell me no, but I can get a copy of the results. If I wait a week, then pick it up in medical records. I thank them. I hang up.

I Google you every so often. Maybe a few times a year now, but it used to be more frequently. I type your first and last name in quotes, type the name of our hometown, hit enter. And there you aren’t.

I only find your ghost. The address you had on Ann St. Your old phone number. The memorial masses your mother requests twice a year—once around your birthday, once around your deathday.

I don’t know what I expect. I’d like to think I’d find you somewhere—some picture on LinkedIn, some tag on Facebook, some blog post where you injudiciously use your real name, and I learn the truth. That you’ve run away and are hiding across the country or on the other side of the world. That someone finding you hanging in a storage unit was all some misunderstanding.

That it wasn’t my fault.

But you can’t even give me that hope, because you had the audacity to look exactly like yourself in that casket, when I tucked a pack of Big Red between your suit sleeve and the satin lining and said nothing. You’ve left no question about where you are—in the ground, eleven years past, nothing but bone now.

I place your middle initial between your names. Hit enter.

I don’t know what I expect.

They gave me the x-rays on a CD the day that they took them. They all looked fine to me—but, then, I don’t know what they’re supposed to look like. I put the CD back in the envelope so that I can give it to my rheumatologist, but only after I put the files on Dropbox.

I can see it now, my ankle in three positions, rendered on some shitty proprietary software that won’t even open on a MacBook. AP, OBL, LAT. I can figure out that OBL and LAT are oblique and lateral. It takes a web search to found out that AP means anteroposterior, and another search to find out what anteroposterior means.

The mouse wheel clicks faintly as I scroll through the three images. I know I’m looking for something small—if it were something big, I probably would’ve known about it already. In the other window, I pull up pictures of normal ankles to compare to mine.

It’s on the oblique view that I find the break. Obvious, now that I’m looking for it. A small corner of the big leg bone is jagged and missing, right next to the small leg bone. On every other x-ray I can pull up, it’s smooth and straight.

That must be it. That’s why they asked. I’m broken without knowing it.

Eleven years ago, my ex and I are at Bed, Bath and Beyond after seeing some friends. It’s near closing, and we’ve only just walked into the clearance section. These are the days before I carried my cell everywhere, so it’s her phone that rings.

She picks up and I can already tell from her face that it’s bad. She hands the phone to me; I take it hesitantly.

It’s my mom. She’s telling me you’ve died. You died yesterday. She’s telling me to call your mom about the funeral.

My legs give way. I’m kneeling in the goddamn store because of you, I’m fucking crying. My ex gathers me up and leads me out of the store.

You make my chest shake, you make my breathing ragged, you hurt so bad I can’t bear it. I remember yesterday. I’d gotten pulled over, but only a warning. I had lunch with my mom, and she asked how you were. I said we hadn’t talked in a while. You’d missed my wedding, even though the last time we spoke, I invited you.

I said that we were growing apart. It happens after high school.

I was going to call you after that, but I had plans that afternoon. I’d call during the week. I didn’t call you yesterday. And today you’re dead.

I call your mom. I don’t ask when they found you—in the morning, in the afternoon.

You left with that ambiguity. Before or after lunch. When did you die?

Could I have saved you?

Did I kill you?

You won’t fucking answer. You’ll never fucking answer.

Hours of searching later. The bone is the tibia. The ankle is a jungle of ligaments. I find the one that attaches where I see the jagged bone.

Anterior tibiofibular ligament.

I take that phrase. Throw it into Google. Add “avulsion fracture.”

Wagstaffe avulsion fracture.

Pictures of that. No, that’s not it—on those, the small bone broke. It’s my large bone that broke.

I add tibia-in-quotes. Nothing helpful. Finally, I find a list of all ankle fractures. There’s one listed above Wagstaffe.

Tillaux-Chaput avulsion fracture.

I google that. Look at the images. It’s in the right place. It looks like my x-ray.

Change the search to webpages. Click the Wikipedia result.


I’d decided to go home with you. This involved sneaking onto your bus at high school, riding it, praying that no one would check my school ID and see that I was on the wrong bus. They didn’t, and so we ended up by your house on the wrong side of Spring Street.

I was limping; I’d fallen on the stairs at home a few days earlier and landed on my foot sideways. My ankle was wrapped in an Ace bandage. It was bruised, and swollen, and I just had to show it to my gym teacher to be excused for the entire week. I could walk on it, though, so that’s all I did. Wrapped it with an Ace bandage and limped.

I don’t know why you decided to dart across the street, but you did. Maybe it was because you thought it would be easier for me than walking to the crosswalk and waiting for the traffic would clear. Maybe it had nothing to do with me at all.

But you ran, and I followed. Payless shoe and bandage and strained sock banging against asphalt again and again, threatening to give way with each step, even turning slightly despite the wrap. I cry out in pain.

We go to your house after that. I sit on the floor of your bedroom and we hang out until my mom comes after work to pick me up. By then my ankle is swelling again, bruising anew. It takes weeks for it to stop hurting.

I can pinpoint my age easily. The first ankle injury was from trying to run down the stairs with a candy bar I’d bought from my sister’s fundraising kit. Elementary school fundraising was only done in fourth grade, to raise money for a trip to Springfield. My sister had to be in fourth grade. I had to be in ninth grade.

It was sunny out, and warm enough not to wear a coat. It had to be fall or spring. But in November, you drank vodka that was older than you from my parents’ bar and had to have your stomach pumped, so we didn’t hang out outside of school for a while. And during the warmer part of the spring, the fundraising for Springfield stopped.

Fall of 1997. Before Thanksgiving.

At the end of September, or the beginning of October, my class went to Lord’s Park. I know my ankle was fine then; I walked over roots and threw a spear with ease. The oldest file on my computer is an essay on the trip that was due as an assignment. When I right click on it, I can see it was last modified on October 15th, 1997.

Sometime in October or November of 1997, we ran across Spring Street together.

A Tillaux-Chaput fracture usually occurs between the ages of twelve and fifteen.

I was fourteen.

Displacement of less than two millimeters can usually be treated conservatively with immobilization.

We ran on my sprained ankle together.

Displacement of greater than two millimeters should be treated surgically, or risk early-onset traumatic osteoarthritis.

I have a trick ankle.

My ankle has been hurting for years.

You fucker. I’ve been missing you all this time. I’ll cry myself to sleep tonight over you. But how can I miss you when you’re already here?

You’re written in my bones.