The Perfect Drug

There are allegories I could make here involving Humpty Dumpty and the Fall. So many pieces here. I don’t know where they go. I can’t bear to look.

A game was played. There was a winner. There was a loser. The majority of people alive on this planet will never be aware in any context of this occurrence. The sun rose despite (or, perhaps, merely in order to spite) my melancholy. Everything about life tells me I should let go and move on. And yet…

I’ve found nothing in life as maddening or as important as those discussions when specious truths are followed by a burning in the back of my mind, the force of these two little words: And Yet. This was merely a game. The stakes involved, as far as I will ever personally be affected, can and will never exist beyond a strictly conceptual level. Neither my career nor my family has been damaged. Had this been real war, by home would be in flames and my family either murdered or being carted off to slave markets. Instead, I endure a few taunts, I receive consolation. And yet I grieve. And yet I feel pain.

Not, I find, for the outcome of the game itself. Win or lose, as I said, all outcomes are strictly, in the personal sense, conceptual. Memorial. Leonard Cohen once wrote: “If I’ve got to remember, I’ve got fine memories.” As do I. Passing fine memories. Wonderful memories. Of the quintessential patriarch teaching children to be men, demonstrating the power of always doing what he deems best for his family, regardless of how it may appear to outsiders. Of men I’ll never know walking onto the field hand in hand, a symbolic promise to never be divided. Of a night in Texas where a white jersey adorned with a red number seven ran down a sideline, for one step Cornelius Greene, in the next Joey Galloway, crossing the ten yard line as Joe Germaine, entering the end zone as Chris Gamble, catching the ball as Teddy Ginn Jr, celebrating as if they all were me at that moment. Of an afternoon in Columbus when stories of lives spent in loving dedication to the establishment and endurance of tradition served to re-inscribe every action of the field that day as another act in a continuing drama, where you couldn’t be sure if it was Rick Leach or Chad Henne throwing passes, Jack Tatum or James Laurianitis dropping ball carriers. Memories of Troy Smith holding a giant bronze statue, moving two patriarchs to tears.

These memories are not perfect, but none can ever be perfect. Perfection is attainable, but not maintainable. Only when hermeneutically sealed, stripped of all outside context, can the idea of perfection endure, tucked away with mothballs at the back of the closet. Memories are the material of life. They inform the present, give it meaning, and the present cannot help but recast views of the past. Florida will find that at some point a string of losses will happen and they will question, even ever so slightly, their coach. Players will make mistakes, in the game or in life, and the totality of their careers will ever so slightly be diminished. The rapture and euphoria will change into nostalgia, a memory of when the memory was pure and untainted by time. It will never mean any less. It will never stop being a single, glorious, golden moment, but alongside that joy will be the awareness of change. The moment will always have been but no will no longer be, becoming like a photograph from a high school prom of you alongside friends that you cherish having had, but to whom you no longer speak. Just ask Maurice Clarett.

No, my pain is not from the shattering of a perfect memory. I think it has more to do with the brutal and abrupt rupturing of suddenly precious, though unhealthy, illusions. For the weeks preceding the game, when questioned about my thoughts I would always reply in the last instance that “I believe in Troy Smith.” I didn’t believe in the insurmountability of his athleticism, nor in the unflappability of his mind. He his mortal, and not invincible. No, I had come to believe in his story. His destiny. Rising above his environment, only to fall, and then again rise even more gloriously. Transcendent, as much symbol as man, of the great master narratives of modernity, of the haunted man overcoming his demons to become a paladin and lead the rest of us. He burned so bright, and the livery he bore on his breast was the same as I bore on mine. He was me. He was many of us. Alas, as with anything related to modernity, this master narrative collapsed under the weight of having a man attached to the symbol. He still may rise (and I personally still believe so) but it will not be an uncontaminated, storybook ascent. Failure and weakness will challenge his strength for supremacy, an ever more complicated, unpredictable mosaic of experience. No longer a symbol of faith in stories but simply a man.

With this, as the Troy Smith era ends at Ohio State, I realize that I have one more reason to thank him. For breaking with his last act the illusions I had become lost in. For making me remember that it was not the insurmountable arc of his story that provides worth to his moments of greatness, but the fact that each and every one of them, great success and great failure, came from a battle against chaos. None of this had to happen the way it did. A thousand thousands other versions are conceivable for the life of Troy Smith. But none of them happened. This one did. It didn’t have to, no destiny or master plan penned this, only Troy’s free, independent choices. From this contrast with differential possibility does the true value of his life, and any life, arise.

Thank you, Troy Smith, for not being a symbolic avatar of human destiny, but simply a man. A man who I am proud and thankful to have had influence my life