There was this kid in my class, Ben, who was born with backward knees.
I still remember the first time he came to our school in second grade. The teacher talked to us before he came in, saying he was special and that we shouldn’t make fun of special children. We did anyway. God it was eerie, watching him walk and looking like some half-human, half-ostrich hybrid. When he walked in, carrying a horse saddle, Suzy yelled, “Oh, for gross.” Everyone burst out laughing. The horse saddle fit on his chair so he could sit down without having his feet sticking into the person in front of him. I couldn’t tell you what the rest of him looked like; all I ever looked at were his freaky knees. Teachers thought I should have been more understanding, what with a retarded brother and all. But backward knees, man, backward effing knees.
We called him Backwards Ben and Bent Ben. This lasted through junior high. “Is anything else bent, Ben?”
By the time we were in high school, we quit making fun and just ignored him.
So tenth grade rolled around and wouldn’t you know it, Ben tried out for football. Damn, that kid could run. Fastest thing I’ve seen and no one knew where he was gonna turn next. He was even faster on all fours when we were doing drills in practice, but he had to carry the football during games. It was spectacular, watching him run. If he managed to get out to open field, a touchdown was guaranteed; his legs churned like the bars that moved the wheels on those old steam trains.
We made it to state that year, with Ben as the running back. The score was tied with three minutes on the clock. Ben led the drive slowly up the field. We were nearly to the 25-yard line, where our crappy kicker would at least have a shot to win the game during the final seconds, when Ben was tackled hard from behind and one of his knees gave out with a loud pop. He fumbled. The other team grabbed the ball and tore across to the other end of the field.
The stupid, bent-kneed son of a bitch lost us the game.
All rights reserved to Joel Hagen.
Illustration by graphic design intern Jarad Jensen.