MY affair with the ball began its slow decline a decade ago.

And I can trace its inception to when I dislocated my right shoulder joint for the first time.

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When I should have been reviewing manuscripts for that writing workshop in Dumaguete, I opted to kick ball with a bunch of Indonesian students.

Half drunk with rum and joy (the fellows had just come from a day’s boat ride finding sandbars and chasing dolphins), this stranger dared to play goalkeeper.

I’m not fond of regrets, but if there’s one thing I should bemoan, that decision should be it, hands down. Big, silly mistake.

Just minutes into the pickup match, I, to my horror, learned that the Indons played at a different level, and wave after wave of lightning-fast attacks from the opposing team left me flatfooted, the ball repeatedly skirting past my legs and through the orange cones that served as goal markers.

I could hear hisses of disgust from my teammates, whose names I haven’t bothered to ask, for good reason. The defense was leaking goals, all because of that lout of a goalie whose reflexes are a split minute too slow.

To keep up, I went into overdrive, jumping, dropping, diving quicker beyond my limits, with little success, until one bad fall dislodged the humerus of my right arm from the scapula.

The pain was terrible, but the humiliation was worse.

Saying “I’m okay, I’m okay,” I dragged my arm back to the dormitory a spitting distance from the empty grass lot where the game continued and the ball whispered, “Good riddance, klutz.”

All I can remember from that episode was that the fellows had forced me into a tricycle and brought me to the infirmary, where I had a shot of Valium, which I suspect had left me with memory lapses.

But it wasn’t all bad after that fateful day in May 2000.

As soon as my bones were slotted back in, things also fell into place. Fresh out of a lengthy stay in college, I found my first job in this paper, and weeks later, tied the knot with a beautiful woman. After a few more months, I became a father.

In short, I had settled down, perhaps ready to shun football for good, having learned my lesson.

The ball, however, never loses its power over men. And in many occasions, I would find myself sneaking out of the office for a quick game of kick-about, or making up errands so I can head to the field to chase my goalkeeper’s dream.

Well, the foolish get punished, and in no time, I was back in the operating room for another arm twisting (the doctors call it a closed reduction operation). And then another, and yet another. Was it four or five times I’ve dislocated my shoulder over the last 10 years? Honestly, I have lost count.

(Actually, the last time was most odd, as it happened inside a Thai massage spa: the masseuse pushed her thumbs a wee bit too hard and my shoulder joint dislodged. In the silence of the spa, I could hear the tearing of the rotator cuff tendons, like a sheet of canvas ripped apart.)

Each time I would grin and bear it, but what really made all this bearable was that my wife would rush to whichever field her half-immobile husband sat crouched, rescue him, and take him to the emergency room. How she would scold me like a child, but, I tell

you, there is nothing more reassuring than when the wife’s maternal instincts kick in.

Nothing makes one feel more loved.

On this day 10 years ago, the same woman told me: In sickness and in health. How she made true her word. In return, I only have brittle bones and these words: Happy 10th anniversary, my dear Bretha—light of my life, balm for my aching joints. See you later (wink, wink).

(nsvillaflor@gmail.com)