There’s a certain card game that I have difficulty with. It’s not the game itself that bothers me, in fact, I actually enjoy playing it (at least when I remember I don’t actually hate it). The problem stems from only one aspect of the game, and that one percent of the game often ruins the entire experience for me. It’s a word uttered when a player is close to winning and is left holding a single card. The thing is, when that player shouts, “UNO!” I think it’s in reference to me.
Anyone who went to middle or high school (and, sadly, a lot of people who didn’t go to school with me) with me is probably currently snickering because they know why people called me Uno. To end the suspense for anyone who does not, I was (and still am occasionally) called Uno because of the rumor that I have only one lonely testicle. You’ll notice I used the word “rumor” to indicate that this is not true, because it isn’t true. I have a matching set (not that I’m sensitive about it or anything). The rumor started when I was thirteen and, like all rumors, contains a sliver of truth. I may not have actually lost a testicle, but I was injured.
I was sick and home from school and sat on our sectional couch working on the family computer (a “portable” Commodore SX-64). Since it was 1986, no one had a computer desk at home, including us. I solved the lack of desk by setting the 23 pound state of the art system on a hexagonal end table that I placed close to the couch. To be close enough to easily view the 5-inch built-in screen (with color!), I straddled my legs against two edges of the table with a point near my crotch. The mistake I made was that I didn’t turn the table so the handles for the door were on the opposite side. I didn’t pay them enough attention because they were downward pointing, flat with a bunt end, and didn’t protrude much. Unfortunately, I soon learned that they protruded just enough.
I stood up to get something and those handles changed my life forever. I heard the pajama bottoms I was wearing tear. Worse, I felt something tear and immediately fell back down in indescribable pain. You will note that I won’t even attempt to describe it here (Q.E.D.). My hand grabbed my crotch, which felt wrong. I removed my hand, saw it covered in blood, and did the only reasonable thing. I screamed. When my mom came in I convinced her to take me to the Children’s Clinic with as little explanation as possible.
At the clinic, I suffered through the embarrassment as my mom explained the situation until they whisked me to an exam room. I was in enough pain that I cared nothing about being naked in front of the doctor, my mom, and a couple of nurses. The doctor examined me for a few minutes.
“It’s not as bad as it first looked,” he said. “You only tore your scrotum.” Only? Only? I guess he was trying to calm and reassure me. It did not work, probably because by that point he was holding a very long needle.
“What’s that?” I nervously asked.
“It’s to numb you for the stitches.”
“Stitches? I need stitches? There?”
“I have to close the wound, unless you want anything to fall out?” No, I did not.
“Where are you going to put it?”
“Don’t worry, you’ll hardly feel it at all,” he lied.
“I just want to know where it’s going.”
“Right here,” he said as he jabbed the needle exactly where I feared he would. I tried to ignore the uncomfortable tugging sensation as he repaired the damage.
“There you go,” he said as he finished. “Good as new.” I had my doubts.
When I went back to school, I suffered several awkward conversations with teachers. The worst, of course, was P.E.
“Why do you have a doctor’s note getting you our of gym?”
“Because I got stitches and I can’t risk, uh, straining them.”
“You look fine, where are they?”
“Think low. Think personal. Think private.” He looked at me for a moment working through what I said. His eyes widened when he figured it out. He also instinctively hunched over a little and moved his hands subtly in front of his crotch (which is same the reaction every guy has to a story such as this).
“Uh, you’d better sit out then.”
I didn’t tell any of my classmates what happened, mainly because I obviously didn’t want anyone to know. By the end of the day, everyone knew about my stitches. At first, people called me Stitches, which isn’t too terrible as far as nicknames go. It has a bad boy hardcore ring to it, like Scar or Stone. It was a nickname I could live with, even if it came with a bit of derisive laughter. Unfortunately, the rumor that I lost more than some blood and dignity that day started circulating. Even more unfortunately, this rumor was extremely enduring (helped along by the members of S.A.L.) and birthed the nickname Uno.
Several stories exist that explain how I supposedly came to lose my testicle. One is that I was, uh, pleasuring myself with a wine glass (how would that even work?) which broke. Another involves a girl with extremely long and presumably sharp fingernails. There is one about me tripping and falling in the kitchen onto the open dishwasher door and an upturned knife. A slightly more believable story claims I got myself in my zipper and had it surgically removed. That last one is the version my wife heard. She is five years younger than me and went to school on the opposite side of the county. Whatever the cause, they all agreed that it would take at least three more pitches before I could walk to first base. Interestingly, they also agree that it was the left one. I have no idea why.
I fought the name for six years. I lost. I eventually understood that I would never be truly free of it and tried to embrace it a bit toward the end of high school. When I ran for band President, I described myself as a “eunuch in training.” I won that race, but still lost in my attempt to steal some of the power of Uno. That name followed me even into adulthood.
When I came to work for the school system, one of my assigned locations was good old Northeast High School. It was odd to walk the halls again, but I enjoyed the juxtaposition of who I was versus who I had become. My pictures may still be displayed in the band room, but I have grown greatly (no matter what my wife says).
I wish I could say I’ve matured enough that hearing someone say “Uno” doesn’t bother me, but of course, it still does. Maybe it’s because it happened alongside puberty and those formative years. Maybe it’s that I still have reminders, such as the word scrawled onto the tag of the leather jacket I wore, the memory of a scene placed in our senior video, or just that I still meet people who heard about me and know me by that name.
At least I can say that I have matured enough to be genuinely interested when I hear a new story of how I lost a testicle (or at least one unfamiliar to me). I’m also happy that, while the frustration of it may still exist, the anger is gone and that I know I won’t lose my temper and kick a hole in the wall (true story) over it.
There is also enough distance that I am comfortable that this particular story doesn’t really have an ending. It just is, and continues on. I continue as well, but unlike that name or the stories associated with it, I change, grow, and become more than what I was. I’ve decided that the name, and the experience of it over years does not define me, it refines me into something better than I would have been otherwise.