Sunday, November 20, 2011

On the Team

After school on the last day of sixth grade, I stood brooding in the lush, fresh spring grass of a youth soccer field. A raw, rugged smell rose up from the newly thawed earth beneath my cleats. Clouds, thin wisps of pure white, stood still in the blue sky. Parents cheered from the sidelines. It was the last game of the season, and the air was alive with the anticipation of another summer.

But I wasn't happy to be there, young and free to run wild with the others on my team. No, if it were left up to me, I'd have spent the afternoon fulfilling my uninformed notions of how adolescent life was supposed to be. I never thought too far into the specifics of what that might actually entail, but I knew it didn't involve soccer. My ideas were mainly influenced by after school TV sitcoms, which always left me with the distinct feeling I was being left out of something important to my development.

Luckily, my dad was the assistant coach of the team, so I had a direct source on whom to take out my frustration. To punish him for making me go to my soccer game instead of say, an end of school pool party, (that's probably what would have happened on Full House), was my only relief from the unjustness of the whole situation. To carry out this punishment was easy enough: I simply wouldn't participate in the game.

Violet can vouch for what follows. She was there that day because her life was equally as lame...maybe more-so (after all, it wasn't even her soccer team).

I'm sure I had been giving my dad hell all day, probably all week, about making me go to that game. In retrospect, I see that I played it all wrong. The best thing to do would have been to act like I really did want to go, up until the very last minute, then feign sickness. However, despite my persistent appeals, my dad had somehow gotten me out the door, into the car, and to the game, probably picking up Violet somewhere along the way. The last hurdle would be getting me onto the actual field, but that wouldn't be a problem; I had a plan. It didn't matter what position they stuck me in. I could be goalie, for all I cared, but I think I played defense. (I always played defense).

For most of the game, as with most games in general, I stood vaguely in the background and successfully avoided any direct interaction with the ball. But that could only last so long. And of course, it's not the standing around waiting part that I remember clearly. Is it ever?

There I was, standing alone somewhere off in no man's land, gazing into the sky or trying to somehow communicate with Violet. Whatever it was I was doing, I definitely wasn't paying attention to what was happening in the game. Suddenly in my abstraction, all the action was rushing right in my direction. I jumped alert, not out of a desire to defend my team but out of sheer panic and fear. A herd of girls quickly barreled directly toward me, the little white ball bouncing wildly from foot to foot, team to team. And then, right to me.

My moment had arrived. It was now or never. I had been on the same soccer team since first grade and our coaches had always been kind and facile. They didn't act like the other dads, stressed out, running back and forth on the sidelines, shouting at us to do better. There was never a pressure to win; we usually didn't, and that was okay. But all of a sudden, it felt different. For maybe the first time ever, I felt the fate of our team rested on me. It was in my power to kick that ball right on back to the other side of the field, maybe even indirectly enabling one of the better players on our team to score a goal.

And I totally could have. But I didn't. I stuck to my guns, however self-involved and uninformed.

The ball came toward me and stopped a couple feet away. My blood went cold. I heard the head coach yelling. “Get it! Get it! It's yours!” It was, and I thought about just kicking it; the opportunity was clearly there for me to do something for the good of the team instead of serving my own selfish purposes. But instead I stood, frozen, angry, and already disappointed in myself. As I deliberated, a player from the other team sprinted up to me and snatched the ball, dribbling it directly toward our goal. “Aww...come on!”I heard my coach say, throwing his hands down in disappointment. “What was that?”

For the rest of the game, I wandered aimlessly around the field, avoiding the ball at all costs. Not one of my team members, nor either coach, addressed me about what I had done, and no one outwardly held me accountable for our loss.

I have no idea what I went home and did that night after the game. If it measured up to whatever standards of a fulfilled adolescence I held at the time, I don't remember now. I spent the rest of the summer at a day camp for theater kids, feeling unsure of myself. In the fall, I was back on the team for a another season.

1 comment:

  1. Paula,

    I, on the other hand, was very happy to be present that day. I think the opportunities ones parents afford him or her while growing up may have an inverse correlation to his or her happiness. In my case, being permitted to attend your soccer game-- or to do anything on the last day of school for that matter-- was a treat.