I can’t feel the toes on my right foot because I’ve tied my cleat too tightly around the bulge of my shin guard, my sporty long sock—oh yeah, and my foot. I don’t have time to loosen the laces or even analyze the numbness for long due to the fact that a globe of ominous octagons is spinning my way in a most distressing manner. It’s possible the soccer ball might be snagged before it reaches my tentative foot, but no. It’s coming. My stomach kicks up before my brain can command my cleat to do the same, and it lurches towards my throat with drunken familiarity in a way that says, “Hey! So how was that burrito you ate for dinner?”
But even the stubbornness of the onions cannot stop the developing play-by-play that I am somehow a part of. The soccer ball thuds gently off my shin and settles. I stare at it. Distant yelling from my new teammates who are all just the types of girls I am terrified of usurps my attention. I can appreciate the way they spank the ball, but their yelling assaults me with visions of that total aggression aimed at me. And I’m totally freaked out.
I don’t have time to think about angle or torque or stance or any of the helpful hints given to me by my husband during yesterday’s preparatory practice. Swinging back, my foot comes sailing forward, my toe hitting the ball squarely, exactly how it’s not supposed to. The flat top of my foot is supposed to kiss the ball just so—this is accomplished by getting my hips over it and letting go. My version isn’t as hot as that. At the moment, I can’t pay attention to where the ball’s gone, there's just too much going on.
And even now, in retrospect, I don’t even know what happened.
The things we do for love.
Soccer is my husband’s sport. He’s the one from Africa, immersed in that futbol mania of international acclaim. Initially I actually pitied this large body of people that somehow didn’t know that football was already a sport—the kind that involved throwing the ball…not with the foot…but anyway. Despite this global oversight, from childhood I was an athletic aficionado and now enjoyed watching my man’s sleek stops, cuts, and loping run that capitalized on speed and surprise. Since Elton moved to Seattle, he'd joined an indoor league and I thrived as the quintessential fan--the clapping, the hollering, the raising of hands in that age-old question, "Ref! What the...?!"
The game was impressive, especially since playing a soccer match on a standard-sized field also results in running about seven miles—which I loved watching! But then, for reasons I am still unable to explain fully, the bright idea to join the excitement possessed me. It just looked like a lot of fun out there, and that's about as far as my reasoning went.
Somehow, and too soon, I found myself magically in the middle of a turf field overrun by Amazons. The perma-grimace I had in the second half of my own first game gave away the fact that this personal stroke with football fate was not as fun as spectating. At all.
In truth, it had started with soccer practices we’d begun having before I joined a team. My incentive was spending some active time with the afforementioned HOT soccer player. I should have taken it as a sign of trials to come when my idea of “kicking the ball around” at the park philosophically collided with Elton’s soccer bootcamp sessions.
I was sprinting, I was cutting, I was awkwardly pulling the ball back and forth until my shins were on fire. And not the trendy kind. Elton’s directive to “Take at least 100 shots!” did me in after a grueling two hours. Thus began a time of arguments in our relationship—all was well between us until we stepped onto the soccer field. I would complain; he would shake his head, his frustration directly proportional to my level of whining. As soon as we left the park, I would regret my stubbornness, apologize, and suggest going again, only to repeat the process over. The feeling of not being able to achieve a desired goal goaded me, as did feeling like an uncoordinated idiot—this was not like American football or basketball, sports I’d grown up playing with my hands, darn it. And so it went.
A few hundred pep-talks-between-practices later, I eventually calmed down (relatively), relaxing once I realized that my then fiancé wasn’t going to leave me because of my slowly evolving skills (“Are you sure you don’t think I’m a loser???” “No, no I really don’t” “…Ok”). Calling my moves “skills” at that time is perhaps being too generous, but it makes me feel better. Turns out, our love was built on greater things—things like our mutual obsession with music, ethnic food, and inappropriate humor. You can’t mess with love like that. Remembering this allowed for happiness again, even when “kicking the ball around” (still bootcamp).
So essentially, I had to question my sanity when I started having visions of myself as a professional soccer player. Somehow over months of watching Elton's games, I forgot the drama that was my experience with soccer thus far. My romanticized version of playing on a women’s team did not yet include shouting, slamming into the indoor field’s walls, flying cleats, and seriously competitive personalities—it would just be entertaining recreation, right? And it would be exercise, which in my progressive march through my 20s was a real incentive; that is to say, this could be useful in my attempted escape from aging. Lastly, perhaps most satisfyingly, Elton would be my fan…
The things we do for love.
Apart from the black and white blur of the ball, the shouts, and my own torrent of consciousness, I have no idea how my first game ended. According to Elton, it was fine. I can do fine. That was what I needed to hear—whether it was true or just the kind of delectable lie I craved at that moment, it worked because I’ve been playing soccer ever since. And here’s the shocker—it’s really fun. Every week, I hear Elton’s tips from the stands:
“Go to it! Trap first, then carry!”
“Watch those cutters!”
“Hey, you can’t let that old lady beat you to the ball like that!”
The tips aren’t always politically correct, but they serve their purpose.
The other week, I distinctly heard his voice above all others when I was completely taken out by a huskier opponent. We both arrived at the ball simultaneously and then came the impact. My own momentum, plus hers, slammed me into the wall with an impressive thud, but I was saved by the bum, specifically my own. As I popped up like a Jack-in-the-Box back into view of the stands, my husband was staring at me with wide eyes and an open mouth. It was a good expression, bespeaking of worry and shock. He shook his head, hands lifted in that age old question, “What the...?!”
Translation: “I love you.”
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