To this day you can still feel it. The cold, damp grass between your fingertips. The individual blades resisting your touch and then succumbing to your weight. Your fingertips digging into the dirt, driven by anger, charged with pain.
Occasionally you talk about it, but it seems silly now, almost trivial. Like it shouldn’t have happened so therefore it never did. You shouldn’t have been in that situation, but how could you have known? It was only soccer. You were just a kid.
You had played with these girls for 12 years. You had won games, tournaments, State Championships, Regional Championships, and even a National Championship. You had lost games, boyfriends, even parents. You had cried together, laughed together, learned together and grown up together. You knew them. They knew you.
The cheers that had begun when you went down abruptly stopped when you got up. Your head throbbed from the hit, but you weren’t bleeding. Thank god you weren’t bleeding.
There were clues. The angry emails you received when you said you weren’t going to play with them anymore. You felt bad, even guilty at the time. Naïvely, you thought they would top out at disappointed. But how could you have predicted the anger?
You braced yourself for another hit. She had been going after you all day. They all had. Each time fueled by the bitter screams of resentful parents.
“Take her out!”
You recognized the voices. Some of them you knew had this kind of rancor inside them, but the rest belonged to parents that had once driven carpools, provided sympathetic hugs and post-game high-fives. You knew them. They knew you.
The whistle blew again as you went down. Again you dug your fingers into the grass to prop yourself up, this time with more strength, more anger. You took a deep breath and closed your eyes, pushing back the urge to scream.
Back on your feet, you methodically pulled up each sock to cover the scars on your knees. The right one still pink and fresh from surgery. You hadn’t planned on playing yet, and resented your college coach for insisting that you did, no matter the team.
You missed the free-kick. It wasn’t even close. The fans loved watching you miss. They erupted in high-fives and joyous mockery as you ran back. On your way, your eyes met your mom’s, and for a brief moment, you exchanged sorrowful glances and half smiles for a renewed sense of strength. The battlefield had clearly extended to the sidelines.
Time seemed to slow. Each minute an hour, the game an eternity.
When you could, you tried to talk to them. Reason with the ones you called friends. Tell them what really happened so maybe they wouldn’t be so mad. Your years of perceived friendship meant nothing to them. Your reasons didn’t matter. Nothing you did mattered.
The rest of the game was the same. One hit after the next. A goal. Another goal. Old coaches and new ones watching from a distance. Saying nothing. Doing nothing. A barrage of hatred pouring over the field. They all wanted to break you.
Your new teammates were stunned, scared, and confused. You had warned them, but even you couldn’t have known. It was only soccer. You were just kids.
The game ended like any game ends, with a whistle. So short. So finite. So simple. You walked through the line, your hand met each and every one of theirs. This time there were no “good games” or “great to see yous.” Just the empty silence of a trivial postgame routine.
Your new teammates flock to you, and for the rest of the tournament, they encircle you every time you see your old one. They want to hear more, to understand how this happened. “What did you do?”
You have no answer. You had helped them win games, championships, and college scholarships. You had stood next to them at their parents’ funerals. Stood up for them through pregnancies, and welcomed them onto the team when no one else would.
Your only crime was being too loyal. For not expecting more for yourself. For not seeing them for who they were. For not quitting sooner.