I felt it last night on my walk home from work- that first, crisp chill in the air that marks the inevitable transition from summer to fall.
Maybe it’s the season, or maybe it’s Phillip Roth’s American Pastoral which I’ve been reading lately, but I find myself waxing nostalgic about my days on the high school soccer field, and wishing I could be transported back there- even just for a day.
I never felt as at home, as secure, as I did at our local soccer complex. I loved everything about it-the smell of the freshly cut grass; the crisp fall air; the gentle clouds of smoke that wafted above from neighbors burning leaves in their backyards.
My memories of this place all seem to coagulate around the fall of 2002. I was 16, “going on 25” as my mom would say (a colorful way of describing my “attitude problem”), and a starting midfielder on my high school soccer team , The Warriors. Like most high school athletes, I derived a huge part of my identity from this. Soccer- my team- was everything. I lived, breathed and slept the sport, spending countless hours at the field at games and practices. When I wasn’t playing, I was cheering on the boys’ team, snacking on watery hot chocolate and 50 cent Cheetos from the clubhouse and huddling under blankets with my teammates to stay warm.
The new soccer complex in our town had been completed the previous summer, and I couldn’t wait to get out there and tear up the freshly lain sod. My newly laundered socks were begging to be covered in grass stains, and I craved the telltale “swoosh” of the ball hitting the back of the still-taught net.
Coming into our sophomore year, my teammates and I were hungry. We had narrowly missed a provincial championship the year before (to a team who wore skirts for uniforms, no less) and vowed not to let the title escape our grasp again. On our vibrant purple and gold jerseys, we had pinned badges with the name of a fellow teammate we had lost to cancer the year before. Her name became our pre-game rally cry, and she was forever in the back of our minds- “Forever a Warrior” as our jerseys proclaimed- motivating us even further to win each game.
As if this weren’t inspiration enough, it was also the final year we, or anyone for that matter, would wear those jerseys. The next fall, our school would be merging with two others to form a brand new “super school”. With our futures, both in soccer and friendship, uncertain, we clung to those moments on the field like the clumps of packed mud between the spikes on our cleats.
And so we showed up for practice, every day after school- taking endless penalty shots and running drills against the backdrop of the quickly setting sun. Our coach, notoriously tough but fair, was armed with an intensity rivaling both Harbaugh brothers put together . He worked us to the bone; devoting entire practices to suicide drills, and having us lie on the darkened school library floor the night before important games, where he led us through a series of “visualization exercises”.
All of this hard work paid off though, and after an undefeated regular season, we won the right to host the regional championships at our home field. There was a giant pep rally in our school foyer, and the entire school was let out early to watch our first game. One of the girls on our team had gone to the dollar store and bought purple and gold ribbons, and we took turns braiding them through each other’s hair as we warmed up. It was a freezing October day; and despite the fact that we had sweaters layered under our jerseys, and leggings under our shorts, we couldn’t have felt more like Queens.
We won that game. And every game thereafter that weekend to take home the regional title.
After that, my memory grows a little foggy. I remember making it to provincials, and facing off against the skirt-clad mafia once again, but I can’t, for the life of me, remember how we did. What I do remember are the bus rides spent laughing uncontrollably with my teammates; the hotel hijinks; and the fresh orange slices someone’s mom brought out at half time. More than anything though, I remember our field- the smell, the sound, the camaraderie unlike anything I’ve experienced since- and the way it all made me feel. And that, I think, is enough.
Question of the Day:
(and today’s Writing101 Theme)