na foine ting
Thursday, April 08, 2004
Ice is the warmest element.
Sunday, Logitech: Bec and I showed up for pickup and half our EEE team was there. More or less spontaneously, and then Brian from OHC pickup showed up, and then Eric from Vallco and then finally Buzz and Reed from San Mateo strolled in like their presence there was nothing unusual.
Brian told me about his girlfriend woes. Eric listened with astonishment while I recounted to my teammates about the first time I'd sat on a bench with him.
"I was terrified," I told them. "Babbling. I mean, just sitting there talking and talking, because it was my first pickup game ever and I was scared out of my fucking mind, and finally Eric turned on me and snapped 'Shut up. Play.'" I affected his heavy Russian accent, and even Eric laughed.
"Hell," he said, "I said that?"
"Yep," I said. "You did."
On the ice, my crappy week ceased to matter. The better players worked around us or through us, the bored goalie left his net for an unexpected breakaway.
I laughed, and yelled, thumped the wall when Bec made good saves and hollered encouragement to everyone, including guys I didn't know.
Part of me loosens, on the bench. Severino calls me "Babycakes" again and grins when it still fails to get a rise out of me, and Erik gives me crap about coughing it up in the neutral zone and how I made a stink to everyone on the team who'd listen about having to play D.
I spent four years in firefighting, trying to fit my personality into what I thought was the shape of a hero.
On the ice it doesn't matter. I bring what I have, I simply give the best of whatever it is I am.
Primeau scores the game winning goal. Stuart scores two in twenty, and Vinnie ends the season with a bang.
I watch, and cry and laugh and scream and scan the bench for faces I know won't be there.
Like suddenly Wilson will pull Marco and Parker out from some secret panel behind the bench, saying "just kidding, seriously, here they are."
When I quit fire I worried that I'd never see an engine or a truck again without regret. So many stubborn years, clinging to something that now only resembles pride.
My truck is full of gear, now. Bec's goalie sticks and my sticks and even my son's half-sized stick rattling around in the back. The bag of turnouts is gone, and I keep my EMT kit mostly for stopping for accidents, on the rare occasions when those old skills might actually be needed.
I miss it less than I thought I would. I've threaded into ice, sometimes lighthearted and talking too much for all the guys, sometimes deadly serious, sometimes leader sometimes follower. I have my off nights, my on nights. Regardless, I'm always happy to be there.
I've watched most of a season of Sharks practices. I started after Hockey Workout closed, and kept it up because it made me happy, and had become habit.
I learned a lot about hockey from those guys, over the season.
And a lot about the variety of ways a person can relate to the game.
I wonder if they know that for not being there, their presence is indelible. That Marco's grit and heart and selflessness is retained like a thumbprint on every play in a Sharks game.
That what Parker brought of blinding courage and toughness cannot help but linger, even when he's gone.
I'm not sure why L's dad got cozy with me, but people sometimes do. I register as agreeable, I suppose. Mostly harmless, easy to talk to. Interested, because I am.
He talked to me not about his son but Parker, in the kind of tones that sounded uncomfortably wishful.
"Huge," he said, and then considered the ice and the players and his kid, called up and paying his heart out. "Parker toughened them up during training camp. Some of those guys were soft," he said.
The admiration in his voice was clear. I followed his gaze to Parker, nodded, smiled, didn't have much to say.
I think about that now, watching. I think about the teams they'll come up against and how they'll carry that with them, all the way.
A few weeks ago the ice was reserved for someone else who wound up elsewhere, maybe over at the arena. A gal at the front desk who shouldn't have, but favors me turned a blind eye, and I took their ice for the hour or so instead.
Practicing, circles, shooting, quick starts, turns, edges. Flying down to the other end of the ice, turning too sharp, bailing with a godawful slam into the boards, the resounding crash echoing along with my embarrassed laughter.
I love this game.
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