na foine ting

Monday, May 17, 2004
I could see it happening.

I could see getting to a place in this game where your whole experience of it revolves not around the ice, the play, the puck, but around pain. What you feel. Getting past it.

And worst of all, trying to avoid it.

I can't imagine playing at the pro level, where I could take this hurt and mutiply it by a hundred times and still not approach what these guys feel at the end of a day.

I'm wrecked. Bec suggests that maybe somehow recently I opened up in a way I didn't mean to, allowed myself a vulnerability I haven't had before, and am suddenly more fragile.

After two games yesterday--no more rough or intense than any other--I'm covered in bruises. Even on my tan, freckled skin, they're coming up now. Forearms, between my glove and elbow pad. The back of my triceps, where my shoulderpads and elbowpads don't quite connect.

The huge livid circle where I caught R's wrister almost point blank on the inside of my thigh.

He skated by. Wicked grin. "Did I fuck you up, K?" he murmured, unrepentant.

Until now, these bruises and marks have faded quickly. Injuries have come and gone before that week's practice, or the next game. As though even the spill of blood into tissue, even the impact of bone and skin on ice could be easily shaken off, registered and then discarded as unwanted and unnecessary.

This week, my resilence has diminished somehow. I rest and am still tired, and welts and marks hit, deepen, linger. I am slow to get to my feet, and after two games yesterday, find I'm walking with a new, unexpected limp.

I take painkillers. Fight an unreasonable superstitious panic that maybe I have lost some invisible magic charm I had, failed to say some particular unknown but essential phrase.

I played through hurt last night for the first time. Usually even the worst usually disappears on the ice, where I am immortal and invincible and fearless of everything except my own fuckups.

To my horror, I felt myself register it while in motion, in fighting. I felt myself wince, guard, recoil.


I didn't see the hit N took, didn't see the stick come down on his wrist, but I didn't need to to know it was broken.

I skated off with him, got him to elevate and immobilize and ice it, told friends to have someone drive him to the doctor.

N is normally sunny to the point of obnoxious. Small but fierce and lightning on the ice, where a singleminded rush on the net leaves defenders literally spinning behind him, trying to figure out which way is up and what the hell just happened.

He's foulmouthed and contentious. In our earlier game that day, he'd pinned two guys twice his size against the boards, and when the whistle went, elbowed them both for good measure. "Well, you're a little bitch," one of them sneered as they all got escorted off the ice.

"Yeah, and you're a big bitch," N said.

Later, he held his arm to himself and I said it wasn't a diagnosis but I was pretty sure he'd broken it. He surfaced to look at me blearily and nodded. "I've done it enough times to know," he said.

Then he went back into himself, a coiled place of deep retreat I could never imagine N finding. Silent, withdrawn, diminished. Other than that, for all his youth and general big emotion, no other sign of how much pain he was in.


C knelt on all fours at the red line, helmet blown off and tears lingering on the black grill of her face mask before dropping to freeze on the surface of the ice. She's one of these women who is just as beautiful when she's crying, even with reddened eyes and hair a shambles and a huge lump rising on the back of her head, hunched in all that sour smelling hockey gear.

Later she'd be diagnosed with whiplash and a concussion. She sat on the bench with ice held to her head and neck, refusing to leave until the game was over.

E and N and I would come back after each shift, make sure she was still alert and oriented. "This is stupid," E said, shaking his head. "We probably should have got a C collar on her and stopped the fucking game."

He called us later from the hospital to give us an update. "And the only thing she can do is complain about having to stop playing hockey," he laughed.

Sounding tired, but also relieved.


I took the hardest hit I have to date last week. A stunning full on blow which could have been even worse if R had really thrown his weight into it.

I'd knocked the puck away from him on three perfectly good rushes, and the fourth time he came in hard and fast, pissed off and determined not to give it away.

Somehow I didn't read him right. Somehow he was focused ahead of himself, and didn't avoid me.

At the very last moment I felt him flinch away, curse, knowing what was about to happen.

You don't hit the ice just once, you hit it a few times. First your whole body. Then your head. Once. Twice, rebounding. Then you lie there and sort out what just happened. Eventually everyone comes into focus, and you struggle to get control of your limbs and shake it off.

I would have shaken it off. Hurt and fear that could make me cry hard, in another world and life, just swallowed. A wet-dog-shiver, grit of teeth, the "fine, just got my bells rung," smile, skate away.

Stay on the ice for the rest of the shift, to prove I'm not a pussy. Skate hard, to prove it didn't rattle me. That I can take all that and more.

Except R stopped me on the way up. Helped me to my feet and before I could say anything wrapped long arms around me. Laughing.

"Fuuuuuuck," he said.

Acknowledgement of many things I had been about to push past. That it was huge, and scary and painful, that my smaller mass had taken most of the force, and that it had fucking hurt, hurt a lot.

I let him be there. Let myself acknowledge it, and the unexpected safety and comfort, for a few brief seconds. Then grinned at him as we both pushed back and glided away.

Maybe it's a willigness to go there, now, that's brought this to me.

A willingness to actually look at the size and shape of my endurance, rather than act like it's limitless while I know better.

Maybe there's a place of reckoning here, of being willing to actually look at the size of the risk and really measure the consequences.

It doesn't matter, in the end.

As long as we still go out there.

As long as we step back out, and play the game.


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