Friday, May 15, 2009

Dream of the Blue Jersey

It's summer, and I dream of being athletic.

Specifically, I dream of playing hockey.

I dream I'm skating. The other night I dreamed I spoke to a woman who said she played in a league in San Francisco. I was thrilled when she said her league was fun and that it was at Yerba Buena. It all came back to me: where to park, carrying my bag in, the visual of being on the ice. I think maybe I've been back once since I broke my collarbone there.

It's summer, and I can't believe how long it's been since I was athletic. Before I started my current job, I was unemployed, working with a trainer, doing yoga, going to hockey camp. Since then, I keep setting a goal of being active, but it just hasn't happened. I took a break from hockey almost two years ago to recover from an unrelated injury, and I keep telling myself I'm going back. I am going back.

Summer is a great time to return because of the longer days, not having to leave in the dark for a late afternoon game. But I dread the idea of playing in Belmont, the rink where my league has so many games. A rink that is super-small and so poorly insulated that the ice doesn't freeze on warm days. So the puck comes to a dead, stuck stop when it hits a puddle. Where you have to lace your skates loosely because your feet swell as soon as you put them on, where you wish you didn't have to wear shoulder pads or a helmet because it's just too hot.

I miss the smell of the ice. I miss my regular pre- and post-game routines, including hydrating and handwashing before and then afterwards drinking Gatorade, eating a recovery hot dog, and laying out my sweaty gear to dry. I miss carrying my sticks, and I miss the sound and use of hockey tape. (There aren't really a lot of uses for it outside of hockey, unfortunately.) I step over low fences and other objects as often as possible to relive those many exciting times I stepped over the boards to get on the ice. (I do not haul myself over fences and other objects to relive the paralysis of utter exhaustion that accompanies getting off the ice.)

I'm a good hockey player. Not a great player; not even a very good player. Maroon #15 does not have a lot of presence in the record books, or even on the crumpled, damp scoresheets that live in the bottoms of captains' bags. I probably have had one or two penalties, and I can't even remember them. I've had very few goals but a few more assists. I'm most proud of my assists -- I love setting up plays and passing the puck to someone who can do something great with it. I miss freaking out the other team's defense (and surprising myself) with a threading-the-needle pass from behind the net through several players' legs and sticks to the blade of my waiting teammate (who usually has several people hanging off of her and can't get the shot off, but, hey, the pass was pretty). Mostly, I have been a smart teammate who can read a play and know where to be.

If I could, I'd be a full-time coach. People sometimes come up to me and thank me for coaching them, which sends me to the moon, even if I don't remember who they are. I love seeing my former players run a play that I taught them, which more often than not they're doing against my own team (while I'm sitting, helpless, on the bench, knowing they're going to do it).

But I can't just be a coach -- because it's too agonizing. Because no matter how slowly or poorly my body reacts to my brain's quick commands, I need to be physically in the game, not just thinking about it. It's also why I like to play forward positions: playing defense gives me way too much time in my head.

I do love having a two day weekend, not dealing with hydrating and carbo loading and traffic, having Sundays to nap or paint or do whatever else comes up, not being worthless on Monday morning. But I so dream of being on the ice again. I need to find a decent pick-up game. I need to get my skates sharpened. My hockey bag sits in my large powder room near the front door, waiting to be taken out again, falsely announcing to visitors that I am an athlete. I am not ready to retire. I need to be active again.

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