I have never been particularly athletic.
I tell people it’s because I’m short and skinny and therefore never had a chance to break out and shine on a playing field. I can then infer I WANT to play sports, but sadly cannot. “If only I hadn’t inherited such poor genes,” I wistfully sigh, a tear running down my cheek. “But alas, it isn’t to be.” This helps me keep a shadow of masculinity, though it tends to engender unwanted pity.
I am of course lying. I despise sports. I would prefer books and epic fantasy genres any day of the week.
As with any deep and abiding abhorrence, there are many reasons why I do not like sports. But what follows-from when I was seven years old- is a big one.
My parents decided in a fit of madness and dementia to pry me away from the newspaper and Star Trek books and sign me up for youth soccer. They reasoned that they might get lucky and I would turn out to be good, nay, incredible! Maybe I could even wind up with a successful career! Hordes of women would flock to me, ensuring my parents would be looked after in their old age whilst surrounded by (rich) grandchildren.
You can probably imagine the results.
Normal parents would have given up at this point. But my parents are more driven (or desperate) than many, and they came up with a plan for next year.
This way, my parents enthusiastically schemed, my dad could keep an eye on me more directly and ensure that I was giving my “all” to the game. No more would I be able to stand in the field picking dandelions! No more would I be a scrawny weakling! Under my father’s expert tutelage I would become a soccer star, nay, a soccer GOD.
I will pause the story so that those who know me can stop laughing and recover their wits.
Finished laughing? Good. Jerks.
It turns out that there was a teensy flaw in the plan: my dad didn’t know a thing about soccer.
Another teensy flaw included the fact that we were terrible. Our team consisted of a group of wandering, easily-distracted children staring at butterflies while parents shouted on the sides of the fields.
The sad thing is we wanted to win. We understood that winning was a good idea. We were just magnificently untalented. No matter what we did we simply couldn’t get ahead. I’m not even sure we scored a goal. The season wore on and we hadn’t won a single game. To make matters worse we had to go up against the other team from our town, a team that consisted of the biggest, baddest and most athletically gifted children on the planet; seven year old behemoths whose parents had been spiking their cereal with human growth hormones.
One of these children, a future star on the high school football team, was already shaving.
It was a rout. The retreat from Bull Run was handled with better grace and honor. Dad’s coaching abilities began to be called into question by the other parents as his dreams of retirement went up in a blaze.
We had one game left after that; one last chance to salvage my parents’ dream and my team’s reputation. Our desire to win was bordering on manic. In the pre-game pep talk I was asked to help inspire the team. I think my dad was thinking of saying a prayer, but I took a different approach.
Here’s the rub, though: the other team hadn’t won a game either. This was a last ditch chance for both of us. I was aware of this fact, though I hadn’t really processed it as we came roaring onto the field with shouts of bloodlust.
We had never performed such a game in all of our lives. We were on fleek (to quote today’s cool kids) and we assaulted them with a ferocity rarely seen outside of a Jurassic Park movie.
And we destroyed them. In the end it wasn’t even close. Our determination, our tenacity, our sheer thirst for victory had finally paid off! We were not complete losers after all! It was a glorious march from the field hoisting Dad upon our shoulders in riotous celebration.
Then I glanced over to the other end of the field.
As long as I live, I shall never forget the looks of haunted despair that emanated from the losing team. Up until ten minutes ago we had been in the same boat, both desperate not to come in last, both trying to salvage something from a terrible season. But I had taken that from them. I could console myself with the fact that I hadn’t come in dead last, but I had in my victory denied the other team even that.
At that point what little desire I had to play sports faded like the dew in the heat of the summer sun. I retreated back to my seclusionary life of books and the newspaper. My parents were forced to come up with a backup plan for their retirement.