I love to chase balls down a greeny field. So many evenings on my walk, I’ve had the bent to burst down the length of the football field, dribbling an imaginary ball. This year, I’ve looked longingly at the MPC catalog and have been tempted to join the women’s soccer team. I don’t love running for running sake, but I find it irresistible to chase a black and white ball, dodging the defense or stealing from the attacker and scurrying in the opposite direction for one thunderous kick. There is nothing more exhilarating than the moment the ball careens into that net.
It’s been some 30 years since I played soccer. In my junior year in high school, there were no girl’s teams, so I joined the boy’s. I lasted a mere two weeks. The fun was gone as the sole girl. The varsity boys were good to me, the junior varsity, ostracizing. The game in Gonzales in the murkiness of dusk with 11 Latino boys hooting and making catcalls, chasing me as I dribbled. My dad begged me to quit on seeing my ankles black from getting cleated and kicked at close range in the face by the ball. I thought my nose would forever be imbedded deep inside my head.
I could out run the boys up until the age when chest and hips began expanding. I’ve always railed at the gods for the changes at thirteen. I would like to have been Atalanta of Greek mythology. She was the fastest woman and her suitor could only outrun her because he strategically dropped golden apples, which she could not resist stooping to pick up. I’ve learned from Atalanta’s mistakes and my own.
Last week, Alan Black’s new book, “Kick the Balls,” arrive in the post, and have been slowly savoring his storytelling, lingering over his childhood memories of playing soccer in the short dark days of hardscrabble Glasgow. (I'd spent a year in nearby Stirling.) I’ve always been envious of boys and men because of society’s allowances for their aggression, so I live vicariously through Black’s tales, his language as well-trained as crisp, swift passes.
In truth, I dislike aggression and competition in life’s pursuits, but on the playing field, it is sheer glory to tear along with adrenaline pumping on the attack. No need for civilities that bind us to our daily social dance. There is truly something elegant and freeing about soccer, the antithesis of American football--ungainly, burdened with hardware, a ball that does not want to roll as a good ball should.
I’m not sure why this year—at 48—I’ve been dreaming of running again, running the way I used to, heart and lungs painful and about to shatter but the legs churning, unwilling to stop, all for the love of kicking that black and white air-filled sac into the net. I would like to come back in my next life as a wing forward—pro. Or if that’s not in the gods’ plan, a Norwich terrier, chasing the ball with other canines on Carmel Beach at sunset. I think that would be almost as fun.
PS--I don't follow professional soccer or any other sport, because I'm so jealous, I can't stand to watch anyone else play.
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