I’ll own that it’s probably me.
A difficult winter, depression, whatever else.
It takes some nerve to get on the ice. It takes more nerve when the ice is distant. More nerve still when one is tired, and it’s late, and when one is the only woman. It takes nerve to show up and play badly. Which I often do.
Sometimes I don’t have the nerve.
Sometimes it’s easier to fail before I try, so far as that goes.
Hockey has the potential to be the most inclusive sport in the world. The people are like none other, in general. The sport is intense in ways that many aren’t.
You have to work together or nothing happens.
I write myself off the ice, sometimes before I’ve even set a blade on it.
Sometimes it isn’t me, though.
I showed up at pickup yesterday, at the rink a handful of minutes from my house. I coached my son there years ago. It’s familiar even though it’s been a while.
My stomach was in knots. Fucking pickup, I’d tell myself. Again. There is no way to make this any easier, any less fraught. It’s supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be fun.
There were three of us. One guy who reassured me a lot after I said I sucked, and it turned out I probably played a bit better than him, in the scheme of things. Though I notice no matter how worse a guy plays, he apologizes less – or never – and is generally more self-assured on the ice. I want that. I want to blame everyone else for not having that but the reality is I get in my own damned way.
Another guy showed up. We all skated around. I found edges – oh, look I have edges, they do things – I did some backwards circles and remembered six years ago when I skated backwards better than I skated forwards.
Made a dozen excuses in my head.
There was a time when hockey was always a relief. When the ice was always mine no matter how outclassed I was. No matter how impatient anyone around me was when I failed to carry the puck to the net.
I want to find that feeling, that time again.
It’s on me.
Third guy said “let’s play some 2 on 1,” second guy was dubious. “Come on,” I said and kind of felt bad because in guy culture it’s unfair to not give someone an out. There was no way for him to gracefully say no once the girl says she’s in.
So we played.
I’m insanely out of shape. No wind, no muscle. Zero stick control. Mostly comical, but old things that have always worked – my sense of space on the ice, position, how plays work, how to follow and work with another forward – are still good.
Mostly when I overthink I get into trouble. Mostly when I start questioning what I’m doing I screw up.
Or I screw up and then give up.
The pace was slow, which was great because I have time to really watch and think about the play while it happens. Not even pickup, more like a 2 on1 drill so I can really mull over what’s going on. Not just freak out and windmill, or the hockey equivalent thereof.
Eventually I said “hey, am I supposed to be scoring off the pipe?” because I hadn’t, and next play we came in and passed back and forth and I took a beautiful pass across the crease, lifted the puck and clanged it off the near post.
I know. Right?
I can play hockey. It’s right there. Right. There.
I let out a victory yell, then immediately followed it with “hah! That was all by accident.”
The fuck do these things come out of my mouth?
“I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth.”
It’s there, somewhere, under my feet.
That’s the thing. I can shut out the voices. The impatient voices, the bigoted voices, the voices telling me I don’t belong there – loudest of all my own.
The ice waits.
The game waits.
Somewhere, under my feet.