Sunday, May 18, 2008

Blue's Clues

Before I say anything else, let me just point out that these two pictures are of me and my coworker / friend Carrie playing hockey at the Staples Center after a Kings game. Pretty cool, huh?

Carrie and I are now playing for the Lady Kings- Team Blue. (I know, I know, shouldn't the Lady Kings be Queens? I guess they are trying to make it seem as if we have some connection to the Kings, although I've seen no evidence of any actual link, besides that we have their logo on our jerseys and we play at the rink that they practice at.) There are 6 teams, Silver, Gold, Black, Red, Purple, and Blue, and we play each other for sixteen weeks, every Friday. There are playoff games after that, and a few months later there's a winter season, so if I keep with it I can be playing at least eight months out of the year. We are also taking lessons from Maria Dennis, ice hockey and super clean goddess. She is a fantastic teacher; I've only had two lessons from her and my skating has vastly improved.

I have to say, though, that I think I am a little insane for doing this. As you may recall, I ice skated for the first time last January, took a women's workshop in March (6 sessions), and now I'm playing hockey with and against women who have been playing since they were kids and in college. My lack of skating skills is a struggle (although not as bad as you might think), and then there's the positioning, stick handling, the puck, oh god, the puck... The difference between men's and women's hockey is that there's no checking against the boards in women's, but that's not to say women's is not physical. As a forward, I experience that reality every time I get close to the other team's goal, and they are pushing and shoving me out of position and lifting my stick so I can't take a pass. It's pretty satisfying, actually, because I know I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing when I have two defense women all over me. The bad thing, though, is that I haven't yet figured out how to get a shot on goal under those circumstances. I have gotten shots on goal, though, which let me tell you, is REALLY exciting.

So that's why I'm doing this, even though I feel like a tool a lot of the time, and it's kind of embarrassing to be playing with women who are so, so much better than me. Whenever I do something right I feel so good about myself, even if it’s something little or just some sign of progress. I know that if the defense is tied up with me that they are distracted from our better players. When I shoot the puck towards the net, it may not go in (and hasn't so far) but it’s close to the net and someone else may be able to get it in, or it may go in by accident because the goalie screws up. I can still contribute even though I'm not experienced, and I get better every game I play.

I'm not the only newbie on our team, either. There are about 8 of us from the women's workshop on our team, something that drives our team rep crazy because there are more new players than experienced players on our team, while some other teams have hardly any newbies. She, and our other experienced ladies, are trying to be magnanimous about the situation but it clearly irks them. We also didn't have a coach in the beginning. Our team rep (who is a player on our team and is kind of like our team captain) kept saying that the league was "sandbagging" us. (It makes me smile every time she says that word because I love how it evokes a physical reference, i.e. someone getting hit in the back of the head with a sandbag swinging from a rope. I think the hockey equivalent would be to be checked from behind. My other favorite word right now is "tangentially", another word with a physical reference. I use it all the time, i.e. "No, I haven't written this week because I've been too busy crying about my brother, which is tangentially related to my book since I am writing about his suicide so yes, I am working on my book even though I haven't been writing.")

Our first game, sans coach, would have been a blow out except for a forward on our team who can singlehandedly take the puck, beat everyone on the way to the goal and make a perfect shot into the corner of the net. Still, we lost 4-7 to the Gold team (that name seems inherently unfair), and they were literally skating circles around us. I don't think I even got close to the net that game. Our second game was against the Purple team who has about the same number of newbies as we do, and one of the coaches from another team agreed to coach us because his team had already played. He is a very mellow, encouraging guy, and he helped out immensely. It really makes a difference to have someone helping with line changes, for one. You're only supposed to be on the ice for 45 seconds to a minute at a time, but of course you can't just go off the ice whenever, so it takes some coordination to rotate the players on and off the ice. This is pretty difficult to accomplish without a coach. He is also really into positional hockey, so he helped in telling us where to be. This is a big part of hockey- being at the right place at the right time. We won the game, 2-1! In that game, our teams were more evenly matched, we had a coach, and we were deeply motivated by the humiliation of the first game. On the other hand, we were without our super-good forward, who had finals that week.

Let me tell you, I was ecstatic. Winning that game was one of the happiest moments of my life, no kidding. That may be a sad commentary on the rest of my life, but here's the deal- I get really wrapped up in the emotions of other people, and I was really bummed out by how depressed my teammates were by our loss the week before. No one likes to be humiliated, even us newbies. Most of us have played/are playing other sports, and we are all competitive people. I was afraid our experienced players would rather quit than to be on the loser team. For me, this brought back memories of my soccer team in high school. There was no girls’ soccer teams before my sophomore year of high school in the town I grew up in (back in the days before Mia Hamm). We had one player whose dad was a coach and had grown up playing with boys, otherwise we were all new to the sport and playing teams from other town that had girls who had played since they were young and had played together for many years. We were so outmatched that it was a major victory for us to even score a goal, and we never won a game the whole time I played. So when my hockey team won that game, it was the first time I had EVER been on the winning team! It felt great. It felt amazing.

Our next game was the first with our own coach. She normally coaches the little kids, and she is normally a player with the Lady Kings, but she is pregnant (with a boy, we found out last Friday). Her husband is a coach too, and a goalie. She is already friends with all the experienced women on our team, and immediately got to work trying to recruit other players to our team and figure out where our experienced super-good forward was, who didn't show up to that game either. Unfortunately, we got creamed that game by the Red team, 0-6. Our coach was undaunted, though. She kept telling us not to worry about the score, and kept encouraging us to skate hard and keep trying. Personally, I had a major victory in that game- I had three shots on goal. They were all at the same time- the puck came to me when I was about four feet from the goal. I was trying, as quickly as possible, to move into position with the puck and I could hear the coach yelling, "Shoot it! Shoot it!" A voice in my head was also yelling, "Shoot it! Shoot it!" My knees were knocking together as I hit the puck as hard as I could. The rebound came back to me, so without thinking this time I shoot it again. It came back again, so I shoot it again. Obviously, it didn't go in (since we didn't score that game) but I keep thinking about that experience and thinking, "Someday, hopefully soon, I will score a goal."

Driving back home, I had one of those perfect moments. Our games are late; most of them start at 11 pm, so by the time I leave it is 1-2 am. (It is another way we are being sandbagged, only in relation to the men's teams. They get to play earlier than we do. Another is that they gave us XL men's jerseys, which they are obviously trying to get rid of. My jersey comes down to my knees. We look like smurfs, not very intimidating.) Even in L.A., the roads are fairly empty at that hour. I still get a thrill driving on the freeway here, and being able to drive fast on the 405 (usually there's too much traffic) in the dark is fun. I like to listen to music after the games instead of my usual, NPR, so I listen to a station that plays a lot of eighties music. Journey's Don't Stop Believin' came on the radio (I know, cheesy cheesy cheesy) and it made me think of hanging out in bars in Seattle, and how, since moving to L.A. and leaving that crappy boyfriend I had, everything seems to be falling into place for me. I'm finally writing the book I've always dreamed of writing, all my hard work has paid off in my career, and I've rediscovered who I was in high school- strong, quirky, and didn't care what anyone thought of me. I was unapologetically myself. (Also, this was after I had started running away to avoid the sexual abuse and before losing my virginity and being raped, so my body was mine.) Then I got home, looked at a picture of my brother, and cried for an hour.

Last Friday, we had our super-good forward back, plus the player our coach was trying to recruit the week before. It's starting to feel like we have a real team going. We were playing the Silver team, who are, according to our team rep, one of the best teams in the league. We scored first, then they scored twice, we tied it, and we went into overtime and they scored. We stayed after to talk about positioning and face-offs, and scrimmaged for a while. I didn't get to sleep until 3:30. We get better every game, and I love our coach. I'm actually in (platonic) love with our whole team. (My life would probably be a lot easier in some ways if I was gay, but unfortunately switching teams doesn't seem to be an option for me. I've never even managed to be bisexual, and believe me, I would if I could. Women feel more non-threatening to me, but if I was gay that might change anyway.) Two of our newbies are sisters who play soccer. They are under 21 and remind me of my soccer teammates from high school, so I have a lot of fondness for them. We have another soccer player who also works for the Kings. All our soccer players seem to get really competitive, which is a good thing. Our goalie is originally from Minnesota (hooray!), plays on 3 or 4 teams besides ours, and works for the Colorado Avalanche. (She is living in L.A. for the summer.) She is pretty quiet, but last Friday she talked to me for a while. We have a lot of "hockey moms" on our team- their kids and husbands play hockey too. About a third of our team is women in their early twenties, and the rest are around my age- mid-thirties to forties. The married women inspire me because they are strong, opinionated, vivacious women and I'm sure their husbands aren't beating them down (either physically or verbally) or trying to break their spirit. They seem really happy, and they love talking about their families. They seem so normal, which for me seems kind of idealized. I got such negative messages about women and marriage from my parents (my mom as well as my dad) that it heals my soul to be around women who are full of life and don't see themselves as inferior (as I was raised to be). This includes my co-worker / friend. Just being around her, I feel hopeful that I could be like her and stop seeing myself as damaged and less than other people. I'm not treated as inferior in my job, and even though I'm a newbie, none of my teammates treat me as inferior either. As time goes on, I get better at hockey, more secure in my job, and more comfortable with myself.

Sports do wonders for my body image. Instead of thinking of myself as someone's sexual plaything, I think of myself as an athlete. When I look at my body, I see the muscle tone developing and think of what I've done- sprinting for the puck, crashing into someone and not falling down, standing my ground in front of the net, instead of having flashbacks of what was done to me. My body is my own and my life is my own. The feeling of being fragmented has lessened considerably; I don't feel like so much of me is frozen anymore, or drowning. I’m active and I’m not afraid. I feel like I can start over from that point in high school when I was my own person and no one was going to tell me how I should act or what I should do with myself, especially when it came to my body.

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