Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thank God for Hockey

Here, finally, is another chapter in my love story with Bill....

After the dubious welcome of September 11th, Bill's new life in America got off to a rather rough start. We were thrilled to be together, of course, but that didn't erase his loneliness. He'd left all of his friends, his coworkers, his hockey team, and his close-knit family behind. Here, he had... me.

He lived in a small, dark apartment about 40 miles from my house. This was what we'd planned; we wanted to avoid becoming enmeshed in each others' lives too quickly. It seemed like a good plan, but the reality was that on most days, the TV was his only company. He had a couple of friends at work, but unlike Bill, they had busy lives.

I could tell that he was depressed, though he wouldn't admit it. In Bill's mind, expressing his unhappiness equated to questioning his decision, and he hates second guessing himself. The more I asked how he was feeling, the more withdrawn he became.

I'd like to say I was a comfort to him, but the opposite was true. I was used to being treated like a princess once a month, but now I saw him every day at work, and mostly all he did was mope. My insecurities engulfed me, and we were both miserable. I continually complained about his lack of affection, questioned his love for me, and wondered aloud whether we'd made the wrong decision--which made him angry. I'd dissolve into tears, and then, pushing past his own mood, he'd pat my back helplessly. This went on for a month or so.

A Happy Coincidence?
Just as I was beginning to doubt we would make it, something wonderful happened. Maybe it was a divine appointment. Ethan and I had spent Sunday afternoon with Bill, who seemed exceptionally blue during dinner. It was hard to leave him, but I knew we had to be up early in the morning. I drove home with a heavy heart, scarcely hearing Ethan's happy chatter.

At home, I was surprised to find a message from Bill on my answering machine--it had been less than an hour since I'd talked to him. When I called back, he was positively breathless with excitement.

After I'd left, Bill walked over to the outside roller hockey rink at the recreation center. Planning to skate around a bit, he ended up joining a pick-up game instead. But that was only the good news. The great news was that these guys were forming a roller hockey team, and they wanted him to join! He couldn't believe he'd arrived just in time to catch their practice.

My own smile must have matched his own. Relief washed over me as I listened to the story; this was the old Bill, the one I fell in love with.

In no time, they were practicing a couple times a week and playing games regularly. They played in the old Big Wheel skating rink where I'd spent a few Friday nights in the 80s. Other than the plastic floor tiles that had replaced the gleaming wooden rink, the Plexiglass walls, and the metal risers, the building was just as I remembered it. I might have been caught up in memories of couple skating to Journey--okay, of longing for some boy to ask me to skate--had it not been for the smell. I've encountered that odor in only three places, and all three were roller hockey rinks. It's like... the inside of a sweaty gym sock. No matter how many games I attended, I was shocked at the stench that assaulted my nostrils, yet somehow it always dissipated during the suspense of the game.

Ethan and I attended nearly every game, and I was ALMOST Bill's biggest fan. (Ethan was more interested in running around with the other boys and sometimes throwing bottle caps onto the ice.) I remember sitting on the risers during the first game, bursting with pride when I heard some of the other spectators whispering, "That's Bill. He's from Canada! Isn't he great?"

True to stereotype, Bill really was a star. In truth, he'd only been playing a couple of years, but that was two years longer than the rest of them. Some of them could barely skate, at least at first. The goalie's mom was Bill's biggest fan, mainly because she was better at following the game than I was. She shouted Bill's name almost as often as her son Gentry's. Her favorite phrase was "That's-the-way, Bill! That's-the-way!" On the rare occasions when Bill got a penalty, she echoed my own thoughts: "No, no! Not Bill! No way." She was quite a tiny lady, but you'd never guess it when the Blazers scored a goal.

Like Pearls Before Swine
I was pretty loud myself. I leaned forward in my seat when Bill approached the goal, and when he scored, I leaped to my feet and screamed myself hoarse. I was trying to make up for my egregious lack of attention during the one disastrous game I'd watched him play up in Vancouver in 2000.
Bill At Start of Disastrous Game

On that team, Bill was probably only average, but he definitely had an above-average game that night. Knowing I was up in the stands spurred him on to one goal and a couple of assists. Fortunately, he didn't realize that I had no idea what was going on. I'd never watched hockey before, not even on TV, and I just couldn't follow the constant action; instead, I was deep in conversation with one of his teammates' girlfriends, a very personable girl named Tanya.

In the last minutes of the game, they were winning by several points, but Bill pushed for one more goal in my honor. As he rounded the back of the goal, he caught his skate on the post and wrenched his ankle. A sudden silence caught my attention, and I stopped speaking in mid sentence. "Who's that on the ice?" Tanya asked tensely.

"Someone's hurt?" I asked.

"That's Bill!" another girl said. My heart seemed to stop beating as I strained to see his limp form. I breathed a sigh of relief a moment later when two of his friends helped him up and off the ice. But his face was gray when he emerged from the locker room several minutes later.

As he limped to the car, I had to ask what had happened, and then I had to admit that I hadn't seen any of the goals. He was in too much pain to care. He said it was probably a bad sprain, but he insisted he'd be fine, and he also insisted that he could drive the two hours to the Seattle airport the next morning.

He did manage to make the drive, but I felt so bad for him--especially when we learned that he'd broken his tibia. Man, is he tough!

A Chance to Redeem Myself
Thanks in part to his teammates' slow skating, I did learn to follow hockey fairly well after Bill moved to Texas. I watched the Blazers claw their way to the top, winning the league championship in just their second season. I watched them transition to ice hockey, which was much more difficult, and I watched them move from the top of the I-league to the bottom of the D-league. Over the years, old players left and new ones took their place, and the name changed a couple of times, but Bill was always at the heart of the team.

Bill (Right) With Best Friends Troy and Ben--Circa 2007

Now, unfortunately, I don't get to watch much at all. Most of the games are very late, way too late for Allyson. But every now and then they have an early game, and Allyson gets to cheer for her daddy. SHE'S now his biggest fan. "Go-Daddy-go-Daddy-go!" she hollers. When he scores--and also when he doesn't--she shouts, "That's my daddy! Number 2-2!" Nothing makes her happier than when he skates up to the glass and gives her a wave.

They're already making plans for her future hockey career. She's even picked her jersey number: 8. Somehow we'll have to squeeze in those practices and games with her ballet lessons and recitals, not to mention the soccer. (She desperately wants to do all these things.) I wonder which sport she'll actually choose?

I guess hockey will be part of our life for a long, long time, and that's fine with me. If it weren't for hockey, Bill just might have gone back to Canada. I guess I'll never know, but either way, I love to see his passion for the game. Thank God for hockey!


Jenny from the Block said...

Sweet story. I know nothing about hocky but everybody tells me that is the MOST amazing sport to watch live.

Mindy said...

I LOVE this story! I remember how much I loved going to watch Bill's games when I was younger and then in high school I went to our school games because all of my guy friend's and my then boyfriend were on the team. It really is a great sport to watch live, very exciting.

The sweetest part of that story was the part about Allyson. That must make them both feel so proud when she gets to come to the games and cheer him on :-)


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