While moving out of my house this summer, I excavated two sports-related objects from the sediment of my childhood. The first was my tennis racket. The second was a photo of me as a Blizzard Zombie, “Blizzard Zombie” being the name of my U12 Youth Soccer team. In the photo I appear as a grinning, snaggle-toothed preteen with tousled hair and eyes undimmed by doubt or care. When my mother saw this picture, she clutched it to her chest and told me that it made her want to cry.
I thought that was funny because it made me want to cry, too. I feel that my utter lack of athletic aptitude has been a salutary but distressing aspect of my development. I remember hating almost every moment of Youth Soccer, a notable exception being when I convinced my coach that we should be called the Blizzard Zombies instead of the team name everyone else wanted — “The Splat.”
At games, my father would stalk up and down the sidelines screaming “Get the ball! You! Get the ball!”
“Don’t talk to me like I’m a dog!” I would scream back.
“Get the ball!”
“Father, my title is Fullback, which means I am sworn to protect and defend my team’s goal. Would you have me race up the field, all foolhardy and rash, and expose the right flank of our most precious—”
“Get the ball!”
“I hate you!”
He had made my brother play in prescription athletic sportsglasses that wrapped all the way around his head and dug into the sides of his nasal cavity, making him both look and sound like Butthead.
I scored once during my tenure with the Blizzard Zombies. By mistake I ended up on the wrong side of the field, bizarrely close to the other team’s goal, when an enormous enemy child resembling Pugsly Adams punched the Captain Blizzard Zombie in the face. I thought the Captain Blizzard Zombie’s face was quite cute and so was upset by this, but I never would have done what my teammates did — fling themselves into Pugsly’s gut or, if they were too distant from the dazed giant, punch whoever was nearby in the face. Soon everyone was punching or bleeding or swatting at the smaller players as if they were gnats. I found Captain Blizzard Zombie on the ground.
“Are you alright?”
“Get the ball,” he whispered.
“Hush now, save your strength.”
“No, go get it. Get the ball.”
“What would I do with something like that?”
“Into the goal. Kick it.”
I looked around. The parents were either horrified or laughing; the referees were realizing for the umpteenth time how awful their lives were. I toed the ball gently forward. I glanced back to Captain Blizzard Zombie, his face cold and handsome in death. In memoriam, I kicked the ball as hard I could, dinging it off a sidebar into the goal.
Alas, the sweetness of that morning’s orange wedges (presented to me by none other than Captain Blizzard Zombie himself) could not last forever. I played tennis in middle school and, because my coach was always talking about the importance of footwork, thought it was a compliment that I was referred to on-court as Twinkletoes. My mother suggested I take up basketball, but could herself beat me in PIG so quickly that we started playing to PIGGY, then to PIGGYMALION and finally one fateful evening to PIGDAMNITSTEVENYOUSUCKATTHISGAME.
In high school, I fulfilled my physical health awareness requirement with a correspondence course in bowling. Did you know that three strikes in a row is called a turkey? It was on the final. I was an avid, if unwholesome, fan of the men’s water polo team and once considered racewalking before I realized it was not a progressive continuation of the civil rights movement.
Given my long and troubled history with sports, I surprised myself by agreeing to play tennis last week with my friend Beth. My old racket, newly unearthed, had been just sitting there, and I thought it would be a waste not to let Twinkletoes dance one last time. I surprised myself even more when I started having fun and actually winning a few points. The crisp New Haven air got into my blood, and I felt my heart racing with the thrill of the game. I realized it didn’t matter that Beth won in the end, what mattered was that we had both played our best and been able spend time together.
I felt good about myself too because the doctors say that with regular, non-impact exercise, Beth’s femurs will heal more quickly. If you’d like to send cash or condolences supporting Beth’s healing process, please just give it to me and I will forward it to her fund. God Bless!
Steven Kochevar is a senior in Pierson College. Contact him at