It’s late October, colder and darker than usual. I’m holding my grandmother’s arm as we walk across the bleachers facing Shorewood High School’s soccer field. Also unusual. There was a beautiful sunset a couple hours earlier, and now there’s an ethereal dusk falling over the suburbs of Milwaukee in deep hues of indigo, aquamarine and cobalt. Garish white lights leaning above the field keep darkness at bay and the vicinity — and every one of my pores — crisply illuminated. We are there to watch my cousin, a sophomore in high school, play a game of soccer. I hear it’s important. It’s the playoffs, my grandmother tells me, as I situate her on a metal bleacher in the front row, seat cushion in place. She’s wrapped in a fleece blanket, so when I look over at her throughout the night I feel as though I’m talking to a pink-capped plaid cylinder.
We get there 50 minutes before my cousin’s parents show up. His mom, my grandmother tells me, tends to get very involved in the games. Don’t worry when she yells at Jared — she just gets excited and tries to be supportive. There are speakers at the top of the bleachers spewing “Yeah!” by Usher as my grandmother speaks. When they tell us to “get down low and hit the quan,” she turns to me and says, “Don’t you love this music,” a smile pulling across her pursed lips. High-school kids walk in groups or pairs in front of us, eyes searching through rows above for their pockets of friends. A smooth, low voice runs over the speakers, announcing the names of the teams and the players on each. The voice from the speakers asks us to all rise, and we do, and the national anthem starts playing. For a moment, I forget on which side of my chest the heart is located and I look around to make sure I’m doing everything correctly. My grandmother softly warbles verses off her tongue.
This is all new to me. My high school had no playing fields by our campus; we had brick apartment buildings and privileged neighborhoods nestled in North London. The white lights above the field here remind me of field hockey practices after school in West London, where the air would always smell somewhat wheat-y from the brewery nearby, like Goldfish crackers. Our fields didn’t have any bleachers, and our sidelines were usually empty.
Behind the field tonight, darkness quickly conquers quaint suburban neighborhood. To the left, a yellow Wells Fargo bank sign glows quietly, reflecting light onto the sidewalk and the leaves beginning to form piles on the ground. To the right, grey brick masses make up Shorewood High School. On the exterior walls of the high school, murals that emanate cheerfully academic smiles in the daytime instead send grimaces across the field. Rising above still, dark homes behind the field, cell towers pulse red up into the sky, standing watch like sturdy guardians almost concealed by the night. It feels to me like this patch of field and bleachers is the only populated area in a deserted world, maybe because I’m feeling spooky as one does in late October, or maybe because I’m feeling out of place and I don’t want to be the only island in alien seas.
Jared’s mother is sitting on the bleachers next to me. She’s been pretty vocal throughout the game so far, grunting and calling out, “Jared, look up before you pass” and “Get wide, guys!” Higher up behind me and to my left, the high school students scream like savages. GUYS SOMEONE TAKE A PHOTO OF THIS SO I CAN POST IT ON THE INTERNET. HEY NUMBER SEVEN YOUR LEFT SOCK IS DOWN, HA HA. I hear voices behind me shouting for Paddy! Paddy! with an Irish lilt and finally I think I’ve found a fellow foreigner in this strange gathering. But I’m not really like him. I open my mouth to the same American vowels as every other person around. Still, the Irish man behind me seems to have found a place within this culture, while I’m not sure how to situate myself.
I wrap my legs in a red and grey Shorewood High School Greyhounds (#1 FAN) blanket. The voice over the speakers announces scores and substitutions and sideline balls. I realize his gravelly tone and ill-suited nonchalance would be more at home announcing jazz quartet members over the radio. There it is. There’s my fellow misfit, the radio presenter that got stuck in a booth overlooking a high-school suburban soccer game on a late October night. I settle into the warmth of the blanket and the solace of my kinship with that disembodied voice whispering across the field.