Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Chapter Seventeen

I looked in the mirror 200 times before the regular season opener at CONSOL. By now, everyone knew who I was. Luckily tonight was such a big deal that all eyes would be on Sid and the Pens, hopefully not too many on me. Still I was nervous as shit and fiddling with my hair.

“You realize that I have to listen to every player on every other team talk about how much they want to fuck you?” Sidney said, coming in from the kitchen tossing an apple in one hand. It gave me a mental image of the Garden of Eden and Sid in a fig leaf… train of thought right off track.

“You… what? Shutup.” I gave up on my hair, raked my fingers through it and turned. I wore a Crosby t-shirt over a long sleeve white shirt, jeans and boots. None of the other WAGs really wore their guys’ numbers, but I liked it. I felt like his fan club president.

He took a crunchy bite, tiny spray of juice dripping down from the corner of his lip. “Oh yeah. They’re all hot for you. Got some really creative ideas too, I mean….”

I wiped the juice and pressed that finger over his mouth. “Shhhh. Just write them down and we’ll try them out. Next time you play them, you can report back.”

When he was ready to go, I stood in the doorway and made him kiss me 87 times for good luck. He had endless interviews and photo ops scheduled before the game even started. “Good thing you’re so hot,” I called after him.

At 5:30, Vero picked me up and we went for dinner. She was more nervous than I was, saying Marc always started the season slow. We picked at our food and hurried to the arena to sit in the cavernous, freezing cold space and just wait. It was a tremendous experience, deafening and heart-stopping but in the end, the Penguins lost.

“First loss in the new building, that’s out of the way,” Kris said, coming into the lounge afterward. We talked quietly until Sidney arrived. Surprisingly, he was in better spirits than I expected.

“Let’s go see how you looked on Sportscenter,” he told me.
____

In truth Grace looked great on TV. The anchors mentioned her briefly and showed her and Vero cheering after our first goal. In passing they made a comment that Prince William was sure to marry soon and then people could finally get back to caring about my love life.

The humor lasted about a week. We were playing .500 hockey, unable to ignite the magic we’d had right up until facing Montreal last year. Passes weren’t connecting, shots weren’t dropping. Some of the guys were off pace, like Geno, and Jordan would be out weeks with his foot injury. But mostly everyone blamed me, including myself.

I didn’t know how to handle it. When we traveled I missed Grace like crazy. When we were home, I resented living with her and the way she was always around, as if she was trespassing in her own house. I tried to get past it by spending time alone, working out more, practicing more.

“You’re working hard,” she said one day when I finally came home after 7 PM. She’d eaten, empty dishes in the sink, and not made anything for me. We watched TV, touching but not talking.

In the middle of the month, we won four in a row. Finally, things were clicking. I felt a hundred pounds lighter. I started sleeping in just to be next to her, bringing her lunch at work and flowers at home. This is the way it will be, I said. Everything will go right.

Then we lost four in a row. The last one was to Philadelphia, almost an exact replica of the season opener and all that momentum, all that progress spun circles as it flushed down the toilet. We had gotten nowhere. It seemed the media volume was set to stun as it bombarded us with disappointment and frustration like a torture device in a spy movie. As if we weren’t disappointing ourselves. It was a month into the season and people were really starting to call me out for failing to lead this team to the record we should obviously have. And it wasn’t long before they started mentioning Grace.

“Crosby’s a different man this season – has a life off the ice for the first time and it seems to be taking some getting used to,” one moronic commentator said to another.

“Mom always said girls would mess me up,” his counterpart answered.

“Fuck!” I said. I was on the couch, doing nothing, just letting my mind wander while the TV played. Grace came running in from the other room.

“Are you okay?”

“No. I am not okay. We are playing like shit and I don’t fucking know what to do about it.”

She seemed to get smaller standing there. For the first time I realized that I’d created a world where she couldn’t say the right thing. If she pointed out we were winning as many as we lost, I got angry that she didn’t expect better from me. If she tried to commiserate I resented her pretending to know how it felt.

“I’m sorry,” I finally said, holding my arms out to her. She came over and tucked herself in next to me.

“You’re making yourself crazy, Sid. I’m really worried about you.”

I couldn’t get into it, not again and mostly because I consistently failed even at explaining myself. “I’ll feel better when we play better.”

We got one against Carolina the night before Halloween. Max hosted the team Halloween party, which was usually the most fun event of the year. I hoped it would be again.

“Dear God you are fucking hot,” Grace said as I tied on my black mask. I was in all black, head to toe with gloves and carrying a sword at my belt.

“As you wish,” I told her. She had on a long red dress with sleeves and carried her blond wig.

“Oh Farm Boy, fetch me my shoes.”

When I came back, she had the wig fitted completely over her short dark hair. It was the weirdest thing – the face I knew so well looking nothing at all like herself. The effect was very sexy and I made her sit while I slowly lifted each foot into her red shoes. As I fastened the buckle, I pressed my lips to her instep.

We made it to the party without dismantling our outfits for sex – at least not yet. Everyone was in costume, in high spirits and well into their cups. Max was dressed as Jack Sparrow and his French-pretending-to-be-English accent would be the source of many scandalously misunderstood remarks throughout the night. We ran into Marc and Vero in the kitchen.

“Mon dieu, I love the Princess Bride!” Vero screamed. They were dressed as bacon and eggs.

Marc rolled his eyes. “She really does. I have seen that movie 200 times.”

It seemed everyone had. As the night wore on, more people had shouted “inconceivable!” than I could count. Max kept everyone’s glasses full and the music running. Kris found me on the couch and adjusted his white lab coat and stethoscope so he could sit next to me.

“How are you holding up?” he asked.

Kris and Flower were my closest friends on the team and Kris could always read me from a mile away. I was having fun, but the problems in my head were always there, waiting. But I didn’t want to give in that night. So I simply asked him, “Care to be the next Dread Pirate Roberts? I could retire.”

He got it right again, not pushing an issue I was clearly trying to brush off. We watched as Grace swept into the room.

“Do I get your girlfriend in the deal? Then oui.” He scooted away before I could get him in a headlock.
_____

I knew Sidney was tired. He wanted to be fine, but that was as bad as wanting to win. If you grip the stick too hard you keep shooting wide. Just after midnight I feigned fatigue and asked him if we could leave. At home, we fell into bed and lay there for a long time, awake but not talking. I didn’t know what to say, didn’t know how to make anything better. When he didn’t speak, it felt like he was blaming me.

I tried not to take it personally. Sidney had suffered bad stretches before me, always coming out fine on the other end. He could do this on his own. When I tried to help, it only seemed to make things worse. So I stayed quiet and just tried to be supportive. Really I felt like a ghost in my own house.

The Halloween party had been fun. There were a few legitimate hours where Sidney was laughing and forgetting about hockey. The lines erased from his young skin and his smile flashed so wide that it curled above his gums in that way he hated. I loved it. We fell asleep lying together, faces only inches apart.

The next day, it all fell apart.
____

Grace was still asleep as I kissed her head in farewell. She looked so beautiful that I kicked myself for not making love to her the night before – she deserved more attention than I had been giving her. And better attention. I promised myself I’d make it up to her.

Practice was the same as it always was – everything worked. We busted our asses perfecting already perfect plays and drills. If we’d played that way in games we’d have been undefeated. Media milled around afterward and pounced as soon as I sat down. Sweat was still dripping off my face when the questions started.

“Sid, heard you moved out of Mario’s and you’re living with your girlfriend.”

I hadn’t mentioned that to anyone, but the guys knew and soon enough someone was bound to figure it out. “Yeah, been at Grace’s since the season started.”

“Anything to do with the rough start this year?”

“What? No.”

“Seems that with so many changes in your life, maybe a slow start is to be expected.” This guy isn’t letting up.

“No. We’ve been working hard and we’ll keep working hard till the wins come.” What the fuck are you insinuating?

Some of the other reporters smelled blood in the water. “How long do you wait before you change your routine back to what it was?”

“I’m not changing it.”

“But something’s not working.”

“Well that’s not it.” Isn’t there anyone working here who’s supposed to break this up?

“Do you need to live alone to focus on your game?”

“No. Most of the guys are married with kids and they focus just fine.” Obviously, you retard. Look around!

Still the questions. “Are you going to marry Grace?” “Do you want kids?”

“No! I am not marrying her. She is not important here. This has absolutely nothing to do with some girl! I’ve answered your questions.” It was the first and only time I’d ever had an outburst to the press. Captain Cautious, that’s me. I’d been groomed and trained and bred like a fucking show horse with flowers braided into my tail. And as the press shuffled away, surprised and castigated, I heard my own words come back to me.

I am not marrying her. She is not important here. This has absolutely nothing to do with some girl!

Fuck. I threw my gear off, pulled clothes on without showering and ran out the door.
____

“What?” I heard what Laura said but I didn’t understand.

“I’m not supposed to be checking hockey blogs in the middle of the day, but I saw it. I have to go. Just… just talk to him.”

An email dings in my inbox and I click on the link. It’s a Post-Gazette sportsblogger posting from today’s post-practice interviews. And it’s about me.

Notoriously superstitious in the way only athletes can be, Crosby refuses to acknowledge that the changes in his personal life since the start of this season may be a contributing factor to his rough start. Crosby famously lived with Mario Lemieux since coming into the League, the Penguins owner and great acting as a father figure and mentor. Since September, Crosby has been living with his girlfriend Grace xxxx. Crosby maintains that no other changes are on the horizon.

“I am not marrying her. She is not important here. This has absolutely nothing to do with some girl!”

To those of us who have watched Crosby blossom in Pittsburgh and lead his team to greatness, we have to wonder if the changes made have already been too much. In this era of superstar athletes in gossip magazines and reality television shows, Crosby needs to focus on his game if he’s going to live up to the seasons past.

I hadn’t even processed the words when my phone started ringing. “Can you come outside and talk?” It was Sidney, he didn’t even say hello.

“What? What are you doing here?”

“I need to talk to you,” he said. I read the paragraph one more time before closing the browser and dashing outside. He was leaning against his car, baseball cap low and looking at the ground. “Grace, I…,” he started by trying to reach around me into a hug.

“Stop. What did I just read?”

His face fell and his arms followed. “Shit. I wanted to see you before you saw it. I lost my cool with the press at the rink and I… I don’t even know what I said. But it was something stupid.”

“I know what it was. Something about never wanting to marry some girl who is not important.” He reached for me again but I stepped back. The words I’d seen on the screen were finally starting to sink in. Not important. Some girl. What the fuck was that about?

“Grace, it wasn’t….”

“Were you misquoted or did you misspeak?”

“I misspoke. I didn’t mean it, I didn’t… fuck! I didn’t think Grace, it just came out. I was angry and trying to hold it together.”

“So the first thing you do is sell me down the river. In print. Probably on radio. Is there video? Can I find this gem on Youtube?” I was getting really angry, realizing how embarrassing this was. I didn’t stop to consider whether or not he meant a word of it. Once it was said and everyone could see, did that really matter?

“I was defending you! I was saying you’re not the reason for the way we’re playing. This is not your fault, Grace.”

He looked so exasperated. I wanted to hug him, even though I could smell from my perch on the curb that he hadn’t showered. I wanted to kiss that look off his face and tell him everything would be fine. But I had been ignoring this issue for far too long.

“What if this goes on all season, Sidney? What if, God forbid, the sky falls and you guys don’t play well? What the fuck happens to us then when this is the only thing that is important in your life? This isn’t just about whatever dickhead thing you said today. This has been a month of you on the rag and me tiptoeing around trying not to wake the bear.”

His shoulders slumped and he leaned back against the car. “We will play better.”

“And then you’ll love me again?”

“Goddamn it Grace. You know I love you. I shouldn’t have to keep saying it every five minutes because you need to feel better. I’m obviously having a tough time with all of this and I could use your support.”

“What the fuck have I been doing for a month? Eating dinner by myself because you’re afraid to come home and realize that you love this game so much more than you love yourself. Not me, forget me. You only care about yourself in terms of hockey. Now that’s coming apart and you don’t know who you are. How the hell can I know you if you don’t?”

He was mad now, because I wasn’t backing down. Because, just like everything else in the last month, this was not going according to his perfect little plan. “Grace,” he said in a low, menacing voice. “Shut up.”

“No, Sidney. I have been shutting up since the season opener. I’ve been on eggshells every time you lose and every day in between. I’m done shutting up.”

“Well I’m done listening. I’m done worrying about you when I should be worrying about my career!”

I backed up a step. “While you’re at it, why don’t you be done living in my house? Go right back to Mario’s, just like the press suggested, back to your daddy and see if that helps your game. See if you get your magic back as soon as you get rid of me.”

I stormed back into the building, deaf to his protests. The door silenced his voice as it shut behind me.
____

3 comments:

  1. Oh no!! Sid really screwed up this time! I can't even imagine how she must feel having him say that and everybody knowing it.

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  2. AHHHH! this is intense can't wait for more

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  3. oooohh. shit just went down. LOVE IT. MORE PLEASE!?!?!

    ReplyDelete