Part II of a non-linear series of events intertwining football and life outside of it.
June, 2014: In the first pre-season game, I played well – first live game action since pre-season 2012 – but played through a high ankle sprain I sustained in the first quarter. I didn’t practice all of the following week, and when I gave it a go on the opening kickoff of pre-season game #2, I simply couldn’t explode or move laterally, and came out immediately following. And now making the team all of a sudden was no longer a sure thing in my mind. That Saturday when I went to Wally’s office, he informed my they were going to keep me on the team on IR – a move, he told me, which was extremely rare for American rookies. I was grateful, if for no other reason than the full paycheck. My plan to pull my weight financially sprung into action.
A week after I’d found out I’d made the team, I booked an Amtrak back to Washington in a week’s time – when the team would be playing away. My ex and her daughter had come up for that second pre-season game, then ended up leaving early after we had fought. (By this time, my self-esteem had already plummeted – I had known she’d been in communication with her ex, though I didn’t know to what extent. Financially I was scraping the plate, doing whatever I could to avoid asking my parents to loan me money, another thing that brought me so much shame when I had. Whenever we fought, I wouldn’t talk to anyone about it because I didn’t want to be a burden on them, so roughly once every two weeks, I’d drink, enough to put my mind at ease, go to sleep, and instantly convince myself to forgive in the morning. I was living at this woman’s house, and in love with her and her daughter. How could I even THINK of leaving this all behind?) A couple hours after she left, said ex-boyfriend sends me this message:
I had suspected – knew, really for some time that this had happened, so I can’t say I was completely caught off guard, but getting that fucking message. It felt like a baker was violently whisking my internal organs around.
The following week of practice/rehab went by dirt slow, but when July 3rd rolled arounbd, and I boarded that 6AM train southbound, a feeling of calm enveloped me. I hadn’t told her I was coming back. I’d simply grab my limited possessions, toss them in my Subaru, still parked in the driveway, and drive back up to Vancouver that evening. Leaning my head against the glass window, few other people boarded that train as I fell in and out of asleep on that 10 hour trip to Cowlitz County.
I arrived at her house and began to pack my shit, sift through shit I wanted to keep or leave, and debated leaving a note, when I made the decision to confront her. I had to hear her admit it. Why? Hindsight 20/20, I should’ve just bounced. Really, hindsight 20/20, I shouldn’t have stuck around this long, but alas, neither of those things happened.
So she gets home that evening, her little girl bounding up the stairs into the spare room (where I’d been packing) after seeing my shoes kicked off in the entryway, and that calm that I’d carried with me on that train ride back was vaporized the minute she buried her happy little face in my side as she wrapped her arms around my leg. Thoughts started running through my head – sitting at the kitchen table helping her with her homework, reading bedtime stories to her, playing the “math game” and the “fruit game” on the way home from school. Replaying these and other similar memories, I never stood a chance.
Her mom followed her into the room, smiling, until she saw my clothes and knick knacks folded in stacks next to duffle bags, responding by promptly sending her little one off to bed.
It’s still so clear. Her closing the door, taking a seat on the carpet in the middle of that now nearly empty room. Me momentarily continuing to pack and ignore her before stopping, slumping down against the west wall. I stared into her eyes with rage, disappointment, disgust and confidence – the kind of confidence one gets knowing something someone else has to them without that someone knowing you know, if that makes sense. My facial expression turned hers from inquisitive to worried.
I told her about the message. Is it true? I asked gruffly, trying to disguise the hurt my heart was drenched in. I had already decided it was true, half-expecting denial, when her eyes filled with tears.
Man. Up to that point in my life, I don’t know that I’d ever felt that low. I ignored the tears rolling down my cheeks and nose, asked her the questions – since when, how many times, when was the last time, etc. None of this mattered, why was I asking it? In my mind, I tried to take responsibility like how could I have prevented this, if only I wasn’t in Canada, but obviously (in hindsight, again) the responsibility/accountability/shitty judgement lies with the person who chooses to cheat.
We both cried hard as fuck. I don’t remember shedding tears like that, like a little ass kidd. I felt so fucking weak, raw – like I’d peeled back all this flesh from my body only for her to fling acid on my exposed organs and tissue. I told her I needed to think about what I wanted. (What the fuck?! Stick to your guns, Hoff!)
The truth is, though I told her I needed a couple weeks to think, I forgave her that night when we got into bed. I got a lump in my throat writing that shit. What the fuck, man. I stayed.
I fucking stayed.
I remember getting a text from a family member the following day saying “Happy Independence Day! ;)”, and feeling so gross at what I’d decided, what I’d sunk myself deeper into. I had told them I was going there to leave her for good, and instead, I’d simply left my resolve. My hypothetical backbone freed itself from my skeleton, fled out the window, and drowned itself in the river nearby.
I justified my decision with give it time and I love her daughter, I have to be there for her and this is my FIRST love. My very first time I’d been in love. And what a winner I’d picked. My weak heart, leaking self-pity and unrequited love all over the place, wasn’t ready to let go.