This is from the revised "Net Drive," which I'm still working on, about a young man's coming out as gay, which takes place in space of a single play in a high school hockey game.
I’m ten feet outside the Prep blue line on the left wing about to receive a pass on my backhand from Aaron Steadman way over on the far side of the center ice circle. I’m faster than Aaron—I’m faster than everyone this season—so he has to hit me before I enter the offensive zone and put the play offside because no one’s getting there before I do. I’m having that kind of year because I’ve become that kind of player.
We never win against Prep, our would-be rivals if only our school beat them more than once every quarter of a century. My freshman year, sophomore year, junior year, they decimated us, which really means to divide by ten so that’s not literally true, but it isn’t that far off and mathematically it’s been worse. 12-4, 14-1, 8-2. But this year it’s locked up 4-4 late. They’ve probably doubled our shots on goal, but here we are, and here we go.
Like an old coach of mine used to say when it got to be nut-cutting time: It only takes one, bitches.
Aaron’s pass must be made now, at this precise moment in this final period of this single game that counts for more than just a game, or the play dies, the rush dies, the chance doesn’t materialize. The chance doesn’t get a chance.
You’re aware when your last rush has come, the only remaining viable opportunity you’ll have. An opportunity you can believe in. The flow of a game, across dozens of games, thousands back to when you were four-years-old, teaches you. A new game is like music you haven’t heard before, but you can follow and anticipate the pattern of notes, their progression. The notes are fresh, but they will also take you to a place you’ve already begun to imagine.
My dad yells louder from the stands now, because he views games as bonus time we get to spend together and he must make it count, separated though we are in these moments, hence his added gusto, compensating for what he perceives as his own absence of control back in the rest of life.
He usually stands next to Mr. Patricio, an idiot whose kid skates on the fourth line, which means he gets a few shifts in blowouts, because we’ve shortened the bench this year, considering that there are actually things to play for.
“Hey, Ref! Nuts and bolts, we got screwed!” is typical of what Mr. Patricio yells, but it’s always my dad’s voice that finds me out of the din of overheated parents and kids flying high off of three cans of piss-water beer.
I’m only at my dad’s one weekend a month, and also before games because he likes to give me a pep talk, which he concludes by punching each of my shoulders, the left first, then the right, same order every time. Then we do a recap outside the locker room after the game, win or lose, as I’m still in my gear, sweating all over myself and the other kids hit the showers.
I feel like he’s talking to me with people listening in when he yells from the stands, but that doesn’t change what he would say if it were just us.
“Dig deep, Teto,” he’ll shout from his post way up in the back row, which is non-hockey specific enough that I guess you could also count it as a kind of life advice.
I have been calling to Aaron for the puck. I don’t need to, but I do it because it’s part of being fully engaged and present.
“A.S! A.S!” I call across to Aaron, as I tap my stick on the ice, which makes the sound of the dull end of a pick on a cave wall.
My voice is staccato, rapid-fire, the voice of a baritone, not a tenor. There’s an echo, a deepening, down at ice level where everything is more real than real. It’s the same as when you pull your heard underwater, except the water here is frozen beneath you, the metal blades of the skates like whips cutting into a chalkboard.
I’ve learned to savor the raking of the edges, the strafing sound of the well-executed stride in is production of a spray of ice chips that seem so clean and untouched despite everyone spitting on the sheet throughout the game. There’s a purity to ice that’s difficult to damage, to undo, as if ice has an unwavering sense of vision and purpose of its own. I’ve always had a respect for that which you can skate on. It’s like it teams up with you to make your progress possible.
Depending on who you are, these combined sounds—along with the rushing air—can be calming, but better keep your head on a swivel, which sounds like more life advice, only I’m giving it to me.
Aaron is a righty shot, so that means he’s on his forehand and the pass is hard but not heavy, the disc flat, settled, always in contact with the ice as it moves across it, the energy of the rubber evenly distributed. The puck goes under the stick of the defender who is responsible for covering Aaron, like it’s passing through the bottom of a triangle where there’s a crucial design flaw, an unveiled point of entry or passage.
I let the puck clear my body, which feels like I’m giving myself over to something larger, while still retaining command; the control that comes with the ability to chose, a reminder that I don’t always need to try and impose my will, which is also a form of control.
In the fraction of a second before the puck hits the black tape of the blade of my stick, I make sure that there is give in the shaft, allowing the ultra-light, composite material to flow ever-so-slightly towards the wall. Moving backwards in this manner, the blade cradles the disc as I receive Aaron’s pass, as if to say, “Look, puck, see how gentle and secure I am being with you right from the start? You’re in good hands with the guy above. Trust me. Stay with us. We can do something special together.”
My mom does not go to the games. It’s not because my dad is here. The stands are big. You can gain separation in them if that is what you wish. They are full. Fuller than usual this year. We’re legit good. Deema my step-sister is surely up in those bleachers. She comes late, being a cool kid and having always been a cool kid.
Deema went to a different middle school when we were in eighth grade and her school and my school had a dance. We weren’t related then. We kept dancing and hanging out. She asked me to walk with her and instead of slow dancing near the end to fucking “Never Say Goodbye” or whatever it was, we went down a corridor and into a science room with microscopes on top of the tables where everyone sits instead of at regular desks.
The science room made me feel more like an adult. Seasoned before my time. I sat on a stool and she leaned into me against my knee, her legs on either side. She kissed me, moving herself, sawing I guess you could say. Until she gasped and stopped, shuddered like she was someone else and then was herself again a few seconds after, maybe ten. I remember it being really hard to measure time. There isn’t always a scoreboard when you feel like you could use one.
Then she asked what I wanted her to do and I didn’t know what to say, so I said “be well,” which was a line I heard in a movie that seemed honorable and mature. I stood up and started walking back to the gymnasium, as slow as I could at first until I knew she’d be coming, too, and that she understood we were going, but it’s not like she really could have stayed on her own. What could you do? Draw up a slide? Then again, there are a lot of ways to examine life.