The sticky sweet juice drips down my chin and onto my jersey as I devour the bag of orange slices roughly cut by my dad. It was supposed to be a snack for the team, but no one else loves the fruit as much as me. Or maybe I just don’t give them a chance to. I take a sip of my still frozen water, shaking the bottle a little to break up the ice. My bangs are stuck to my forehead now, no longer falling in front of my eyes as I run. The whistle blows and we’re back in; I pull up my shin guards that have drooped from the first half after I throw the rind behind me.
My dad and his three brothers were soccer stars in their day. All tall and lean, agile and fast, able to sneak around anyone on the field. Me? I’m none of the above, but I have their determination. Hacky sack became a popular leisure activity when I was young, my dad booting the green and yellow ball back and forth, never once letting it drop unless he wanted it to. Ballet, jazz dance, piano, tennis, karate, all hobbies I tried and gave up on. Though I am neither fast nor nimble, soccer was the one pastime I wish I stuck with.
Someone makes a pass to me. I focus on my footwork and carry it down the field. I’m past halfway now and I hear cheering coming from the sidelines but I can’t make out words, it’s all just noise to me. I make a sharp left to avoid an opponent and look for anyone who’s open. All around me is a blur. I’m stuck in the moment. Me! I’m carrying the team now! The pressures on, I feel the crowd’s eyes focused in on me. Then I see the blue jerseys start to close in on me, I desperately search for red. Someone steals the ball away from me, but something’s off. They’re running towards the same goal I was. Maybe they don’t know they’re headed the wrong way. But then as I am about to laugh about it, I realize it was actually me who had been hurrying towards the wrong goal. Embarrassed, I slowly turn to my coach to see his reaction. Clearly frustrated he just shakes his head, trying to hide a slight smile under his scowl.
Letting my red sweaty face cool in the crisp fall evenings wouldn’t be complete without the after-soccer, pre-dinner snack of Del’s watermelon lemonade, always sold right outside the field. I untie my laces and kick off my shoes as I allow my socked feet to press up against my dad’s windshield and my head to rest back against the seat. I never was that good at soccer. In fact, I was quite bad. But I will never forget the feeling after those games. The bliss and exhaustion from running back and forth, the sticky sweet orange juice dried on my chin now mixed with sweat, and the glint in my dad’s eyes that sees himself in me on the field.