The Game and I

Often, I host games I was not invited to play. Each time, I convinced myself that I was on an unbeatable leveraged position. Every time, I failed to make it to the lineup and wound up confined to the sidelines.
Long time ago, I’d invite classmates after school to come and play on the field at the back of the compound I then called home. A sprawling lot, with four imposing buildings scattered around, the football field was all mine during the week.
My father, the Reverend, would preside over the Sunday services at the small church, which was surrounded by manicured lawns and walkways. Flowers and luscious trees abound and every week the faithful would come and go, sent off with words of wisdom and comfort from knowing they were never far from salvation.
My house would sit to the right of the temple, with its own gate and address. Right behind it would stand the Parochial salon, where I learned how to cheek-to-cheek and rock’n’roll.
A short walk between the church and the ‘dancing salon,’ as it was also known, would lead to a big barn, to the left, where a post-communion congregation would talk about life and god, while feasting on barbecues.
The small football court was at its side, and it was where the home team would play neighboring missions and visiting delegations.
I grew up with football but was never very good at it. My son, who no wonder dislikes it, has managed to play it at a higher lever that I ever will, even if my faulty knees would allow me.
It’s just as well. I still like it as I did back then. Besides, inviting friends over for a game was one of the few things I had to entice them and it was great. Lacking other notable leadership qualities, as it was pointed out to me throughout the years, to have the field trip to offer indeed gave me a leveraged position.
Once, at most likely a dentist office, I read that having something desirable to attract followers is part of a foundation for a well-integrated life in society. That last part eluded me completely. But in the end, I can’t remember why or when I stopped believing in that sort of leadership skills, though.
But when it’d come the time to choose the players in each team, I was usually taken by a feeling that this time it’d be my time. After all, I was the one who invited everybody over and this was my turf. It never turned out quite that way, though.
One time, for instance, I scrapped by as a goalie. For a few precious moments, I was a happy camper, confident that I’d eventually make it to the ‘line,’ the attack, where the action actually is.
Skills notwithstanding, this could indeed be my day. I’d be even more assured of that if I could’ve then foreseen the future. None of my classmates made it professionally, despite the amazing things they’d already mastered about the game.
Take Nelson, for example, carrying the ball as if it’s attached to his feet and obediently doing whatever he wanted it to do. Or Larry, oh my. He could stop it in middle air, give it a few light touches and pass it right along, sending the airborne spherical piece of inflated leather straight to the front striker.
There’d go Thiago, with lightening speed, dribbling his opponent with deft body moves and managing to still send it on to the danger zone, where Roberto almost never missed a header.
But what if, of all of us, I’d have been the one to make it to some professional team, who knows, maybe even all the way to the national team? Funny how in hindsight, life does allow us to construct some kind of elusive, just order.
Nothing of sort ever happened, of course. My hopes were sorely dashed the moment Lucas managed to fool my defender with a subtle touch and kicked the ball straight into my net or what was left of it. I didn’t even move as the ball passed by as if there was no one there to block it.
To the bench I was sent. Something to do with the 3 to nothing score against us, I guess.
The game went on and on but I was out of it for good, as it would often happen. I’d sat there and look at them having so much fun, scoring, running, congratulating each other and all that. I was the one on the sidelines looking in.
Recollecting things can be an exercise in editorializing. You come up with situations where you were actually doing much better than you actually did. You fill in the blanks, you build up scenarios where doing the right thing was the only way to go. After all, you were not in the business of pushing yourself ahead to take advantage of your position and that is a good thing, wouldn’t you say?
After they all left, no one yet aware of what I in the future would invoke to place myself in a more forgiving light, I just sat there and wept for as long as I can remember. Right on the curb of those manicured lawns, I couldn’t believe I once again had tricked myself into taking the fall and becoming the stuff of some missed expectation it was beyond me to contemplate.
That’s how hard it is to give credence to some crippled memory. My reward would wound up being that brief moment of elation, when I was leading a bunch of kids into a play day. Hardly I knew that was all it was to last.
Then my dad, lord of those grounds, all righteous sermons and brutal domestic punishments, would happen to walk by and catch his 12-year old boy crying.
For years I tried to recollect what he said but all I came up with was just the silent, unreliable footage of a footnote of my teens.
When I tell my son he has to be his own man, I’m also guilty of berating that weeping 12-year old. Through the years, how many ways I beat him up to make better choices, be brave, get up and fight or something?
Fact is, that game and its score, and all the others that came before or after it, were not that important. Only the fact that, on that curb, I met what is now an old friend. I will always remember the tears.
I’m still trying to defend that net or what was left of it. I’m still wearing my soiled school uniform, my books resting by the sideways of the field while I’m getting the compliments of the boys.
All these years, I’ve making them turn me into the hero of all games, and they don’t even know it. Such a brilliant player wouldn’t need to own a field. They’d cheer him up regardless.
I may have gotten better at recognizing the signs and acting up to avoid another one of those stingers. But in the reality that counts, I will never beat that game.

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