Forwards v. Voracinators

{Mandatory preamble: As with all of my blog posts, the views espoused herein are mine alone and should be construed as neither shared nor endorsed by any organization with which I have an affiliation.}

{Trigger warning: explicit language; gender-bias; insects; neologisms; nightmares; power differential; racism; sexism; socioeconomic privilege}

I play on a team. A generous person would say that I had made it to the big leagues. This wasn’t easy. I am a student of my sport, and to some extent, it is a student of me. To play on this team demands me to perform perfection, which I have navigated easily since performance and perfectionism have been adaptive to those of us in this sport, in general.

I have trained to play on this team and in this league my entire life, but I did not grow up in a family that played. Save for a grandfather’s grandfather back in Denmark, no one in my family played on such a team nor trained the way I did and continue to do, since the training is relentless. I don’t recall a single childhood family dinner during which my sport was discussed in any detail or with any degree of accuracy. But even as a child, and despite my limitations, I was determined to play.

I have always been small, so what I’ve lacked in brute strength all these years, I’ve made up for with skills like agility and strategy and execution. It is absolutely typical for my opponents to be bigger and stronger and faster than me, but – having grown up with an older brother – a generous person might call me fierce. A dickhead might call me scary.

It is also absolutely typical of my opponents to have fancier warm-up suits, newer equipment, custom team swag, and, most importantly, endorsements. Sometimes the walls of the places we play in are decorated with the names of sponsors, the entry point for which one can scarcely imagine, it is a number so large with so many zeros. The trifecta of “N’s” – a trifectan, if you will – is the tree that keeps bearing fruit in this league: network, net worth, and nepotism. Hinting at the trifectan will earn one a lot of bench, for it is a quiet thing in this league. Those walls bearing names of sponsors who share with me but few if any dimensions of social location demarcate one team’s territory from another’s. If ever I have forgotten whose territory I’m playing in, someone from the box seats or VIP parking has graciously reminded me.

The inner circle of this league – the sponsors and the sponsees – love keeping score. Who wouldn’t when one is always winning? The bigger the gulf, the greater the flex. The places to park, the tables at which to sit, the favors to call, the queues to jump. Like cogs in a wheel: symmetrical, identical, directional. Shake one loose and it is furious. A biblical mantrum, a cyclone, a maelstrom, a vortex. My energy is upward, though, not cyclical, for I climb and I climb and I climb. Enduring, ascending, and oh so silent. But how shall I push those ahead and pull those behind when I am hanging off this cliff by merely a thread? This wheel has a motive, an ethos, after all, despite that it just sits there spinning.

Like all elite pursuits, my sport is ever consuming and its appetite inalienable. The regular season is a feat of endurance and mental fortitude that few of my kind actually survive. Sometimes I have shown up to play and a teammate has not, leaving me to wonder if she – like my dream to be a champion in this sport – has been a fantasy all along. Where did she go, Coach? Why did no one tell us?  Such questions cannot be interrogated for there simply is no time. There is training to be done and performance to be measured, over and over and over again. Need I remind you that your calendar is full?? Need I remind you that while your calendar may be full today, it could be easily emptied by tomorrow??  Whoever would have thought that a schedule in itself could be a strategy! We whisper to each other between drills and murmur amongst ourselves all the things we thought we knew about her, which, even in their totality cannot erase the one thing that is definitely true, which is that she is gone forever. To play in this ocean, one must be able to swim with sharks. But sharks or no sharks, I swim hard, for I wear a leaden wetsuit.

Still, the injuries pile up, what with all the training and playing, and training and measurement, and training. My body is a temple where no substances or animals are allowed, but plants and faith and rest can only do so much. A generous person might say that I am resilient. An honest person would say that I am damaged.

By some stroke of luck, maybe divine intervention, my team has made it through the regular season and into the playoffs. We know who we’re up against and this fight could be a bloodbath. They are rumored to be chirpy motherfuckers. Trash talking, blowhard cement heads – we see it a lot in this sport. They are a legacy team whose players have trained with one another for years, having never lost a player – like we have repeatedly – to some mystery disappearance. They have been steeped in the sport since birth, with dads on the bench and brothers in their ear. When the clock starts, they deliver what we did not know enough to fear: the unimaginable. They are rough. Their bench is deep and their reach is wide. They are clonal, bionic, formidable. We are forwards who have no D. And they just keep scoring.

Who could expect any less? Their club is too big to fail. The refs have been bought. The sponsors build more walls for more teams and those walls are adorned with names adorned by wealth. When things don’t go their way, perhaps become uncomfortable, the sponsors revolt and yank their millions back to the glass houses from which they came. In this equation of contingencies, the trifectan is a shield, and only the losers really lose. The pain is intended to hurt. To play in this league is a privilege no doubt. To learn, after all these years of training and calendars and measurement and training, that I was never really welcome in the first place is a crushing defeat. But the pendulum swings, and while institutional memory might be short, mine, for one, is long.

I had a dream not long ago in which I was positioned to be heroic but stayed quiet on the sidelines. A hideous thing in a hard shell with pincers and antennae and venom was returning to a larva over and over again, taking vicious and devouring bites from its back. I watched as the larva squirmed in silence and tried to evade the attack in vain. The hideous thing was a mighty, voracious, terminator. A voracinator. On its final assault, the larva screamed in terror, and in me was triggered a rage that I brandished without fear of repercussion or reprisal. I stomped on the thing in my high-heeled boot, and I dared not let up, for I knew this type, and this type was cunning and vengeful and wicked, and as it whipped and thrashed its horrible tail against my leg, I vanquished all mercy and with all of my strength crushed it until its vacant core oozed from its hideous head. I awoke unsettled but resolute. I play on a team in the big leagues. In this moment we are losing, but someday we will win. I may be torn to pieces, but for this victory I will play.

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