“All that worrying, and stressing, and preparing, and then fate stepped in and took away my chance at football glory,” I joke to my friend, as we wander through town on our lunch break. He scoffs and furrows his brow a little – “That wasn’t fate Rosie,” he said. “That was the fact that you kicked a ball really hard without warming up.”
Turn the clock back a little further though – Tuesday evening. It’s 6pm, and I’m stood on the sidelines of the football match, decked out in shin pads, football socks and Nike shorts; stretching and pushing my palm into my thigh to try and stop my leg seizing up. Kneading the swollen muscle like it’s dough, gritting my teeth through the discomfort, the shame, the anger, the stupidity of it all. Our team, my team, dressed in red and white stripes (the shirt I put on and then pulled off, over my head and balled up angrily, passed on to someone else with more than a tinge of resentment). The evening sun still hot – red faces, the slick of sweat, the pound of trainers on the astro-turfed pitch. I pull self-consciously at my ponytail, re-adjust my socks, make small talk with the other spectators.
>> img credit: death to the stock photo
I am suddenly so tired – tired of talking and thinking about this whole thing, tired of feeling out of place and suddenly more so; the black t-shirt in a sea of red and white, the player who didn’t play, the joke at half-time, the sympathetic hand on the shoulder, the ‘told-you-so’ side eyes and nudges from others. In the second half I pull off my socks and shin pads and stuff them in my bag. At the full-time whistle I grab my friend’s car keys and get changed in the back of his car, biting my lip hard as I pull on my jeans and feel that involuntary white heat of pain as I exacerbate the injury. I feel petulant and helpless, I huff in spite of myself – in spite of being in the back of a car alone with my jeans bunched around my hips and my Nike shorts strewn in the footwell. ‘What a pathetic sight,’ I think to myself, knowing how many different pairs of shorts I tried on the night before to find the perfect pair; knowing how I slathered on fake tan to try and make my legs look better in my shorts, knowing how I packed a little pouch with my inhaler, blister stick and spare hair ties in, knowing how I tried so hard and it was all for nothing. I watch as the players shake hands in the car park and joke and laugh and make arrangements for the next match and I curl my lip, zip up my jeans and look away.
I blogged about all of the stress and indecision that went into deciding whether to play on Tuesday, and I can’t avoid the bitter irony in dedicating quite so much thought into a decision that never even had to be made. My friend is right though – it wasn’t fate, or irony, or a sign, or the universe. It was the fact that I swung my right leg back, pointed my toes and booted a football with all my strength, yanking a muscle that hadn’t been warmed up and is rarely used. On the way to work on Monday I spent the entire drive mentally kicking about the decision – to play, or not to play; to take that step forward, or to metaphorically sit on the bench. And as I thought about it, I had to literally swerve to avoid a huge toy football in the road (one of those Ikea footballs – more like a cuddly toy than anything that could ever belong on a football pitch). I smiled to myself, grateful for the sign, sitting in communion with the universe that had nudged me out of my comfort zone and towards what must be the right decision. I allowed myself the indulgence of imagining myself scoring a goal, or pulling off a great pass or tackle in the final few minutes. My cheeks flush now at the thought of it all, my mind running away with itself.
To me, there’s an obvious similarity with a few weeks before, when I was asked if I wanted to play a little five-a-side match at lunchtime. I thought about it for so long, eventually said yes, and then found out that they had too many players. It reminds me of a Mark Twain quote – “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened”. If there is a message from the universe out of all of this, a subtext, a moment of clarity amongst all of the gritted teeth and flushed cheeks, it is this. The worry, the indecision, the rumination and the reflection is often immaterial. (I think of that word now, immaterial – and I think, not material, not real, not tangible. Not cloth or concrete that you can hold or mould. Ethereal, non-existent, air – nothingness). To spend days or weeks deciding whether to push yourself out of your comfort zone is not truly taking the brave step forward. It’s lavishing in the comfort and then taking a tiptoe out. Right now, all in from the start would have felt a little better. Maybe, maybe, maybe, yes, no is the painful part, because in the end, it didn’t really matter. So, next time, a bold yes. A sling of the trainers into the bag, the shorts that are at hand – no discussion, no foam Ikea footballs. And if it doesn’t work out, then a shrug, not self-flagellation. Life is too short to dissect everything into minute detail and then have it disintegrate in your hands. All in. Yes or no. Yes or no.