My life is complicated. It was like The Glass Menagerie, a book about a dysfunctional family that I sort of read. I couldn’t claim to have read the whole thing, considering the number of pages I’d skipped, but The Glass Menagerie did get me thinking about Dad and why he was so pushy. For instance, he said this was my year and I’d be transferring out of National League Soccer into one of the major leagues. Even so, I’d appreciate sufficient time apart from soccer to enjoy myself, but Dad didn’t want it.
He was pretty much a single parent on the grounds that I lived with him and visited with Mom on the weekends, which complicated things. I’d prefer to live with Mom, but my fate had been decided a long time ago during their divorce, when they both had agreed that staying with Dad was best for my future, since soccer was to be my future.
So high school for me was not all that great. I was barely making it through, and my teachers hated me. I could picture them saying these things: “half done work;” “sloppy handwriting;” “terrible presentation;” and “. . . never learns.”
The only teacher that kind of liked me was my English teacher, Mr. O’Connor, and although I hated reading, he was all right. The man loved words. He was white, thin, and had a British accent similar to Mom. He’d hand me books for her on Fridays, and expected a review from her on Monday mornings. Both Mom and Mr. O’Connor belonged to some book club, so he’d read a book and recommend it to her. He had advised Mom to stop me from playing soccer, which would theoretically make me focus more on school. She then talked to my dad about it, but he refused to let me quit the game. Big surprise! I did side with him and later swore I’d never do it again. I’ll admit it—my life is soccer—and without it I’d have no excuse when asked about my bad grades.
I kept failing Mr. O’Connor’s class, so he started stapling a week-by-week report card on the books I brought to Mom. I still liked Mr. O’Connor, because of his believing in me, which at first I thought was a waste of time. But, actually, I did improve somewhat, at least in English. My chemistry teacher, Mr. Jenkins, said I might as well just stick to soccer, so I figured the rest of my teachers were thinking the same thing.
My closest friends were Hayden and Theodor, who went to the same high school with me and played on the same soccer team Brooklyn Falcons. If it weren’t for them, I don’t know how I’d get through Dad’s ranting. We did normal teenage things, such as skateboarding through Brooklyn on the days we weren’t playing soccer. Any time away from home was good for me. Dad, my dad, watched soccer all day, switching between La Liga, EPL, Bundesliga and the MLS. I do watch soccer, but not all day. One TV in the house and he practically lived in front of it.
He complained if I stayed out too long or went out too much during the week. Well, he is my coach. Everything I did he put under a microscope, and constantly says that someday I’d have to grow up. I am seventeen, and ninety-four days away from my eighteenth birthday. “I want to enjoy my limited time,” I recently replied.
In June, Dad decided he would take draconian steps to further ruin my life. He called me down from my room and said, “You have to quit skateboarding before the season starts. I don’t want you injuring yourself. This season is really important. Think about that injury you got from grinding on that park bench.” I did, and remembered sitting it out for three league games, something that Dad just wouldn’t let me forget. Now I get my punishment eleven months after. “You’re grounded until I say you’re not, and I’m taking your skateboard,” he said.
“Well Dad, just end my life,” I replied.
“You’ll thank me later . . .” he droned on.
I went into my bedroom and slammed the door, opened it and shouted, “I LIKE MOM A LOT BETTER!” then slammed the door again, dislodging one of the picture frames hanging on my bedroom wall. He pushed through the door and pointed his finger at me. “NLS is the most important thing in your life, Harrison. Your grades are not good enough to get into any decent college in this country. All you have is soccer to make something of yourself. Your mom is not here anymore. I’m here.”
He sighed and closed the door.
I fell on my bed and groaned into my pillow, muffling the sound. That day I comforted myself by watching the Rocky film series. I imagined Dad getting beat up in the ring, which was like squeezing a stress ball. He gets me so upset sometimes.
The subsequent months I lived on Rocky and social networking and played with a paddle ball that curbed my desire for face-to-face communication. To me, a paddle ball is much more dangerous than skateboarding; you can lose an eye or something. Tell that to my dad.
Two months alone, from when I got home at three to when I fell asleep around twelve; I was conscious of resulting madness and had to check my sanity by setting up a video camera in my bedroom to record myself (which could have been an effect of the resulting madness).
One night I watched a recording of me playing chess; I kept turning the board, as though I were playing with someone else, while humming “Eye of the Tiger.”
I wasn’t surprised. My room was comparable to a desert island, so madness was inevitable.
Eventually, Dad allowed me to stay up to four after practice on weekends, then I’d head over to Mom’s house. However, during the week he’d wait outside the school, looking at his watch: Imagine me trying to get out of a building that had a time bomb set to fifteen seconds to detonate. I’d be blown to smithereens every time.
Going home at 2:35 stunk, but at four, I had time to hang out with the group in the nearby Chinese restaurant.
The start of NLS season coincided with my high-school graduation. After eating all that ice cream and cake with my friends, I must have had, quite possibly, a calorie surplus of somewhere near eight thousand. But I needed the calories, after having dodged all those water balloons from the last-day-of-school pranksters.
My dad acted a little happy: The team was 3-1 in August, the second month of the season, better than last year’s 2-2. New York, who had beaten us, had this amazing striker named Greg Parkins, who scored five goals in our first scheduled match against them. We lost miserably. But in the eighty-first minute Greg, affectionately nicknamed “Ax,” twisted his ankle and was out for the rest of the season. My teammates said they were relieved that they wouldn’t have to face him again. Every time he scored, the New York players chopped their palms with their other hand, saying, “You just got axed,” which was so annoying.
Saturday came, and the fifth match of the season against Long Island FC was about to start. I pulled up my socks, opened my sports bag and took out my iPod. I listened to a playlist of songs from the Rocky movies—my pre-game tradition.
Dad walked up to me, and I took off my earphones. He said, “Harrison, I want you to go out there and do beyond the best. You have people watching you, and you know what this means for us, for you.” I just sat there, with my head propped up on my hand, listening to him for nearly five minutes. “Harrison, look at me in the eyes. . . . This could be your shot. I have my life invested in yours. I don’t want you to disappoint me. I don’t have a life, Harrison, because of you . . . remember why you’re playing. I need you to win this, and play to your full potential. Your mom teaches you about hope, and poetry and gardening, whatever. Harrison, hope is the banner of underdogs, and they’re underdogs. TEAR THEIR BANNER APART. Now go out there and make me proud, all right?”
“All right, Dad,” I said with a sigh.
He rubbed my head and walked over to the other players.
I hated hearing Dad’s stupid lectures, especially the “If I were you and had the opportunities you have” ones. Mom’s not here to step in and rescue me. She’d say, “Give him a break, Jack,” and everything would be perfect for the day.
“Can you hear me now?” Hayden asked after plucking out my earbuds.
I put them back into my ears and lowered the volume on my iPod.
“You missed warm-ups,” I said.
“I don’t need to warm up to beat those guys.” He dropped his bag next to mine. “Didn’t we beat them seven to nothing last year?”
“Seven to one.”
“Zero this time,” he said, plucking out the earbuds from my ears again. “When we win, I’m buying pizza.”
I punched him softly in the stomach.
“I’m injured,” he groaned, fell to the ground and grabbed my hand. Then dropped my hand, closed his eyes, and lay on the ground. One of his Oscar-worthy performances that all too often gets him in trouble with the coach. Let’s just say he . . . overdoes it.
“My dad’s coming,” I said.
He sprung to his feet. “Where?”
“Everywhere,” I said, laughing.
He shook his head. “I was thinking, Harrison, can you contribute to the Pizza?” He took out his wallet, showing me thirty-five dollars. “Not enough for fifteen players. And it’s my turn to buy the pizza and I’m short.”
“Spending all your money on Miranda?”
“So, can you?”
“I can only contribute five dollars.”
“I guess I’ll ask Theo.”
I wrapped the earphones around my iPod and put it in my bag. “Aren’t you going to change?”
Hayden looked out onto the field with grim determination and noted, “Theo got here before me.” Then he sat on the bench and took off his polo shirt, put on his number 10 jersey, removed his jeans, and put on his shorts. Still sitting, he put on his cleats, then tightened and tied his laces, stood up, and started to stretch.
Joseph Syke, who played left midfield, put his foot on the bench to tie his shoelaces. Josie (as we called him) was a really cool guy, and when I say cool, I mean former captain of our high-school basketball team cool. Not only that, but he also had played tennis and had been on the fencing team. He was white—most of my friends were—like Hayden and Theodor, but Theodor was kind of mixed since his father was white and his mother Hispanic. Nicoli and I were the only blacks on the team.
“Feeling good?” he asked.
“The coach is on my back,” I said.
“Just play your game; you know the coach.”
He took his foot off the bench, then jogged and sprinted.
Dad approached us with the assistant coach Al, and another man, who wore a trench coat and walked with a long, black umbrella. “Theo!” Hayden shouted, running onto the playing field. “Pass me the ball.” Dad watched him and shook his head. “Anyway,” he said, turning to me, “Harrison, this is Dan Fuller. He’s a scout for the National team.”
“Mr. Fuller, nice to meet you,” I said, shaking his hand.
“Harrison Avery. I’m delighted as well. I don’t normally evaluate anyone in this league; however, I’m aware that Lucas came from here. And your dad has been pressing me to come see you play. It might rain today. I hope I didn’t come out in vain.”
They headed back to the team’s main bench, and Dad continued in his pushy way, “Harrison has excellent passing skills . . .”
Al stood in front of me and greeted me as usual. “Hey, kid,” he said, wearing his L.A Galaxy jersey with “Beckham” printed on the back.
“Hey, Al,” I said.
“Are you nervous?”
“I know Jack has been pushing you, but try your best, you hear me?”
Trying my best had never pleased Dad. I really wanted to impress Mr. Fuller, and move out of the NLS—yeah, I really wanted out of the NLS. I’d welcome a new uniform and new coach, but if I know life as well as I think I do, Dad would somehow end up being my coach again.
I waited until the referee called the players onto the field, then got up and exhaled. Dad nodded at me, and I half smiled and nodded back. I’d just ignore him, but Mr. Fuller was standing next to him, smiling.
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