It didn’t happen in a Starbucks, or over the last pair of half-priced boots at Macy’s. It was on the football field. That doesn’t make it ok. But still. I was wearing cleats.
I don’t pick fights on the field. When I’m playing in my touch football league, which I do on Sundays in the spring and fall, I apologize when I step on a foot or bump a shoulder harder than was intended. I’m not interested in conflict. This is supposed to be for FUN.
During game two of the playoffs, the championship game, there was one aggressive little sprite (I’m trying to use the kindest words I can muster because the others are not appropriate) who saw fit to get quite physical — with everyone she came into contact with.
She pushed my teammate Kristina and dared her to push back (which she did, and then this brat called foul on her). She pushed Andre, who outweighs her by about 80 lbs. And then she pushed me.
We were ahead by a slim margin and I knew that she was a solid receiver; we were one misstep away from losing the game. I’m not great at defense as a rule, but if we’re playing man vs. zone, I’m relentless and will make a nuisance of myself.
She didn’t like it. Not one bit. And as I chased her downfield, trying to get ahead of the ball, I might have ridden her a little too close.
“Get OFF me!” she yelled, shoving me, and I chased her into the end zone where the ball came sailing (knew it) straight into her arms. Despite my lame attempt at tackling her, which I’m sure is illegal, I fell to my knees as her team cheered.
“How do you like THAT,” she said, like the brat she is, trotting back to the line with a vengeful spring in her step.
Dear reader, I’m not proud of what I said next.
But I was absolutely boiling with rage. My knees burned from the turf and if I could have shot flames out of my eyes I would have.
“You’re such a little bitch.”
I shocked myself in saying it, the words peeling out of me like bitter rinds, spat out onto the field at her feet.
I was rattled and wild and despite my teammates suggestion that I might like to take a break, I said, “NO F*&! WAY.” Because, well, no way.
When our team got the ball, I ran straight at her and felt her hard, mean little shove. Oh, it’s on.
On the next play, she flopped (it’s a thing; I looked it up). She basically tipped over like a paper doll, on purpose, as I ran toward her, to make it look like a foul on my account — and in doing so, took me down with her.
“WHAT IS YOUR F–NG PROBLEM!” I was really, really losing my shit now. Ben, a tall, even-keel guy with a voice like a cool compress, attempted to keep me level. “It’ll feel so good to win,” he said. As in: Calm down, we got this.
And he was right. Moments later, we had in fact won the championship, and beat the other team by a handful of points. I’d lost the battle, but we’d won the war.
Despite the thrill of the win and the effects of a post-game hard cider, I vibrated with rage. I couldn’t believe how angry I was, how beset by something, and someone, so silly.
I walk around like the classy lady I imagine myself to be, but scratch that well-groomed surface and you find, well, an animal. It reminded me that for all my cultivated, considered ways, I’m this close to unfettered fury, spite, and the potential to physically hurt someone else.
That is, to say the least, alarming. I don’t know if it’s internal stress or that palpable thermometer of threat soaring upward in this city, this country, this age. We’re all on a hair trigger — not just me.
I often wonder what I would do if someone took out a gun at a movie theater or a shank on the 2 train. How would I get away? Could I take down an attacker?
I am forever envisioning acts of heroism, self defense, planning paths of escape. I know there are people out there who break the rules to the detriment of everyone else.
I’m not proud of how I handled myself on that field. Acting rash does no one any favors. And I realize that my rage wasn’t a factor in winning that game — it was a side effect.
The thing I don’t know is this. Am I afraid of my rage? Or am I comforted that I have that capacity for defense?
On the home stretch of this season and this year, it’s easy to get triggered, whether you’re on the football field or at the mall or in your mom’s kitchen. The holidays have to go “right” and be perfect. Out of nowhere, one of the many unseen wires connecting you to your sanity gets tripped, and in an instant you’re riled and furious, over something so silly—a passing comment, a roll of the eyes, a veiled insult.
Why? Because we project meaning onto those gestures, and weigh ourselves in their balance. And fear we’ll come up short.
So I say this to you and to myself:
Pause before you react.
Think before you spit words you can’t take back.
Pull a few punches now and then.
Not because the other person doesn’t deserve it, but because you risk lighting a fuse that will burn you from the inside, and the smoke makes it harder to breathe.
And you must, above all, breathe.