He placed his clipboard on his desk with an air of utter finality. I turned to Eric and the rest of the kids standing there. Their faces were alive with flickering expressions of fear, disappointment, anger, resentment, and boredom. We were together — but we were together in defeat. We had technically made the team, but we would be busboys, assistants, discarded nuts and bolts to the great machine that was the roster. As I stared at Mr. Luis, I felt defeated and devastated, but also strangely calm. For weeks I had agonized over every misstep, every mistake that could have tarnished my reputation in the eyes of the coaches – and now I didn’t have to. I had wanted camaraderie, but not the camaraderie of two friends struggling to keep up with the pack. I didn’t articulate any of this to Mr. Luis – he dismissed us without an answer and expected an email the next day – but I declined his offered position as a substitute. I couldn’t finish several laps in a row, run in complex patterns, or score a goal with my earlobe. But I could get that sense of being part of a team, of relying on friends and having them rely on me, elsewhere. I had had an idealized vision in which I would excel, or at least not disgrace myself, but my idyllic vision of performing as a cohesive cog my school’s soccer machine had been erased, possibly from too many soccer balls to the head. That vision couldn’t – and didn’t – match up to my real life circumstances. And sometimes letting go of a fantasy is the best way to win. It’s just a matter of finding the right kind of game.
Age 15, Grade 10