Tuesday, May 7, 2013
The Dangerous Winter
I wrote something for Futbol Intellect yesterday and want to reproduce it here. It's a follow-up to my Hemingway Experiment from last year in which Hemingway joins a group of Fire supporters at a Galaxy away match. This time, Hemingway steps into Landon Donovan's head to narrate his confusing winter hiatus.
Here it is.
I walked over the field with confetti all around and gripped hands and smiled but I was broken. I walked to David Beckham and hugged him. He was leaving soon and I knew. He didn’t tell me where he was going or that he was going but did not need to. There is a lean and desperate look to a man who has put himself somewhere else. I fixed my gaze toward the podium and walked over. We raised the trophy and I was happy in a genuine sort of way, like a man who has had a fine brandy and fallen asleep on the beach. My beard was long then. I knew I was broken and would not last here. I pulled my sword from the bull’s neck but the arena was empty.
The heaviness always came. It left but always came back. Once I almost left before a World Cup game but did not because there was cowardice it in and I would not allow myself the indulgence. I played but was not there and knew then that I would break some day. I did not think it would be after winning a trophy, but I was blind to many things in those days. I felt the people at my back and it unsettled me.
“Will you stay?” Bruce Arena said.
“I don’t think so.”
“If you leave I don’t know what will happen.”
Last words were weakness to me then and I hugged him and walked to my car. I cried and my cheeks hurt from the strain of it. I did not know if I would play again or what I would do and I drove away from Carson in darkness. This was really the beginning of everything. I was 30 then and I am 31 now but there are miles of cobbles between the two. Let me say why.
I rode into Sihanoukville at dusk. I arrived at the airport and carried my bag off the plane and had no transport. I arranged for a small gas scooter that backfired loudly as you went. I did not know until several miles down the road, which was pitted and overgrown. It was inviting all the same. I did not speak Khmer then and was tricked out of my money, but I could get around and had some left so it was alright. As I said, I rode into Sihanoukville as the sun was settling over the Gulf of Thailand. I turned south and I could see the town by the amber light. The houses were small and dense together and the green-shrouded hills rose behind them and watched over the water with a somber quality. The women were wrapped in color and many men walked by busily. They stared at me but with inquisitiveness and not that wary malice that burns like coal fire. I know both, and the latter better.
I rode through the city center and passed a loud generator buried in sand. I traced it to a cafe looking out on the main road. There was a well-lit corner on the porch and I sat down. I was closer to the sea than I thought and could hear the surf and the gulls squawked to each other. It was dark now and the generator was working hard. A small man with a smooth face walked to my table. He said something I did not understand and went away. He came back with another man and I ordered a an Angkor beer and a small rum.
The chair was wicker and comfortable. The night was sticky yet pleasant and the beer did its cold work. I saw men walk by and women hurrying along children into the darkness. Two scooters wheeled by, a man chasing a woman. Both laughed into the dense night. A man came by the table and clapped my shoulder. He said something in Khmer and smiled deeply and walked away. I realized then that I had not spoken in a day or maybe more. The fact calmed me and I felt light. I pulled a journal from my pack and set to writing. The words were not there so I put it on the table and picked up the rum and realized I was smiling.
I drank until the warmth came and I walked to the beach and fell asleep. The calm whoosh of the waves was steady. I did not know anyone here and I could not feel the heaviness. I slept under palm leaves and the waves lapped at my ankles on the small beach.
I awoke as the sun broke over the hills to the east. I took off my shirt and swam. The water was warm and I could see my ankles very deep in the water. When I came out there was a small noise down the sliver of beach and I could hear it growing louder and I was unsure. I put my foot on my bag and hefted my passport before I tucked it in my back pocket. When the noise cleared the bend I saw it was just children. My muscles relaxed like a balloon depressing. I turned away when a soccer ball hit my ankle. It spun dead at my feet.
I looked at it for a long time. It was frayed at the seams. A few of its black panels were missing, like teeth knocked out. I thought of a lot of things just then. Bianca and Beckham were first but there were others. I looked at the ball caked with sand and forgot about them. I was still looking at it when the children came by and knocked it out. They were smiling, laughing. One kicked it into the ocean. One kept trying to rainbow past another. He failed each time but he kept doing it and I could not look away. Several tears escaped and rolled down and I looked away toward the berm behind me. It was a few beats before I looked down. The ball was at my feet and the children were looking at me.
I kicked it back and ran after them. The heaviness was gone. I do not know where it went but it was gone.
- Will Parchman