When I was in junior high school, my hockey team had a pizza party to celebrate the end of the season. The coach was an older guy who I assume must have been some sort of medical doctor because in the locker room, he would describe, in lush detail, surgically removing boys’ testicles as a result of traumatic groin related injuries. “That’s why you always wear a cup,” he told us. Evidently, the rate of testicle removal for young athletes is substantially higher than I would’ve suspected because this man lived in a sprawling mansion and had new ever more horrifying tales of castration almost every game which I listened to raptly, morbidly fascinated. In any case, after we finished our pizza, the coach handed out awards, certificates commemorating each player’s unique contribution to the team. One guy got “Best Checker,” while another got “Most Goals Scored,”—you get the gist.
Now, there were two goalies on the team: me, a tiny child, maybe seventy pounds, buried under a thick layer of padding, and then there’s the other guy—let’s call him Mike—a fairly average goalie with the standard size and weight for a person our age. This asshole never participated in practices, incited teammates against me for sucking so bad, and generally was kind of a prick, but he was, unfortunately, more skilled, won more games, etc.
The coach held up a certificate: “And Mike is ‘Best Goalie’. Come on down, Mike.”
So this put me in kind of an awkward situation. My teammates immediately looked to me for the sure to be hilarious reaction shot to being publicly called out as an inferior human being in front of the whole team and everyone’s parents. The only question now was: what would my award be?
“And Brad is ‘Team Cheerleader’,” said the coach. There was no laughter, no gasps—only silence as I calmly approached the coach and received my award. Somehow that was worse.
So yeah, Brad Pike: Cheerleader, traumatic memory scorched forever into my brain matter, self-image tainted, self-esteem deteriorated slightly. But that wasn’t the worst thing that happened. That was just the cherry on top of shit mountain.
I chose to play goalie because it seemed like the least athletic, most inactive position. When the puck was down at the other end of the rink, I could zone out, stare off into space, go into trancelike meditative Taoist state, feel the interdependence of all things, contemplate impermanence, and then—OH SHIT HE’S GOING TO SHOOT FUCK FUCK FUCK OW MY FACE. See, the problem was that, yes, it’s the laziest position, but goalies also have the most pressure on them—no team can win a game if the goalie doesn’t block anything. Likewise, any loss can be blamed on the goalie because the fact is if the goalie did his job right, no one would ever score a goal.
During one seminal game, I let in seven goals in the first period. There are several reasons for this. First, I expended a lot of energy beforehand by refusing to put on my pads, telling my dad I didn’t want to go, hated hockey, hated my teammates, hated the cold apathetic universe into which I’d been born, and finally, in a rare moment of “child abuse”, he shoved me into my bedroom closet onto a sleeping bag. Second, I was very superstitious about various rituals that must be completed prior to any game. Those rituals included: drink a Dr. Pepper, eat pasta, take four multivitamins, stretch, take four more multivitamins, shower for forty minutes, and so on and so forth. I completed none of my traditional rituals because I was too busy trying to avoid going in the first place.
During the second period, I let in four more goals. After each goal, one of my teammates named Ethan, a boy with the thick meaty figure of a gorilla on ice skates, would skate up to me and say something like, “Get your head in the game,” or “You really suck, man,” or “Block something!” Then he’d skate off with the lumbering sway of a ship on stormy seas.
Halfway through the third period, I let in a twelfth goal when I accidentally knocked the puck in with my mitt. What happened was I put my mitt over the puck, pulled it in away from the clacking jockeying stick chaos, and it slid out the back of the mitt through my legs and into the goal. At this point, even parents in the stands were yelling stuff at me. I’ve either forgotten what they yelled or couldn’t hear them, but based on general tone of voice, it seemed pretty bad.
The coach called for a time-out. He addressed each player in turn, saying, “Okay, Jamie, you’re doing great on shots. Charles, try to keep the puck out of our end. Davy, don’t be afraid to check him…”
Then he got to me: “Brad, I need to talk to you in the locker room.” When we got in the locker room, he said, “Brad, I’ve had enough of your shit. If you don’t care about the game, fine, but there are other kids who are hustling out there and working hard, and they don’t deserve this. If you want to go home, just go home. Stop wasting everyone’s time.”
I began crying, and it was loud and wet and high pitched. “What?” I sobbed. I had an image of all the testicles this man had removed over his career piled in a gigantic glass salad bowl.
He said, “I know you knocked that puck in on purpose.”
“It wasn’t on purpose!”
“Oh. Well, a lot of the parents agreed with me, and said it looked like it was on purpose, like you’re trying to purposefully lose the game.”
“Okay, well, um, let’s get back to the game and try a little harder, okay?”
As soon as I got back in the game, I let in another couple goals. My dad took a photo of one of these goals, and it was such a great image compositionally—the shooter’s arms upraised, me sprawled on the ice in defeat, the other players in various emotionally charged poses—that he hung it in the hallway outside my bedroom. It’s a sobering photo that casts a chilling pall over the dozen adjacent photos of me grinning in front of flowers or catching a fish or opening presents.
By the fourteenth goal, the fans didn’t bother applauding as it seemed superfluous and callous by that point like beating a dead horse and then raping its ass for good measure.
After the fifteenth goal, Ethan came shambling over to me. He said, “Are you even trying at all?”
After he’d skated about halfway back to the benches, I left the goal and barreled toward him, deranged, bloodthirsty, my only thought of ‘HATE’. I passed my confused teammates who must have thought the coach had finally pulled me from the game. I passed a member of the other team steering the puck toward the goal I’d abandoned. I raised my stick over my head like a battleaxe and brought it down on Ethan’s head with as much force as my tiny arms could muster. When he toppled to the ice, I fell on him, tore off his helmet, and started punching his fat face while my teammates tried to tear me off him. Strangely, my dad didn’t take that photo.