The pleasing aroma of freshly cut grass wafts through my nostrils as I step out onto the rectangular field, surrounded by the sounds of night with only the glowing field lights to accompany me. My toe kicks forward the round orb; its black and white checkers become blurred as the ball rolls dizzyingly towards the goal. That white frame is like a beacon to me . . . a destination far away and nearly out of reach. It's been a while since I've been on a soccer field. I can still hear the sounds of fellow players running down the field, shoes kicking up mud and tufts of grass. For a moment, I see my coach standing on the sidelines, but I blink a few times and the image dissolves like a mirage in the desert. I remember the years of effort and the tryouts and the failures. I remember my last effort, my last push to success. And I remember that phone call, the coach who said I was number sixteen out of fifteen players who got accepted. After that, my memories blur—I never touched a soccer ball again, never set foot on a field again. I looked longingly for years at the players who made it and thought about where I could have been if . . . if . . . it was always what if . . .
I shake my head, clearing the painful memories away like dusting out an attic filled with spidery cobwebs. I still have not laid the soccer in me to rest and tonight, with the cool night air, feels like someone reopening a raw wound. My vow never to play again seems meaningless to me now as I stand, alone, on the gigantic expanse of green turf. I kick the ball again, picking up the pace now as I dribble a few yards more towards that beacon of white in the distance. I even try a few fancy moves, imagining an opposing player in front of me trying to steal away the precious ball. The chirps of the crickets seem to mock me as I ask myself what I'm doing here, on a night when I should be having fun with my friends. Instead, I'm practicing a sport at which I have no chance of succeeding or even making a team. In response, my feet start moving automatically—performing warm-ups that have been drilled into my mind so many years ago. I didn't even realize I had remembered them. I go faster now, my feet weaving around the ball, lightly touching its shiny surface as they perform those familiar movements. I hear the voice of the coach in my ear, telling me to bend lower and move faster. I speed up even more, any trace of self-doubt gone by now.
I soon graduate on to full-scale dribbling. I jog up the field as that checkered orb lightly dances in front of my feet. The wind rushes in my ears and I forget all about those painful memories. Right now, I'm just playing for myself and only me—not for anyone else. I finally reach the penalty box whose stark white lines stand out like a bright color among a sea of dark. Suddenly, that seemingly unreachable destination of the goal and its net doesn't seem so unreachable anymore. I push the ball out to the side, just like I've been taught, and snap my knee and foot as the ball goes slamming into the goal. I'm out of breath and sit down in front of the goal on that memorable ground, overwhelmed by the emotions that rush through me like a train speeding through the countryside. I feel tears coming and, embarrassed, I wipe them away. I didn't know I felt so strongly about soccer. When I feel ready, I get up again and perform every drill I know. I don't think about technique or speed, I just marvel at my grace and the fluidity of my motions. After what seems like a minute, I check my sports watch and realize a full hour has gone by since I decided to make this emotional journey. The crickets still chirp and the wind still blows tiny specks of grass across the lonely field as I pick up my treasured soccer ball and walk slowly off the field. I vow to return again tomorrow.