My forehead throbbed with tension. It hurt to swallow and my eyelids were red, puffy and raw. I didn't care and let the tears out. They were extra salty as they combined with the sweat caked onto my face before landing at the corners of my mouth.
Slumped on the grass the smell of perspiration and dirt filled my nostrils. My uniform was still damp from 90 minutes of play. I reached up to my hair and pulled off the maroon and gold ribbons holding my ponytail in place. I looked down at the familiar number, 19. The double digits, just shy of 20, had represented me from ages six to 22.
But now it was over. Sixteen years in the making. Too many car rides to count, trips back and forth across the Granite state. Triple sessions, sore muscles, torn tendons, sprained knees, and cramping calves. Goals scored, assists made, throw-ins tossed, sprints run, headers made... games won and games lost...
Various teammates shared in the journey -- Mae Hogan, Molly Michaels, Aimee Jahn, Sage Margraf, Anne Michaels, Andrea Slayton, Tracey Jernigan, Megan Curran... My coaches, Mr. Kelly, Gordy, Coach Looke...
I knew in that moment my athletic career would not extend beyond college. It took sitting in ice baths, muscle stimulation and daily trips to the trainer's room to get me through this season alone.
It was over and it hurt. My heart, hurt.
Heartache comes many forms. We lose loved ones. When my grandfather died I was lost. He was my rock and believed in me from the start. When I walked into a room, the way he looked at me, I knew I was special. We spoke without words.
Our children tell us in a heated moment they, "hate us." Those words, when they come from the lips of someone you created, someone you felt grow inside of your body. The moment they were born, when they took their first breath, your very breath was taken away.
The end of a relationship, whether it was months or years. The time, the energy, the hope that this is in fact "the one" that this is forever. The love that was given and received, the hurts, the fights, the support... the goals reached, the joys and pains shared. When it's gone a void exists and the heart breaks.
We try to avoid it. I sat in a tub full of ice, had my knee wrapped, taped, and braced. I tried to prolong it. I couldn't imagine my life without sports, without the rush experienced when you slip a perfect pass behind the defense and line up a teammate for a goal.
We try to avoid it by pretending the issues don't exist until it becomes impossible not to trip over the massive bump that has been pushed under the rug. We try to alter our expectations and change who we are to fit, to please, to make it work. We convince ourselves that this is how it's supposed to be, this is what we've been taught and no one wants to be a failure. Because when we fail in matters of the heart it might mean we are unlovable. No one wants to hurt.
But playing on an arthritic knee was painful. Over and over again I pushed my stretched out tendons to their limits. Everyday walking became difficult. Yet I kept at it because I was scared. Who was I without sports?
Everyday I tried to be who I thought I was supposed to be according to an imaginary set of rules that don't actually exist. I wondered what was wrong with me, so I tried harder to fit into a role that was meant for someone else. Filling that role? It made me angry. It turned me into someone I didn't like. It took a long time to realize I wasn't living an authentic life.
I struggled with who I was. Who was I without my grandfather pushing me? Who was I if my children actually did hate me and I'm failing as a mother? Who was I if I'm not with someone I created a life with?
Today my knees constantly click. After a run I have to ice, they swell up to the size of giant grapefruits. When it rains they ache.
Sometimes, I eat alone and negative voices try to fill the void, telling me I'm a loser.
But would I do it again?
Because the feelings I experienced, the children I created, the teammates and coaches, the highs the lows... I learned.
I learned heartache is unavoidable. It doesn't weaken you, instead scar tissue is formed and new skin is created. Your heart grows.
The awful debilitating feelings? They are temporary, they pass. Sure, my knee is always going to give me problems, but when it aches, I take an Advil. When I start to beat on myself? I call a friend, I see a therapist, I cry and remember to love myself.
Because my heart can never really break. It might get torn, it might be covered in scars, but as long as I keep supplying it with love it will continue to beat.
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