More than Words– Part 4 (#7)

Part 1 HERE  Part 2 HERE  Part 3 HERE

5 minutes till game time. My kitchen was clean, the trash was taken out and I took a record breaking short shower. 12 texts from Alma, demanding to know why she hadn’t been informed of my sickness. 1 text from Gale, making sure I really didn’t need anything. Nothing else on my phone though. Even though it had been with me in the bathroom where I could hear it clearly, I still checked. Dammit.

I sat back on the sofa, brushing my hair, the TV remote in my lap. My blanket would be done by half time. Rather, the blanket I stole from Jer would be done. It was the blanket that started me on the path to being an Registered Dietitian for a sports team. It was a “lucky” blanket now, forever immortalized in my mind and forever on the “do not throw away” list (much to Jer’s relief I imagine. It WAS his favorite after all.)

I was not a football fan by any means growing up. My mother was a die hard Packers fan. She had the Farve jersey, the cheese head and everything. While she hollered and screamed at the refs, I would hibernate in my room with head phones in, blasting music whenever a game was on, happily oblivious. I only came out for snacks. The first thing I said when I stepped foot in my dorm room at college was “THANK GAWD NO MORE FOOTBALL!”

Jer laughed at me hearing this. I didn’t know it was a sadistic laugh until later.

He figured out early on in the friendship that I would basically do anything for food. Every time a game would come on he wanted to watch he would try to convince me to watch too. Always it started out being a firm “NO” with me. I would rather do Calculus than watch grown men chase after an elongated brown ball and I despised math. My mustachioed friend would try to bribe me or threaten me sometimes but he knew he could always get me to agree with a good snack platter. Food was my downfall. So shameful.

Plus, it was Jer. Being with him was second nature.

In the early days, it was awful watching football on his little TV and being completely oblivious. Nothing made sense to me, no matter how much Jerry tried to explain. But he was a die-hard fan and so I became an honorary fan by extension as his best friend. He made me wear the fleece Lion’s blanket every game to mask my “unhealthy dislike of his future career prospects”. He thought I might absorb some football appreciation from it or something. He had some weird superstitions.

One day before a game while wrapped in his stinky blanket we were talking about his career and he had mentioned possibly getting a minor in Nutrition.

I laughed at him.

“Seriously Jer? You cook vegetable soup every night for dinner. EVERY night unless I cook for you. Your team would hate you.”

The look on his face made me laugh. It was sad puppy mixed with indignant playful man. I swear only he could pull it off and be handsome and adorable at the same time.

“Leave my soup alone! It’s healthy and satisfying.”

“Whatever you say, darling.” I tried to keep the smirk off my lips and failed. He sighed dramatically for my benefit.

“It’s NUTRITIOUS Jac and it’s tasty.”

“Kale is NOT tasty.”

He ignored me.

“Career-wise it never hurts to have more knowledge. I need to take care of my future team on and off the field and learning to keep them on track with their diet helps achieve this goal. Besides, I would just be advising, not actually cooking. Leave that to a dietitian.”

I gave him a sarcastic look and watched him flick more chili lime popcorn into his mouth. He raised his eyebrows at me, waiting for my rebuttal.

“Plumber has a leaky faucet. Nutritionist has a limited diet?”

“Impossible woman.”

He tossed a kernel at me and I snorted, feeling I had won the battle and grinning accordingly.

During the game while he was engrossed, I researched careers in nutrition and educated myself on earning the Dietitian degree. It was supposed to be for Jer’s sake but my interest was more than just peaked by the end. I was enraptured by the possibilities.

“It would be kinda cool to be an RD,” I admitted a loud, over Jer’s mumbling about flags and unnecessary roughness. “For you and I to be on the same team with our careers. Athletic trainer and Dietitian Besties. We would see each other every day!”

“We already do,” he said, only half listening while he watched. I nudged him with my foot and demanded his attention. I got a half glance for three seconds.

“But we could travel together. We could wrangle gorilla men like people from the circus! Crack the whips. I like being bossy. It might be fun.”

He made affirmative noises and then started absently massaging my foot, absorbed in the tv. I sighed and pursed my lips. Impossible indeed.

“In the off season, I can consult with restaurants on their menus and teach children about health and proper diet. It sounds pretty amazing.”

“Yep. Sure does. Go for it Jacquie.”

I was already learning to become a chef anyway. It was what I was going to school for. This made my career choice broaden quite a bit and it sounded so appealing. I could take my job anywhere and didn’t have to be stuck behind a counter at a restaurant. I could educate people and cook and travel. So much win.

I talked to my counselor that week and we made a plan to alter my major and that was that. Why wouldn’t I follow Jer into a sport I disliked and cook for a bunch of stinky, ball toting behemoth lug heads? Duh.

Of course I would.

Why?

3 minutes.

With an irritated sigh I powered on the TV. I had no discipline. My heart tapped an erratic rhythm against my ribs while the commentators rambled on about team updates and player bios. My eyes were glued to the screen. I couldn’t seem to help it. I scoured the snippets of field shots they showed, backing up my DVR to see if I could see him. AT’s don’t usually get much air time unless there was an injury but Jer always said he would try to wave at me from the field if there was live coverage.

My head grew annoyed at my heart for being ridiculous and my heart railed at my head for being so…well, pig-headed. I leaned against the cushions and huffed at myself. Impossible.

“And here’s the coin toss–!”

_______________________________________________________________

More than Words– Part 1 (#7)

I blew warm air into my hands and started a boxer shuffle to get the blood flowing through my frozen limbs. The snow flakes tried to find flesh through the gaps in my clothing and I adjusted accordingly, tightening the crocheted scarf around my neck and mouth and twitching my jacket sleeves more fully over my wrists. It was frigid at best in Idaho in the winter and the stadium was already covered in a thin layer of snow. The sun was hidden behind a solid sheet of gray but I hoped it would break through later in the day. It was easier to get injured on a cold day like this. It put me on high alert. It would be a long day.

The team was warming up and tossing the ball back and forth across our half of the field. On the outskirts I saw news teams setting up equipment, looking like misshapen colored marshmallows in their puffy ski jackets and beanies. My chest tightened for a brief moment watching the cameras go up on the tripods. Live coverage today. There was a chance…no. I shouldn’t. I breathed purposefully in and out for a few moments, adverting my eyes back to the team and the tension eased. Focus. Just focus.

I noticed the seats started to fill with colorfully dressed patrons carrying blankets and coolers. Some had umbrellas to ward off the snow. It looked like some of them had even brought portable warmers and hot water bottles as well. They looked like they were in it for the long haul. God bless football fans.

The guys drilled and I paced among them, looking for proper form and calling out corrections over the coach’s whistle. The other ATs carried out their own equipment and started to set up the tents. I bent to help them, counting band-aids and rolls of tape to keep preoccupied. Tedium. Boredom. Focus. Head in the game.

“Colder than a witch’s tit out here today ain’t it Jer?”

“Yo Stephan!”

I offered a fist for the tall man in front of me to bump and gave a crooked smile, adjusting my scarf again to blow warm air around my nose. My oldest male friend. We went through University together, completing our AT Master’s degree and graduating the same year.  After a few years being assigned to various different teams we managed to come together to work with our favorite college ball team. Well, one of them anyway. We were in competition now to see who would be called into action by the NFL first. Lion Pride. But for now we were here, freezing our asses off together in the middle of another Idaho winter.

This was a concept I sometimes had to remind myself was something I had desired once. Travel with the team. See it all first hand. Get some experience and some prestige for my Alma Mater. Maybe save someone’s ball career and get eternal gratitude from my guys. All in a day’s work. But the damn winters were a bear.

“Might get some action today,” I replied in that ambiguous-but-not way guys have with each other. Be normal. Be a guy. No problems here!

Steph whipped off his sunglasses and tossed them in the air, jumping up and crowing loudly as he caught them and spiked them to the ground.

“There goes pair 16,” I noted, picking up the cracked lens and snapped arm.

He went through a lot of sunglasses. It was a running joke that for his birthday, everyone on the team bought him a pair. They would last him a season if he was careful, which he wasn’t.

“Hot damn I need some action today too, man. Need to keep my joints lubricated. Been a while.”

Ha. Athletic trainer double speak at its finest.

“Speaking of action, where’s your other half? This is the second game she’s missed. I’d rather see Jac’s cute face than your ugly mug any day.”

I shrugged, my face impassive while an invisible fist punched a hole in the middle of my chest.

“Work stuff I guess. Been busy with some restaurant menu thing I think.”

I got a stare. I ignored the stare and cast a stare of my own out over the snowy field.

“You GUESS? You THINK? Shouldn’t you KNOW? She’s your wife, man.”

“Not actually.”

The statement burned me but it was the truth.

“Close enough. Even before I met you, you were joined at the hip with Mad Jac.”

“Mad” Jac. My other half; currently missing because I’m an asshole.

I met her at the end of my junior year in high school. We were riding the same bus home and we happened to be sitting next to each other when the bus got into a crash. We had to stay in our seats for hours while the police interviewed everyone and filled out an accident report so we ended up talking the whole time. At the end she gave me her number and it took me a week to gather up the courage to call. That was the beginning of everything for me.

I looked at Stephan, at his disbelieving face, and gave a longer, even more nonchalant shrug, lifting my eyebrows in tandem to give emphasis.

“Seriously? No way man, I don’t believe it. What’s up for real?”

What could I say? That was a short list. Pretty much one or two-word noncommittal answers. I know what I couldn’t say. I couldn’t tell Steph that I dropped the “L” word on her and she flipped. I couldn’t say that I missed her presence at my side. I couldn’t say that I was hoping she would be watching the game in spite of everything and that she might be looking for my face on the TV screen. She would see I was wearing the scarf she made me. Maybe she would see that I needed her.

“She’s just busy,” I said. “Sometimes that happens. Or she needs a break from taking care of you mongrels.”

I’m a guy so I had to be a guy. Steph would get weird on me if I let anything slip about the mushy stuff. We give away nothing, especially before a game. Especially about Jac. Focus.

His blue eyes squinted at me, judging me,  and I prayed my vapid disinterest in his inquiries would put him off. I gave the “are we done?” glare and he relented. He smacked me in the chest and bent to unfold one of the tables our team carried out.

“Whatever man. Tell her I’ll miss her and she owes me a box of coconut macaroons.”

I nodded. If I talked to her at all, macaroons would be the farthest thing from my mind. Steph turned to help the coaches move some equipment and I was relieved. Off the hook. Compulsion made me check my phone for the tenth time that hour. Nothing.

God I screwed up.

(To be continued…) ______________________________________________________________