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Who's the New Girl?
It was a cold snowy day on the mountain; Shelby and I were just taking our second run down. I was skiing while she followed behind me on her snowboard. She has never been as fast as me so it wasn’t unusual that I got to the bottom of the slopes before her. But, something was different this time I thought as I waited there; she was taking longer than usual to come down.
Finally appearing over the last slope she made her way down the hill at a slower pace than usual. Once at the bottom she stopped, lay back, and began to cry. “Landis”, she said, “I just fell and hit my head.” I didn’t know what to think other than to be scared and worried for my friend. She appeared to be fine on the outside; there were no bruises or cuts, only her pained face that looked up at me. We took off our stuff and walked over to the first aid building. Her face looked pained, and frustrated, for she was always getting hurt. The nurses checked her out and the results later came back that she had gotten a concussion with some whiplash.
This accident affected Shelby for a long time. I watched her become a different person, and as her best friend I heard and saw all the ways that she had changed from the accident. She had to do things she normally wouldn’t have done. Such as, take a temporary leave of absence from her winter job as an ice skating guard, and not realize that her concussion was so debilitating that she wasn’t able to return for the rest of the season. She became the “manager” after already having made the varsity lacrosse team. This wasn’t like Shelby at all. Seeing her on the sideline for a whole season was foreign to everyone. When we hung out she acted less enthusiastic, mellower and almost depressed. When I told her this, she smiled forcefully saying to me, “Well, I’m still the same person, I just don’t feel like I have as much energy to put out.” Her eyes watered up every time she talked about her concussion. I could see that it was hard for her to grasp, accept.
As the lacrosse season went on I saw Shelby being able to talk about her concussion more easily with others, and walk away without the fear of them not believing her and the pain she was going through emotionally and physically. She thought that since people could not see her pain, then they wouldn’t understand just through her words what she was feeling. I could see this fear after someone would ask her a few of these questions; “Why aren’t you playing?”, “When will you be better?”, or the one that irritated her most was, “Wow, it’s been such a long time since your crash!”
She was always trying to run, trying to dance with me, always trying to push herself to get better, but always had to stop when a migraine came on. I would see her unsatisfied face. The facial expression that screams, “I want to do more! This isn’t like me! Come on Shelby, get passed this!”
After the long season of lacrosse ended and summer came, her mind set was on soccer. She had played ever since she was little and the love that she had for the sport was immense. Only one thing was concerning her for this year’s soccer season, and that was her BRAIN!
She had been to doctor appointments for her concussion over the summer and was increasingly getting better. The sloshing feeling she had experienced in her head during exercise was now gone, and she was able to run her first mile without getting a headache. Shelby was so happy about her first run, and I could see that her enthusiasm was more there. With soccer coming up so soon, and the doctor visits, it looked like not playing her senior year was being taken into serious consideration. The brain scan results came out negative, meaning that her brain had healed. A consult with a doctor from Dartmouth and Brattleboro encouraged her to consider the repercussions of another brain trauma if she continued to play contact sports. “You only have one brain and a lot of life to live” they would say, “but it’s your choice and body.” This helped influence her decision that she wasn’t going to play. She hated saying it, and cried whenever the topic came up. This was a big change in her life so far and seemed to be influencing her every day choices. As word got out slowly to Shelby’s close friends who played soccer, some were shocked, while others understood, but were still disappointed. Shelby would just stand there while people asked her if she was playing soccer, and she would quietly answer back “no.” The response was generally the same, everyone answered back with the one big loud word “WHAT!” and from there she would continue telling them in almost a defensive way that she only has one brain, and it wouldn’t be a good idea to play this year. Once again she had a fear, this time a fear of what they might say. It was as if she expected everyone to hate her for not playing, when really they all understood, and finished the conversation by complimenting her on how good she was, and how she would have made varsity.
I’ve always loved watching Shelby play soccer. She moves with the ball so gracefully and the way she runs down the field as if gliding on a moving floor, she makes it look so easy. Soccer isn’t going to be the same without Shelby, I thought to myself, and just thinking about Shelby without soccer…what a bizarre thought.
As soccer tryouts started I went to them feeling empty without Shelby there. Immediately people were asking where she was, even the coaches were wondering. After one tryout session I called her to see what she had been up to. She sounded down, but at the same time excited and wishful for me to make the Varsity soccer team. I could tell that she was trying to keep herself busy, for it was the week most of her friends were trying out for the sport she loves. She informed me that she would be picking up a new sport that she could experience with very little chance of getting another concussion. Cross country running, and skiing in the winter time. She told me this with some hesitation, holding back a little because she was iffy of how it could ever compare to soccer. “Well”, she said “I’ll get to make some new friends and plus, I like to run.” I could tell she wasn’t that excited about the whole thing yet.
Later in the week once soccer tryouts were over, and the teams were made, Varsity practices started. Shelby shared her excitement with me, and congratulated me with hugs when I told her I made Varsity. She still seemed uncomfortable with the topic of soccer though. One day I needed a ride to practice and she was it. Once we got to the field, she slowly got out of the car with a smile on her face to hug and congratulate some of her friends. She looked lost, but not completely, more uncomfortable with being there. That’s when she came up to me and said she had to leave.
A few practices later I saw her sitting in the parking lot watching from her car. I could only imagine how badly she wanted to be out on the field. The next time I looked over at her, she was crying. She looked so sad, all I wanted to do was run off the field; take her in my arms to just be there for her. She just sat there resting her head on the steering wheel, crying tears of reality, tears of annoyance, frustration, and anger. She was angry she couldn’t play, angry for getting hurt. But at the same time, these were tears of acceptance. These were tears that were shed for the acceptance and understanding that she wasn’t able to play. She was no longer going to be known as the soccer player. She was going to have to make a new name for herself. Make a new name for herself with a new sport, all in her senior year. Or, she could just have fun, and do her best at something new!