Bittersweet Victory

January 13, 2009
By Allie Mandel, Solon, OH

The crowd is giddy with excitement—one more penalty kick soars past the goalie’s hands, and the soccer team makes it into the district finals. Each and every fan is on his or her feet, chattering excitedly, squealing in anticipation. The kicker looks around, drinking in the screaming fans who are cheering as if their lives depend on it. The chants and shrieks pierce the pleasantly cool night air as the kicker pulls her right foot back like a fierce bull charging a red-clad matador. The crowd falls as silent as it must have been when the world began, but the electrified energy of the jam-packed stadium is palpable. All eyes are glued to the kicker and the goal, the only two existing objects in the world. All at once, the kicker’s leg rockets forward. Her foot collides with the ball, making a popping sound as the ball flies into the air, a blur of black and white. The goalie dives left, the ball swerves right, and suddenly fans are jumping off the bleachers; hugging their neighbors; crying hot, salty tears of joy. The crowd storms the field, unable to keep the smiles off their faces—but the team members are the ones in the limelight. Their faces are radiating and shining brighter than the sun could ever glow. A waterfall of tears pours down the coach’s face and melts into the perfect portrait of glee.

As thrilled as I am for the team’s victory, I can’t help but feel a stab of regret in the pit of my stomach. Memories of my soccer-playing days flood my brain, clogging its every surface. Just two years ago, I tread this very field, a strong and proud warrior ready for battle. I paced the sidelines, adrenaline coursing through my veins. I wouldn’t be surprised if my worn cleats remembered sinking into the soft ground and tearing across the turf. Do they sit patiently in my closet, waiting to get back to the field they knew so well? My former teammates move swiftly along the field, passing and shooting and pushing and falling. I can almost feel the strength of the passes; the intensity of the shots on goal; the fury and rage over the aggression; the sting of the falling. I simultaneously feel cheerful and disheartened. The penalty kicks conclude, and I have to close my eyes tight as a vault to pass the sharp twinge of sorrow. The kicker places the ball carefully, as if her life’s purpose is to set it as perfectly as can be. Her leg glides back into kicking position, slicing through the chilly night air like the knife slashing through my old hopes and dreams. Her cleat makes contact with the ball, sending it into the goal. The first emotion I feel is gloom—I could have been the one making that shot. The crowd rushes the field like a crazed mob, while I lag behind. I’m the only person crying bitter tears of sorrow at the end of the soccer game.

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