After a team-less season, I spent the weekend playing ice hockey with my first women's hockey team in Anchorage, Moose's Tooth, the one I joined when I moved to Alaska back in 2000.
A team I never would have left, if I hadn't gone to graduate school at UAA, which back then had a women's team that practiced twice a week and the rink's fees were covered with tuition. Three times as much hockey for free. So I switched my gold Moose's Tooth jersey for a green and gold UAA one.
When UAA cut the program to reduce the budget, I joined Laughing Lotus, when Lotus split into two teams, I played center for Carey Homes, cheering: "Go Homes!" between periods.
Until I moved to Seward, where there is no rink, only lakes and ponds, skate-able for a short time this winter before the snow fell, and fell, and fell some more.
When the annual Fool's on Ice Women's State Hockey Tournament rolled around, I told a friend from Moose's Tooth that I wasn't on a team yet, and they extended an offer to play with them again.
"I might be a little rusty, " I warned.
"I traded my hockey sticks in for an axe," I told another friend in the locker room, as I pulled my un-used pads from my bag.
I had to borrow stick tape as my few games of pond hockey this year tore mine to shreds. Otherwise, I still had everything I needed in my well-worn hockey bag with broken zippers and a spot for skates, helmet, gloves, shoulder, elbow, and knee pads.
During our games, my lungs hurt, and I could feel the lactic acid building up in my thighs, but otherwise, I could have been sixteen again (at least in my mind) charging the net, chasing the puck into the corners. Or back-checking, my favorite part of hockey, no decisions to make--(pass, shoot, bust a move?)--just skating my hardest after an opponent, hoping to ride her to the outside, to intercept the puck before she passes or shoots.
I'm all about the hustle in hockey. Finesse is for other players. I'm not fancy but no-one can say I don't work hard.
And I can't think of a better way to release frustration, to forget about mistakes made, a package lost, an anticipated surprise that backfires. My inability to fix anything about the situation. The lack of a happy ending to share...
Ice hockey defined by me: Just skate my ass off, try to catch my breath on the bench before jumping the boards, and skating my ass off some more. Repeat.
Our team didn't win our division, but we made progress with each game, losing 4-1, then 2-1, then tying 1-1 and finally winning the consolation game 4-1. I scored a goal in each of the last three games; and on the last one, I even shot the puck on a break away instead of my usual crash-the-net rebound goals, like the first two. And by the time our final game ended, it felt like we won more than three periods.
Many of my teammates I've known for seventeen years, playing both with and against them for almost two decades. We had lunch together at a player's house, we dressed as Rosie the Riveter for the team costume/dance party on Saturday night, where you found us still standing and shaking our hips despite two hockey games earlier in the day.
It doesn't have to be hockey, but there is just something about women and sports that feeds my soul. The camaraderie, revelation of character, the opportunity to fail together, the joy in a hard-fought win.
On the drive back to Seward, I was stopped on Turnagain Pass due to an accident. There are no alternative routes between Anchorage and Seward. An ambulance passed, lights, siren, speed, a sobering reminder about the fragility of our bodies, especially after reveling in the physicality of mine and those of my teammates and fellow hockey dancers who shook and shimmied to the music the DJ played the evening before.
"Pour some sugar on me..." "I'm too sexy for my shirt..."
I got out of my car and stood in the snow, looking up the hill towards the red and blue lights near mile 72. I stretched. Got back in the car and ate some tortilla chips. Got out and stretched some more. Sat back down and ate chips. A fire truck passed and another emergency responder.
As I waited in that line of traffic, on the side of a mountain pass, in a snow storm, I thought about the tournament, about women and locker rooms, and scribbled the following in my notebook:
"Sweaty women, do-rags, make-up free, muscled, scarred, fat rolls, leaning over, folded like wilted flowers, like bent steal, like bowing performers, like devotion, untying frayed laces, helmets tossed, elbow pads removed, leather gloves litter our locker room floor, hair matted, wet, we laugh, discuss missed opportunities, falls, mistakes, we praise the players who scored, the goalie's saves, the way the defense broke up plays, we share weekend plans, career changes, how the kids have grown, retirements, engagements, food cravings, adventures, races, road conditions, snowmelt, summer coming, as we peel off tank tops, underwear soaked from our bodies working, from forechecking, back-checking, stick handling, shooting, passing, passing, and passing some more, a team in unison, athletes, women, locker room, ours..."
After about 45 minutes, the police directed us past the two vehicles, a truck and an SUV, crushed together, ripped apart, belongings scattered across the road, the snow bank, where the vehicles landed after a collision I would later learn was deadly. A sixty year-old woman killed. A young child air-lifted. Everyone hurt. The center line crossed. A moment. A heartbeat. A mistake measured in inches that shakes the world anew.
As the heavy snow continued to fall, I drove towards home more slowly than usual, more cautious, more awake, towards my family, eager to embrace Nick, Elias, and Olive, to wrap my strong, capable, living arms around my family.
To exhale as one.