INVITATION TO PLAY
I stand in the heat of the day, thinking this must be a mirage! I look again: a group of women is playing football!
By Andra Douglas
I am sorting socks one day and thinking that all of them can’t possibly belong to one individual when I realize that there are two companions I have overlooked—Me and Myself. After this realization, I view my existence as three entities sharing space in one body. It is a type of schizophrenia that I find comforting. Plus, it explains all the socks.
Time passes quickly and living in New York City means paying the Piper. It also means paying the doorman, the coat checker, the cabbies, the “super” in my brownstone and the woman giving out hand towels in the bathrooms of fine establishments. Life in New York City moves so fast that it seems as though events overlap. Unlike my beloved game of football, there are no time-outs, no half-times, not even any two-minute warnings. Even the traffic lights mean nothing. And all the horns honking make it so noisy. At home, the things with horns say “mooooo.” In New York, there are lots of nasty and maladjusted people. They swear loudly from the middle of the streets and write rude words on walls. The rudest thing on the walls back home was the day the “l” dropped out of “public” on the building we know as the Public Library. Nevertheless, I navigate this city well. And it is slowly becoming home.
“Come through, New York!” I say, aiming my words at the beautiful skyline at the southern end of the island. “Come through…”
Then one day it delivers something. A group of women who play football. Somewhere I hear that beach football is played on Fire Island. So one Saturday I take the ferry over from Sayville out on Long Island. I sit down in the sand holding my football like a security blanket and look for the football action.
Suddenly, like an apparition, Jessie appears next to me. Twenty-nine, slim, muscular and quite beautiful, until she opens her mouth, at which point you know for sure she is a true Brooklynite. Everything you hear is unruly and the opposite of what you might expect from her full and opinion-giving lips. She swaggers; even her gestures have an accent.
I take notice of her curly, unruly shock of short hair. She takes notice of the football in my hands. Then she speaks.
“Seen ya bwall,” she says.
“Yeah?” My slight southern dialect is not nearly as distinguishable as her ‘Brooklynese.’
“Wanna play wit us?” she romps around me in the sand like a puppy.
“Yeah. Ok.” Of course, I want to play! Who’s “us?”
I follow her down the beach and see a group of about fifteen women throwing a football to each other. The heat of the day, the sand…this must be a mirage, or a dream and Jessie is the ghost of football past. But as we approach, I can see that they are still there. An entire group of athletic women and they are playing football! Jessie introduces me.
“Hey! Found another player for the game today. Maybe for the Sharks, too!” They greet me with sandy handshakes, and soon they are telling me about their team named the Sharks in a league in Brooklyn where they all live.
“It’s flag football,” announces a woman named Sarah who says ‘ flag’ like she’s just discovered rancid milk in her lunch pail. She is sitting in the sand putting a pink band-aid on her toe, and her long blonde hair drapes around her knees as she leans forward. Flag football. Alright, maybe it isn’t the spot on the Miami Dolphins I dreamed of as a child, but at least I can play my favorite game and meet people, too.
“But it IS full contact,” Sarah is quick to throw this in, as if embarrassed that they don’t play tackle. They all nod in agreement, grateful that Sarah has pointed this out. She is the EF Hutton of the group. Everyone listens. “Plus, it’s all we have.” She adds as a light afterthought. “So…let’s play…is it Christine or Chris?”
“Christine.” She stands up and her stature is not nearly as big as her presence. About 5’4”, Sarah has a thin, athletic but curvy body. She begins to trot away from the group and puts her hands up signaling for me to throw her the ball. I feel like I just reached heaven and as I whip the football in her direction, I hear several murmurs and a grunt of approval from Jessie, “That lil’ ‘ol skinny arm can send that ball!” she says and Jessie grunts again, but is smiling. Someone named Dulce is waving for me to throw the ball to her, so I zing one her way. She catches it effortlessly and grins at the others.
“Aiiight!” she says, and Sarah is kind enough to translate.
“That’s ‘alright’ in Puerto Rican, Christine.” Then she laughs as a cacophony of ‘aiiiights’ fill the beach air. We play most of the day and the only reason we stop is because Sarah’s dad, Thomas, is picking a group of the players up at the dock in a boat.
I sit in the sand after everyone is gone, tossing the football in the air against the blue sky, reliving moments that made my adrenaline flow: Jessie catching my pass in the end zone and rushing back to the huddle full of excitement. “I didn’t think you saw me!” But I did! Or after I was flushed out of the pocket and ran for a long gain; as we returned to our side of the ball, Sarah flipped her long hair around and, in a playful taunt, told the defense I was the fastest one on the field. These are the things I want to feast on, and the more I eat, the hungrier I become. I lie down in the sand to digest the delicious moments. The clouds form the X’s and O’s of the playbook in my head. I will go home, gnaw these memories to the bone and be ravenous in the fall when I play flag football in Brooklyn with my new friends.
Excerpted from BLACK & BLUE by Andra Douglas (BookBaby/2019). Available at Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/Black-Blue-Love-Sports-Empowerment/dp/1733583505/ref=pd_ybh_a_13?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=8DHM7RR02F84K4Z0S170