Wednesday, July 23, 2008

TWENTY-THREE

My eyes fluttered open and it look a moment for me to remember where I was. As my childhood bedroom slowly came into focus, I noticed a nagging dryness in my throat. I could tell by the dead silence it was very late, and a glance at my alarm clock confirmed that it was only slightly past three in the morning.

I wrapped myself in an old Habs fleece blanket and padded downstairs for a drink of water. When I reached the bottom of the stairs, I noticed someone was watching television in the living room. I assumed it was my father, who sometimes had trouble sleeping. But as I stepped into the room I realized it was Sidney, and he was watching my old game tapes from Secondary.

"Sid?" He looked up and smiled at me.

"Hey," he greeted softly. "I couldn't sleep, so I came down here to watch some TV. Hope you don't mind."

"Of course not," I replied, settling into the couch beside him. I was silent for a moment as I watched an eighteen-year-old version of myself skate down the ice and pass to my right winger. "Where did you find this?"

"With the DVDs. They were organized according to year and everything."

"I didn't know my dad kept all of these," I said quietly.

"I'm halfway through your last season," Sid replied. I stretched out on the couch and rested my head on his lap.

"We were undefeated at home that year," I reminisced. "Did you see that girl who just passed to me? That's Brigitte Lasalle. She played for Team Canada in the last winter Olympics. So did our goalie, Sophie Vincent."

"Why didn't you play?"

"Didn't want to," I replied shortly.

Sid stroked my blonde hair and remained quiet for a few minutes as we watched the four-year-old game. It was very surreal, watching myself skate down the ice and dive, scoring the winning goal.

Sid rewound and watched me score again. "Karine, that is one of the best goals I have ever seen. By a man or a woman. Why did you quit after Secondary? And don't feed me that stuff about not being able to play professionally—there's a professional women's league. You should have been on Team Canada with those girls. What happened?"

I sat up and wrapped my hands around Sidney's. "I really don't like to talk about what I'm about to tell you, so will you promise me that after tonight you'll never mention this again?"

Sid nodded and looked very concerned. I felt his eyes follow me as I walked to the shelves that held various VHS tapes and DVDs and found a tape marked "February 27, 2003." The tape felt extraordinarily heavy in my hands. This was the one game I had never watched. I put the VHS into the VCR and fast forwarded to the second period, then pressed "pause" and turned to Sidney.

"This is the last game of my senior year," I said. "At this point, we were ranked first for playoffs so winning didn't matter much. Our coach told us to take it easy, but I felt like I had something to prove because this team had beaten us three times during the season. It was about nine minutes into the regular season, and I was going after the opposite team's captain. A girl named Chantal Fournier, really talented, was planning on playing at Boston College. So, she had the puck, and I slammed her into the boards, and…" I drew a rattling breath and closed my eyes, trying not to cry. "Here, just watch."

I pressed the "play" button and braced myself for what I was about to watch. The second Chantal crossed the center line, I was all over her. I effectively killed every opportunity she had to pass or score. I forced her to the far right side, and just as she lifted her stick to pass to a teammate I checked her into the boards. It was hard to see the details of the hit, and even harder for me to remember, but I could see her legs fly up in the air and her helmet skid across the ice. Chantal grabbed at my jersey, throwing me off balance and causing me to slide into her. I quickly returned to my feet and went after the puck, without noticing that Chantal was still lying face down on the ice. I quickly scored, but everyone's attention was on Chantal. Her head was bent at an awkward angle and she was completely immobile. Her teammates soon surrounded her as trainers hurried across the ice to find out what was wrong.

The screen went black. Apparently my father had turned off the camera while the trainers tended to Chantal. When he turned the camera back on, a team of paramedics had arrived and were taking Chantal off the ice on a gurney.

I stopped the tape and exhaled. I hadn't realized that I had been holding my breath while watching the clip.

"What happened?" Sid asked softly.

"Apparently when I hit her, she started to fall and grabbed for me to help steady herself, but instead she made me fall, too. I slid into her and her head hit the boards at an odd angle. She broke three vertebrae in her neck."

"Wow," Sid breathed. "Was she unconscious?"

I nodded. "She was unconscious until they got to the hospital. When she woke up, they realized…" I felt a sob rise in my throat and hot tears began to fall down my cheeks. "They realized she was paralyzed. Everyone agreed it was some weird freak accident, they all said it wasn't my fault at all, but I still blamed myself. I visited her in the hospital once and she was so nice, so forgiving, that I couldn't make myself go back. I really slacked off during the playoffs—at first I was terrified to even step on the ice. I was so unaggressive it was like I wasn't even playing. I was so afraid to hit anyone…so afraid it would happen again."

I stared at my hands and took gasping breaths between sobs as Sidney stared at me. "Karine," he whispered, stroking my cheek with his thumb, "I am so sorry. I had no idea."

"I ruined her life," I sobbed. I had never actually talked about this incident with anyone before. All the emotions that I had bottled up in the past four years were finally surfacing, and it was ugly.

"Like you said, it was a freak accident."

"A freak accident that never would have happened if I wouldn't have been so fucking aggressive," I replied angrily.

"You can't blame yourself for this. It could have happened to anyone."

"But it happened to me. I don't expect you to understand, but there is no way I could ever play competitively after this. Chantal was one of Canada's best players. And now she can't even walk."

Sid pulled me into a firm, comforting hug and I cried uncontrollably against his chest. He rocked me back and forth and pressed his cheek against my hot forehead. "You can't keep blaming yourself," he said over and over.

6 comments:

gpat08 said...

Thanks for the update! This just keeps getting better everytime:)

Lauren said...

I agree with gpat - I really really really like this story!

Update again soon please!

Tay Tay said...

I LOVE THIS STORY! You are a terrific writer and I cannot wait to see what happens next!

Manda said...

and the plot thickens... maybe? haha anyways this is the most amazing story, I swear. It's definitely my favorite anyways!

lilyr said...

WOW!
what a great chapter!

miss.crosby said...

Love the update, can't wait to see what happens next with them :)