In one fleeting moment, trying to find a light silver lining around the very dark cloud of Micah’s death, I joked with myself that at least I’d never have to struggle with hockey tryouts again. In theory, this was true. No worrying about which team he fit best on, which tryouts he did best at, which coaches would give him a real chance at a spot on a good team. But when you do something every year for nine years…
For the past two months, I have stayed more or less away from the rinks. I did briefly go over to the Gilbert rink for 15 minutes a few weeks ago to talk to a new coach, and I was at Oceanside for a state league committee meeting in late March. However, those were more meetings that could have been held in an office somewhere than truly being at the rink. After pressing through a few scorekeeping assignments in late February and a Knights Junior A weekend in early March, I was having a hard time holding together so close to the rink. I blocked my entire scorekeeping availability schedule through the end of April as well as most of May, and engaged myself in other pursuits–or just spending more time at home with Cynthia and Avi. Frankly, I’m not even sure how quickly I will get scheduled for future scorekeeping opportunities now that I’ve been away for so long…
Yesterday morning, I woke up and decided that I needed to get back over to the rink…a rink…any rink. I knew that Micah’s first travel hockey organization, Desert Youth Hockey Association (DYHA) was having their second day of tryouts, and that there would be lots of people around the rink to talk and banter with. By 9:30am, off to Oceanside I went. I arrived during the 18AA tryouts and while the kids for the 16AA tryouts–the kids that Micah had most recently played with/against–just beginning to show up to get ready. My first thought: Yikes! I really don’t miss the cold.
It didn’t take more than a minute before the first couple parents approached me to say hello, ask what I was doing there, and to say how sorry they were for my loss–and ask how I was doing. It’s a conversation I’ve grown accustomed to over the past three and a half months. I still don’t know the best way to answer. I still stand there for a half second and think, “Do they really want to hear what I’m thinking and feeling, or are they just being polite?” Out of the fear that my sob story will drive people away, I give a curt thank you, I’m doing as best as I can be at this point in time, and try to shift the conversation to another topic. Easy enough, I thought yesterday–I’m at the DYHA Midget 18AA (and then 16AA) tryouts, I’m surrounded by parents and kids I’ve known for years, there’s plenty else to discuss. Once again, this was much more easily said than done. Each attempt to talk about the tryouts going on in front of us led to another wince, another memory, another realization that–for the first time in nine years–I was at youth hockey tryouts without Micah. I truly had no reason to be there, other than to socialize, try to help soothe the nerves of my friends, and apparently to challenge myself to face the beginning of a life around the rink without Micah.
For a while, I can hide my emotions and grieving behind my genuine attempts to help others. I think that’s been my most frequent coping strategy since Micah died–spending my time trying to help others grieve to the point where I do not have time to fuss over my own grief. Sometimes it works…sometimes, not so much. Days like yesterday–and this whole weekend really–show lots of cracks in that armor. How many times could I talk about Mr. Smith’s son and Mrs. Jones’s daughter on the ice without looking out to the goalies and not seeing Micah? Talking to a mother about all the exciting things to come in the upcoming season, all the while feeling my insides being ripped out because I know that Micah will no longer experience those things, and I will no longer experience them with him.
I sat for a while tonight looking at his goalie bag. I wondered what he would want me to do with his old gear–his leg pads, his mask, his custom AHU-colored blocker and catcher. I can’t bring myself to donate or sell them. In a way, they are my last connection to Micah playing hockey. They give me the illusion that he can come back anytime, pick up the bag, and do his stutter-step push-off from the bench towards his home net. I know he can’t. I know he never will. It’s just too much for me to let go of right now. I spent time today asking other hockey parent friends whether Micah would have made this team or that team…or whether he might have just played on the remaining AHU Midget 16AA team. Of course, it was unfair for me to ask those questions of people that, themselves, had no idea how to ask me questions about my grieving–my loss.
A few people, tongues firmly planted in cheek (I hope), asked me if I was there to “spy” for AHU. Funny thing is, even though I’m slated to be AHU’s Bantam Silver A/AA team manager, I left the rink before the Bantam portion of the tryouts even began. Even Sean Whyte, DYHA’s Coach-in-Chief, stopped by to say hello and chat with me for a couple minutes–and encourage me to not worry about having players for my AHU team.
As I sit here at 9:30 this evening, the weekend almost officially over, I’m still having a hard time coming to grips with the reality and significance of this weekend. I wish I had something flowery and poetic to say–but I really don’t right now. I’m just thinking about Micah, how much I miss him, and how hard the coming hockey season is going to be without my goalie–on and off the ice.