Football (American football, if it has to be distinguished)

When I was a teenager
My father slept in his running shoes
To prevent me running away from home
In the middle of the night
He was autistic too
And has hyperacute hearing
So there was no possible way
To slip by his door unheard

He’d block my path
I’d head-butt my way past him
Pitting my 105 pounds
Against his 250+ pounds
And often winning
Because I didn’t feel the pain
And then he’d have to chase me
All the way down the sidewalk
Tackle me
And convince me to come home
Before my screaming
Made a neighbor call 911
Which would inevitably lead
To a mental institution

My father said
I’d have made a good linebacker
This always pleased me to hear
Not that I wanted to hurt him
But that he cared so little for gender roles
That he was willing to envision his daughter
As a football player

When I was young
I wanted to play football
He told me the girl
Was the best player on his team

This worried me
Because for all I wanted to play
I knew I’d suck
And I knew of no life path
In which a girl could play football
Unless she was the best of the best
And maybe not even then

I would not have been able
To see the ball
As more than
Fragments exploding
In all directions
Brown and white
But disconnected and unfamiliar
Just like in basketball

Give me ping-pong
Give me badminton
Give me a game with a small ball
Moving fast
A light ball that my arms could hit
Without bending backwards
And that would activate
My tracking instincts
And I would be able to
Coordinate everything unconsciously
Even stand a chance of winning

But I didn’t want ping-pong
And I didn’t want badminton
Not at school, not there, not then
I wanted football
And nobody would let me play

My arms were too weak
To throw a good pass
My eyesight too jumbled
To make sense of all the players
Moving in all directions
Or the ball, at al

Football is a game of strategy
Of multitasking
I couldn’t do either one

Not to mention social skills
Visual perception
Ability to perform under pressure
If there was a game that was built
For everyone but me
It was football

Still, I wanted to play
I wanted the opportunity
To play, and to suck
And to be allowed to play anyway
Even if not on the elite school teams
I wanted to be able to do this
Without the girls who came after me
Being told:

“Sorry, we tried a girl once.
It didn’t work out.”

I wanted to play badly
Without letting down
A whole gender

I wanted to be
Just another player
Who was always picked last for the team
But who at least got to play

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