I didn’t think this day would come so soon. I thought we had more time. Did we really have to end it this way? I thought this would be on my terms. But so many things in life aren’t on our own terms.
You were passed down to me from my siblings. I fell in love with you at the age of three, when I couldn’t possibly understand the concept of the game. Some of my earliest childhood memories are with you. You were with me as I grew up, carried me through my formative years all the way to college and after. You may have been my first love. I’ve been hurt by love before and didn’t expect it – the suddenness. I struggled getting through it then just as I’ve struggled with letting you go now.
We know of the impermanence of life but maybe we can’t fully grasp it until something we deeply love so much is gone in an instant. It happens time and time again, but it never gets easier. Maybe I expected you’d always be here which was foolish. Because nothing lasts forever. Everything comes to an end. I don’t think I could fully grasp your magnitude until you were gone.
I tried to avoid you for a long time but you’re everywhere, catching me off guard as you’ve ignited the years of memories that live deep inside to come alive and play before my eyes like a film reel. I thought of you today as I was cleaning my room. I found some old news articles, pictures and awards of some of the things we’ve accomplished together. They make me feel proud but also sad. The pictures feel so heavy and so loud. It comes rushing back – the feelings at that exact moment. How is it that I can hear the noise in the picture? I’d be lying if I said I haven’t thought about you every day since that awful day. You know the one, don’t you?
I see you all over. Why do you have to be…everywhere? You’re connected to the people in my life – in my friends who were once teammates, in my parents, in my siblings. I see you in big hits in sporting events. I can’t even watch them without thinking of you and what happened between us. My heart drops into my stomach. It makes me nauseous. I cringe as I hear the sound of the crunching helmets, the bodies slamming the boards, the sound of equipment on equipment as two players collide.
It’s strange how you are so intertwined in everything still. I think of you every time I put my old hockey sweats on. I think of you when the season starts to change and the fall mornings are brisk, reminding me the hockey season is about to begin. A song takes me to the locker room, singing with my teammates. Sometimes that song starts playing – the one I listened to in the car with my teammates before we arrived at the rink for our last game together. It’s like a time machine, taking me back to the moment when everything was still good. I’ve found myself longing for what once was. While your memory will fade, my surroundings will always connect me to you.
Some of my proudest moments involve you, and some of my favorite moments too. You gave me something to be proud of and taught me to be proud of myself. True happiness was skating with my teammates, my best friends, fighting for a common goal. What can replace the camaraderie of a team? Hours upon hours were dedicated to you. You’ve spanned all emotions with me. You helped me create a name for myself. You gave me confidence. You made me feel like a superhero for just a few hours.
You were there for me for 25 years. And then you weren’t.
Do you remember our moments together? Do you remember…
Mini hockey in the hotel hallways? When I was named captain of my all boys team? The locker room music – joking, laughing and dancing with teammates? The pre-game pep talks? The world-stopping goals? The hat tricks and playmakers? The emotion? Excruciating blocked shots? Team bonding in the hotel? That feeling the night before the first game of the season like the night before Christmas morning? Pre-game meals? Clinching the conference playoff championship game? Painful ice bath sessions? The soul crushing losses? The countless injuries? The tears of pain and tears of joy? Short-handed goals? Painful off-ice training? Advancing to the national championships year after year? The bus rides? Early childhood morning drives to games in full equipment? 5AM practices? All the awards? Team dinners? Post-game celebrations? Road trips? The pride in my parent’s eyes as they watched me play? The passion? Pre-game jitters? My siblings road tripping across the country to see me play? The big wins? The shivers traversing my entire body after a game winning goal? Crashing the ice with my whole team to celebrate?
I’ll remember. And I’ll never forget.
You allowed me to learn so much about myself, to grow in ways I couldn’t even understand until you were gone. What you taught me could never be taught elsewhere. You taught me courage, discipline, teamwork, connectedness. You were my guide. My escape. You taught me what it means to be an underdog, and to rise to the occasion.
You were there in the darkest moments and lightest moments. You gave me so many opportunities, allowed me to travel the world, to connect with people, and even led me to excellent education. You taught me to work hard for everything. You taught me that in order to be great, I need to give it everything I have.
You enhanced my life but also tore it apart. I almost wish I would have chosen to move forward with a different sport to play competitively instead. Maybe then I wouldn’t have suffered so many head injuries. I knew there were risks of playing but never this. I never believed you could have done this. There were moments I felt like I was drowning. Tears flowed and the thoughts drowned me. But the waves of tears couldn’t wash you away.
Couldn’t you have let me know that game was my last so I could have done things differently? So I could’ve held onto those moments harder? I would have taken it all in one last time and engraved it into my senses and nerves. While you’ll start to fade, I’ll never forget…that first cold breath of air hitting the lungs as I stepped onto the ice. The sound of the puck against the blades of the stick. The crisp sound of the skates crunching into a fresh cut ice. The smell and the feeling of the shocking chill in the arena. The electrifying feeling after scoring a goal like I was on top of the world.
I’ll also never forget the feeling of defeat – a feeling that has become all too familiar over the past two and a half years. But you taught me how to bounce back from defeat. You taught me to show up even after the setbacks. You made me stronger. You made me resilient. And maybe that’s partly why I’m still here today.
I love you but I also hate you. You had my back and then stabbed me in it. How could you do this? We’ve been through so much together. I’ve bled for you. I’ve cried for you. You made me who I am and then broke me down, making me question my existence. You were a part of me. I thought we could get through anything. You gave me confidence and courage. I felt like I could be myself in your presence. You helped me express my emotions. You hurt me. You broke me. You picked me up. You beat me down.
You taught me so many lessons. You taught me to be a good teammate, to be humble, to be patient. You created beauty. But you also caused destruction. You destroyed all I had worked for. You caused me so much pain, but I felt I truly lived because of you. It all changed within a split second, though. Couldn’t you have warned me? It all changed and I can’t say I’ve truly been able to live the past few years, not like this.
You pushed me to my limits my entire life but I always pushed through. There would always be pain, but I pushed through. But this injury was a limit I never could have imagined experiencing. I’ve barely been pushing through. But I’ve come so far, and I think you’d be proud.
You made me question my worth, to feel inadequate. For years you reminded me of who I am. But that person is gone and now you constantly remind me of who I’m not. I’m coming to terms with the fact that maybe that’s okay. I no longer hold the title of an athlete – that’s part of my past and something I used to be. In just a flash, what I knew, what was ingrained into my being was gone. You were gone. You made me happy, but the last few years you made me depressed.
You weren’t just something I played; you were a piece of my identity.
You made time stand still for at least a little bit, an escape from the inescapable. Worries melted away. You became muscle memory, part of my nervous system.
I put you before my health. I have the scars to show it. I sacrificed so much for you. I didn’t want to let you go because letting you go was letting a piece of me go. I wasn’t ready. Suddenly, I wasn’t that athlete anymore. I couldn’t be who I thought I was. I’ve never felt so misunderstood. You used to make me feel understood.
I tried desperately to hold onto you despite the red flags. Maybe you did give me a sign after the first five head injuries but I ignored them. I couldn’t walk away and let our relationship die. I was in denial about us. When I was told I couldn’t afford another hit to my head, that’s when I knew it was over. I started to mourn you. I never really said goodbye to you after college hockey ended. You caused me so much pain then but I think I knew it wasn’t over between us. At least then, when I needed a break from you, it was on my terms. But this was not on my terms, and this isn’t a break. This goodbye is forever.
I feel guilty for questioning you and if you were worth it. I am grateful for the 25 years we shared and will hold onto those memories forever but honestly, I’ve asked myself if it was worth this. Could anything have prepared me for this consequence of playing?
I’ll never forget how terrified and helpless I felt lying on the ice as I struggled to speak and see clearly. October 13, 2018, things changed for us. Forever. The past few years I haven’t been living. I’ve endured pain, suffering, heartache. I didn’t realize I could feel so low. I’ve felt trapped, unable to do things because my body and mind have been at war with each other.
If I had known that would be the last time, maybe I could remember more. But I don’t remember the details of that last game very clearly. Somehow you took that from me. You didn’t even give me the whole game. The worst part is that I didn’t experience the ending with anyone. I left the ice that day for the last time, alone. I didn’t know it would be the last time in that jersey with my best friends. It would be the last time we would get pumped in the locker room to music together, the last time we embraced after a goal. That day was full of lasts and I didn’t even know it. My last faceoff. My last goal. The last time I celebrated with my team. The last time I shared the ice with my friends. The last time we rode in the car to a game together.
The day came too soon, where I hung up my skates. I walked out of the rink for the last time after the game. But the truth is, this day would’ve always felt too soon. I just wish I could go back and live like it was my last time with you.
We never know when something’s going to be the last time. I now have a deeper understanding of fleeting moments and I’m going to desperately hold on to them all, because every moment is fleeting.
I would never wish the physical and emotional pain you put me through upon anyone. But because of you, I was forced to overcome odds, to be stronger. To fight for something. You gave me the light and the dark, the best and the worst times of my life. I was forced into this adversity. My whole life I chose you, but I didn’t choose this.
When I was lost, I’d put my skates on and all my worries would fade. But the past few years you’ve caused me to feel lost – more lost than I’ve ever felt in my life. I’ve looked for someone or something to blame. I’ve even found myself blaming me for this. And while I have looked to you to blame over and over, I know I can’t.
Maybe without the pain, without the defeat, I wouldn’t truly understand just how special our moments were. While I have endured so much over the past two and a half years, you have given me yet another opportunity to grow.
You have given me so much. You have given me life lessons, connections and experiences. You allowed me to see the world. Most importantly, you brought me the closest relationships of my life – blessings that I count over and over. As I say goodbye, I will always remember the way you made me feel and the people you allowed me to meet. Without those people, my life would mean nothing.
I’ve missed you deeply but I’ve also hated you. I’ve been so mad at you. But I forgive you.
This is on my terms – I forgive you.
As much as I wanted to reject you, you will always be a part of my being. Thank you for teaching me so many valuable life lessons. For teaching me to believe in myself. You are part of my story, how I carry myself. You will always be expressed in my conversations, actions, my strength, and my ability to just. keep. going.
I’ve felt a lot like an underdog the past few years but I’m still here, and yet again I’m rising to the occasion. I’m giving this everything I have. That’s something you taught me that can never be erased.
Though I’ve hated you a lot lately, the truth is, I will always love you.