Jen loved soccer and went on to become the varsity team captain. In ninth grade, once she found out that I played soccer, she harassed me until I joined the team. I started playing soccer when I was 5 and like most cliche love stories, I couldn’t stay away. I felt like I owed it to myself and to her to play. I struggled to decide what to do because 8 hours of school with bullies was already hard enough. Could I handle after school practices and traveling to games with them?
As teammates, the bullies and I ended up mostly ignoring each other. That didn’t stop them from picking on me during school hours, but it was a little easier to ignore knowing that I could kick their ass on the field. Despite butting heads with a majority of my soccer team, most of our team was incredibly close when it came to the sport. We functioned well as a team. A mutual love for the game among our team was enough to usually put aside the dislike they had for me. The team captains often arranged soccer parties at someone’s house and everyone would attend. Going to these parties was one of the few times that I felt normal, even if it was superficial. My feelings were real.
One of the girls would order pizza while we all changed into our team sweats and began to loaf around on the couch, gossiping. It felt like the closest thing to a girl’s slumber party from 90’s teen movies that real life could get. I usually lingered near Jen and another girl named Austin, leaning into their protection and friendship. We even got matching team sweatshirts made with our own money. We wore those light grey sweatshirts everywhere, like an unofficial uniform. Our respective soccer numbers were on the back of the sweatshirt and the front read, “bring it down", an inside joke that originated during one of our (drunken) sleepovers. I never drank which only gave people another reason to pick on me. This just served as another gentle reminder that I’d never be the same as these people, that I’d never really fit in.