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The Hockey Room


We were hot and sweaty with anticipation.  Clustered in a small room, our feet fighting against the piling hockey bags for some space on the floor, we laughed and yelled.  This was the day of the provincial finals that we had been waiting for.  My legs ached, I felt as if my joints were hinges smothered in rust.  At the same time they shook uncontrollably as we jumped on the splintered benches and encouraged each other.

This was the big day.  The big tournament. The ice outside was smooth and willing, the stands filled with eager parents and supportive friends.  Our pupils were wildly dilated.  These past months we had crammed to do our homework in the ten minute car rides between school and our regular two-hour practices.  After the practices we’d finish up the homework to the buzz of the engine as a supportive parent endured the stench of hair plastered to our foreheads.  It might have been no later than 10 p.m. when we hit the bed after a well-deserved shower, but the sleep would still overtook us in an instant. Our bodies had adjusted, but we now smiled, thinking of the promise of a no-practice day that would come tomorrow.

Some of my more enthusiastic teammates stood on the bench in their sports bra and boxers, hooting and encouraging the cheers we were chanting.  Most of us were putting on the first half of our equipment, leaning down or standing up to pull at the bulky pants.  I was concentrated on my skate laces, laughing and leisurely tightening them one by one, my fingers systematically holding the laces until the pressure reached a the perfect level of familiar.

It then happened so quickly, and I had been so high from the exhilaration and anticipation of the game that I never really noticed until he was gone. 

The man had knocked and opened the door before someone had time to answer it. A couple of the girls that weren’t as dressed as I was shrieked and jumped down from the benches.  He was old, at least sixty.  On his face lay hard, anxious creases.  He spoke quickly in sign language, asking where room number eight was.  His hands were formal flourishes that moved with a gracefully easiness.  His quick eyes scanned us over and over again, passing uncaringly over the scantily clad girls.  He repeated the sentence again.  Where may I find room number eight please? 

I must have been in a daze, because before I could stand up (although I’m quite sure it was even before he could finish the second time he asked) a teammate close to the door stood up and started making awkward hand gestures.  She spoke slowly, obnoxiously, loudly.

“We don’t understand.   Bye.”  She shut the door in his face, made a joke about stupid deaf people and how rude to just walk in.  The girls laughed and some got back up on the benches.  The music, which for a second seemed to have faded into the distance for me, came back full force blasting my ears into dizziness. I stood up and ran out after the man, leaving my teammates to their celebration.  He had already gone by the time I reached the hallway.  I asked a around a bit, but I gave up after a few minutes and went back into the changing room. 

When I got back, one of my skates was dangling awkwardly from my foot.  The girls laughed when they saw me and asked me why I had ran out like that. I shook my head and forced a smile.

All I could think about was the rudeness in her tone when she had told him to get out, the anxiety in his eyes and the way I hadn’t objected.

It became a running gag, that joke that someone blurted out when we were together— when Odre stumbled out of the room with only a skate one.  No one made the connection when a couple months later my grandparents showed up for a game and I spent my time speaking to them in our own not-so-special and not-so-hard language.