I was my husband's possession. His sports car -- the first Japanese import of the Datsun 240Z -- was his obsession, but football was his true passion. Our lives diverged in an often turbulent universe that seems alien to me now, like a rash of game day metaphors in a pigskin parallel where I was always on my guard.
I was 18 when I began the pre-game dating scramble. Steve was the first round draft pick with a tight end that I'd had a horrendous crush on at Phoenix's Moon Valley High School. It was two years later that we signed a life-long contract and another three before we added the first of four beautiful daughters to the roster. For the first time in my young life, I was right there on the line of scrimmage, an important player in a committed relationship. We were the home team. The problem was my new husband thought he was my quarterback, my coach, and my owner. It wasn't long before I realized my status as a trophy wife, a pretty woman on his arm in public and a cook and ball washer in private.
As a savvy offensive receiver, I should have
recognized the penalty flags early on. Lord knows, the air was littered with
them. Still, I loved him unconditionally. It was this very dedication that
defined me in his eyes as a good sport, a term that flew like "Hail
Marys" whenever I patiently listened to his long-winded play-by-play that
never quite rang true. Like the time he wrecked his beloved 240Z, sold the
salvage to a man in Wickenburg, then stole the damn thing back and hid it for a
year at a friend's house. I discovered the illegal motion when two
undercover cops escorted him into the bathroom of our home where I was taking a
shower. "Hey, honey? Can we talk to you?"
When we first got together, I was a sexual rookie, but Steve always questioned that -- as if I'd lied about it. I lost credibility and major yardage on the issue, but got sacked regularly (hence four kids in six years). Since Steve liked to be scorekeeper, the point spread grew exceedingly wide and I feared I'd never catch up. To make things worse -- even though he was my heart and soul and I loved him passionately -- he never trusted me. When I didn't stick to formation or bucked his hole assignments, he was quick to lay it out for me: who's MVP in this league, baby? Who calls the plays? And don't you forget it. More reminders that we were not playing for the same team.
I had always considered myself mentally resilient, a rebellious free-spirit with a tough exterior and a good, kind heart. But this self-concept was sorely tested when I found that my blocking wasn't as developed as Steve's rushing and clipping. Not only that, his penchant for beer guzzling and male bonding outside the home stadium was heads above the competition. He and his buddies reveled in the other-worldly parallel where testosterone-charged players grunted, shoved, chased each other around Astroturf and fondled leathery pigskins like they were cheerleaders' breasts.
Yet, even after a less than stellar halftime, I considered our marriage a playoff hopeful. I was just too na´ve to realize that my defensive strategy was inept, no matter how hard I tried to instill in him the rules of the marital playbook. It wasn't until the fourth quarter that I realized training camp was a dismal failure, I was only a punter, and my importance lie in being an obedient bench warmer while he ran whatever plays he pleased.
For the record books, the instant replay would show multiple offenses. Whenever I fumbled, he tackled me straight away, kicked me when I was down, and took possession. He ran interference and practiced intentional grounding on my emotions simply to reinforce his domination. "Where were the officials?" you might ask. "Hey, ref! Unnecessary roughing! Time out! Time out!"
I was too proud. Despite that my family would not have tolerated his heavy-handed zone defense, I kept it a secret. I told no one of my shame and weakness of character, absence of spine. I continued to live with my quarterback sneak -- the pigskin in disguise -- unaware that my spirit was disintegrating proportionately to the escalating level of my anxiety. But this I did know: I was tired of standing on the sidelines of my life and Steve's. I wanted to be a role model for my children on the gridiron that was our family union, a strong female and champion they could look up to. I longed to be loved by a man who thought I was more than a hollow trophy. And I needed it before I had to be taken off the field on a stretcher.
In desperate I-formation, I took the kids to Phoenix for three months, causing a significant delay of game that allowed me to rally without him around. I confess I also found an eligible substitution who helped me kickoff a renewed interest in myself and my future. Brian was a fair catch on a level playing field that was just what the therapist ordered.
I vowed not to return to Steve, but my unsuspecting father ran pass interference and convinced me to go for the conversion. Fourth down and goal, and I was right back at the line of scrimmage with my biggest rival. A turnover worthy of the Hall of Fame.
With me in his pocket, it wasn't long before Steve's power sweep was in place again, this time with renewed vigor. During several scoring drives, I was picked off and tossed laterally like a pigskin onto the bed where he piled on and held me down. Offsides! My defense was crumbling on all fronts! I was then place-kicked through the uprights for extra points. Score!
Even in my fog of misery, it was clear that Steve and I would not make it to the finals, and after almost ten years of marriage, I snapped. The two-minute warning had already sounded without my ever being aware of it. I was blitzed by panic attacks as devastating as Steve's daily betrayals of my love for him. Narrowly deflecting a no-return annihilation, a wise doctor sent me to Shoal Creek for some down time and safety. With my kids taken care of by loyal fans, I focused my energies on getting myself together, retiring from the league, and forming a new game plan.
It had taken thirteen turbulent seasons before I
could no longer be the good sport. For my own well-being and that of my
children, I eliminated Steve as a contender in the Super Bowl of my life. Like
the demise of the XFL, the marriage went down in abject defeat. With an ailing
spirit, the toughest decision of my life came after huddling with my supporters
and determining to be a single, unapologetic mom. And at last, a free agent.