This is part one of a series of stories I don’t think quite work. To see the context for this story, bounce over to When A Story Doesn’t Quite Work.
I felt the dull crunch as my daughter broke a nose. Hideous and primal, its resonance reached us in the eighth row. The crowd cheered sporadically. Parents that drank too much, on a Sunday afternoon, in a barn of a hockey rink; they cheered. I tried to sink into my seat. It didn’t work. Over the course of the fight I’d bottomed out in my descent of shame. Now I just floundered. As the referee pointed to the locker room I slunk out of my seat. It wasn’t my daughters nose that was broken, it was her fist that did the breaking.
Audrey’s a tall girl, taller than most. Her growth spurt came early. That’s what the doctor says. I know the truth, my daughter willed herself tall.
She has a life size cutout of Zdeno Chara in her bedroom. She’s obsessed with the six-foot-nine Bruins defenseman, tallest to play the game. Chara may not have been her first word, but it was certainly in the top ten. I blame Jack Edwards, the Bruins announcer, or maybe myself for watching all the games. No, it was Jack.
So it’s no surprise that she wanted to play hockey. It’s no surprise she wanted to play defense. It’s no surprise she picked number thirty three for her jersey number — Chara’s number — , and it’s no surprise she willed herself tall.
“Hey,” I said, greeting two parents loitering outside the locker rooms. I assumed they belonged to the broken nose girl. They looked normal enough. The mom sported a Dorchester Devils sweatshirt. The dad wore a Bruins jersey. The Devils were the team my daughter’s Badgers were playing.
“’Eh,” the dad said, back-nodding at me.
“That your girl broke Leslie’s nose?” The mom asked in a thick Southie brogue. I think I blushed. No, I know I blushed.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“Sorry?” the mom asked. “Honey, your little girl knows how to play the game!” The dad looked as embarrassed as I felt, sheepish, sunken into himself; overwhelmed by this little plump hockey mom.
“Uh, yeah, I guess,” I stumbled. “But I’m sorry she broke — Leslie’s? — nose.”
“She was askin’ for it. She’s a pest, best in the league,” the mom said proudly.
“Dad?” Audrey asked for me. I turned to see her standing in the corridor, gear bag in hand, stuffed full of pads and pants and helmet. She was still flush from the game, her hair matted with sweat. One eye was puffy, both looked like she’d been crying.
“Oh lookit you!” The mom said, looking up to Audrey’s puffy eye. “Good to know my baby can punch uphill.”
“I’m sorry,” Audrey said, I could hear the tears behind her words. “Is Leslie okay?”
“She’s fine,” the mom said. “And you! You’re gonna live up to those numbers!” She gave Audrey a squeeze on the arm. The dad sighed discretely, gave me a look of apology that I tried to return.
“Uh, right, I guess we’ll see you next game,” I said trying to break away.
“Yeah, uh, I guess,” the dad said as we made our escape.
The crying started in the parking lot. I held her, kind of, the tall fourteen year old with the big hockey stick hugged my small form for all I was worth.
“I didn’t mean to break her nose!” Audrey choked out, between sniffles and sobs. “She just sort of fell into it.”
She was right. That punch is burned into my brain. Leslie lost her balance just as Audrey let fly with a small balled up fist. Fist and nose met as the smaller girl fell to the ice. That’s when nose crunched.
She just sort of fell into it.
Athletes don’t fight in baseball, or soccer, or football, or basketball; just hockey. It’s part of the heritage of the game, the common wisdom says. If the ref won’t call rough play, you punch the other player. Sure, you sit for a few minutes, then you’re back on the ice. It’s that self defense that made me love hockey. And now… my daughter broke noses, well, nose.
I was proud of her. I was ashamed of that pride. She stood up for herself; violently. She could stand up for herself; violently. I’ve hidden from the question: ‘what if Audrey had to stand up for herself; violently’, since I first realized she might have to. Who wants to dwell on that? Who wants to think our daughters grow up in a world where they have to stand up for themselves; violently?
My daughter breaks noses.
“Coach was so mad.”
“He’s supposed to be,” I said.
“He said I wasn’t thinking of the team.”
“Well, were you?” I asked.
“No,” Audrey sniffled. “She just…”
“She was a pest,” I said.
“Yeah! She chirped me all game, called me Brianne,” after the Game of Thrones character. It was a common insult for my daughter who had willed herself tall, but hadn’t yet willed herself boobs. The insult shouldn’t bite, Brianne is a bad ass, so is Audrey.
I opened the back of the SUV. Audrey loaded her gear. The bag was almost as big as I was.
“And she kept cross checking Robin behind the play.” Robin was my daughters defense partner. Watching them skate backwards in sync was more beautiful than any of the figure skaters I saw at the rink. I’d linger at practices just to watch the two of them flip and back skate as the play turned up ice.
“So,” I said as we got into the car. “You were defending you teammate.” It was more statement than question.
“Yes!” Audrey said indignant.
“Knowing that you’d get a misconduct.” Another statement. Actually she been assessed a five minute fighting major and a ten minute match misconduct and been ejected from the game.
“It was the third period,” She said in her defense.
“Yep,” I said as I navigated the streets to the highway. “And you were up two points with less than five minutes.”
“Right.” She calmed down as we got away from the game, as she relaxed.
“So the Badgers lost their top defenseman up by two in the last couple of minutes.”
“Yeah,” Audrey got it now. The Badgers needed her in that situation, and she’d let herself be goaded into a fight.
“So now you know,” I said. “And you know that people get hurt in hockey fights.”
“Yeah,” she grew a little distant, blaming herself.