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Julie Stauber


julie stauber readingSenior Year

Daubing fingertips with the glossy liquid, a girl reflects.
Hot pink kiss polish hints at a playful personality she hides
but for her closest friends.

Unaware of the grace and easy beauty age affords her,
She scours Cosmopolitan attempting to decipher a hidden code.

Promises of a secure future kept her focused on studies
A solid GPA and an envied acceptance letter now calm her
Worried parents.

Rare rebellion niggles in her heart.
Tonight could be the night.

English class, calculus, and homeroom
A casual comment, a quick glance, a slight brush of his arm
So many encounters throughout the day
Each hour, each word, each touch replayed and relived, enjoyed.

Believing the right hairdo will capture his attention,
She grabs for bobby pins and elastic bands,
Brushing aside silver jacks, red gumballs, and butterfly sequined barrettes,
Too childish for her now.
She tries another.

Friends at the door, a wave to Mom and Dad
The graduation bonfire awaits.

The night has hope, everyone has arrived.
Too nervous to show her inexperience, she clutches an empty bottle.
Classmates with more confidence celebrate with cheers.
She scans the crowd and almost gives up.
The fire, the music, the chatter had, at once, been fun, welcoming
Now, hide her immediate torment. He’s there,
With everyone’s ex-girlfriend.

“Good bye,” to friends, “Good night,” to Mom and Dad
Her bedroom door can’t slam quick enough.
Dad was right. Boys, like moths, are easily drawn
To shiny, fancy sparkles.

Soon enough, her own shining attributes will surpass
One who sparkled so young.
College or beyond will be her time.
Just as her heart begins to mend.

The Rink

When I walk into an arena inevitably I am drawn to the sheet of ice. It is the most commanding item in the facility, and if I watch the faces of the rest of the fans walking into the arena, I see their eyes are just as drawn to it as mine. I would imagine the sheer size of each sheet is what draws us in, but I was surprised to learn from my husband how often that size varies. From my vantage point, each sheet seems identical to the next. He pointed out the subtle differences, the space behind the net, the curve of the corner boards, the width between the face-off circles. All contribute to the variation in size from rink to rink.

The changes produce subtle differences in the players who call each arena home too. A smaller sheet leads to more skilled, stick-handling players, those athletes who can dangle the puck between and among opposing team members from one end of the ice to the other. A larger sheet yields more skilled skaters, defensemen who cut back, balancing on the inside edge of the blade of one skate, the outside of the other, but a flash later can change directions, change edges, and appear in an open slot in front of the net for a goal.

Wessman Arena has a large sheet, and it is the home of the Yellowjackets, our team. After fully appreciating the ice, I turn my attention to the stands. With seats only along one side of the arena accommodating about 1,000 fans, my favorite seat is easy to locate, three rows up from the entrance tunnel, the first seat along the aisle. I enjoy watching warm-ups. I try to spot the hot shot, the one who has mastered the stick-handling and the skating, on the opposing team. My son, a hockey player himself, usually spots him first and points him out for me. Every team has at least one, possibly two. Some develop arrogant, almost bigger than life, mannerisms that are difficult to ignore, but others humbly go about their pre-game ritual, charmingly confident in what is about to happen on the ice. These are my favorite players. Our own team has one or two to watch as well. These are the kind of guys my husband recruits, having strong character combined with good skills. Athletics at the Division III level is a lesson in contradictions. How does a coach recruit a skilled athlete who just wants to play for the love of the game, no scholarship and little glory? The excellent players get snatched up by the big Division I teams, but Dan likes to look for that player with good skills who hasn’t had the chance to become the hot shot on the team yet. These are the players who bring home national championships; they’re hardworking and modest. Dan has had many really good hockey players on his team, but he’s had even more really great guys.

While I sit in the stands, even more contradictions abound around me. Two “fans” behind me, a few rows up, are wondering how long Dan will continue to coach. They haven’t recognized me or the kids, so I sit quietly trying to understand their perspective. Every team wants a win, and the Yellowjackets have had plenty, but even winning teams go through slumps. Division III athletics is supposed to be about education first and athletics second. These student-athletes pay to come here and play hockey while they go to school. Many graduate with honors, but in Northern Wisconsin just across the bridge from the National Champion Division I Bulldogs from Duluth, Minnesota, winning hockey games has become more important than education.

Years ago, I would have stood up and turned around to confront these two yo-yos who think they know more about hockey than my husband, but Dan taught me another interesting lesson. If I sit quietly, I can hear their entire conversation, so when they do discover who they are sitting behind, they will be the ones who feel awkward not me. I bite my tongue and don’t say a word. The kids look at me, waiting for me to blow my top, wanting me to jump up and defend our dad’s honor. I wait. Eventually, several players’ parents come up the stairs looking for their seat and say hello to me. The die-hard fans give me a wave and a nod, mouthing good luck. The hushed whispers coming from behind reassure me that I’ve done the right thing.

As the game begins, I say a quick prayer. I ask the Lord for safety in Wessman Arena tonight. Too many scary accidents have happened on this ice surface, so protection is always my first request. I feel strange asking for a win because the other coach is one of Dan’s friends, and I’ve met his wife. We’ve gone out for dinner during the off-season. I ask instead that each player plays to his potential, and then I quick ask that my husband’s players heed his directions. Of course I believe that Dan is a far better coach than the other guy, so if they listen to his directions and do what he asks, they’ll win for sure. Technically I’m not asking that the other team lose, I’m just asking that our team crush the competition. It’s just a small request.

The players take their positions on the freshly cleaned ice, the stage is set. For some it’s the time to display their skills, and for others, it’s the time for their heart to take over, their passion for the game become the purpose for the night. Dan stands behind his boys with arms crossed and hands clenched in fists, trusting and hoping that his planning, his practices, his motivating words will end this night with a win.
I can barely breathe.

* * *

A tie. Ugh. A tie is the worst. At this time of the season, and a dismal season it is, a tie is almost as bad as a loss.

Now, the wait begins. The kids and I wait for the fans to clear out of the arena and then we head to the Yellowjacket Room, a side room off the lobby for those fans who pay a membership fee to visit during intermission and before and after the games. Encased jerseys from past teams hang along the walls, a small bar and an upright, fully stocked beer cooler stand ready in one corner, and two slim TV’s hang in opposite corners. As the wife of the coach, this room is my one perk. I get in without paying the fee but then, like many of the long-time supporters, I take a turn bringing snacks to share with everyone else. At every home game, fans crowd around the small black circular tables, drink beer and talk hockey, nibbling on homemade deviled eggs, crackers and cheese, and brownies.

Most of the die hard fans have already found a spot and started analyzing the game. Some parents and girlfriends wait for their player in the lobby, but I like to hide out at my favorite table in the Jacket Room. A few years ago, most parents would wait for their sons here too, but things have changed. We used to win a lot more. Everyone was much friendlier when we were winning, and it was okay to talk and laugh with the coach’s wife. Now, I might get a smile and a head nod from Dave, the lead supporter. Some others may be polite as well, but most avoid eye contact with me. Tonight, they are unhappy with the coach. The tie means that the losing record continues. No cheering, no moping, just that nagging, nervous feeling continued. It’s like we are all in an uncomfortable, unusual holding pattern until the next game.

For all the planning that goes into each individual game of hockey, very little goes into what we’ll do after each game. If we win, Dan usually makes an appearance in the Jacket Room too. Dave may even start a cheer, “Here’s to the Jackets! Here’s to the Jackets! Here’s to the Jackets! A damn fine team!” Others will join in and may even applaud for Dan and any player who might be in the room. Dan always seems uncomfortable by the attention, but he smiles and thanks everyone, I’m sure grateful for the support but happier for the win. As the cheering dies down, he will try to touch base with those parents who have traveled to Superior to see their son play. We wait patiently, knowing he’s working his way over to us. After a win, most parents and supporters want to shake his hand and chat about the big play. He looks happy to relive the exciting moments over and over again.

Tonight, however, he won’t come to this end of the lobby. He’ll have to analyze a few plays with Rodney, his assistant, talk over a few things with his captains, and then find scores for all the other Division III games going on around the country. It is likely too that Dan will have to explain the tie to Steve, his athletic director. “What happened?” I’ve heard him ask after losses, ties, and even ugly wins. I have watched Dan’s face and could see him going through each and every play in his head, attempting to come up with the one thing he could fix to ensure a win next time. I’ll sit quietly, patiently, waiting to see what he’ll say, but it’s not that simple. It’s so many things that it is impossible to identify that one item. Steve knows that, but he likes to see Dan put on the spot. That same concern and worry that will run across my husband’s face, now forms a ball in my own stomach.

The kids are done waiting tonight and decide to head home. I begin to make my way across the lobby to the coaches’ office. It’s quiet when I arrive. The two guys are intent on reading scores on Dan’s computer. When I step into the room, Dan looks at me, drained, his forehead creased with worry, “Hey, let’s just go home. I’m tired.”

“That’s fine,” I tell him. “I’ll wait for you by the back door, so you can finish up.” He knows that I’ll agree to whatever he suggests, win, lose, or even tie.

I walk through the tunnel into the arena and find that the Zamboni driver has completed the final resurface for the night. The ice has become as smooth as glass, the water allowing a chilly iridescence, and seems to breathe as if in a deep sleep. It’s worked hard tonight, suffered multiple cuts and gashes but now stands ready for the next battle, resting quietly. The cool calm air coming from the ice eases my nerves and relaxes me. The games are over for the weekend. Tomorrow is Sunday, time for church, time to beg for forgiveness for the awful things I might have wished upon the other team. We have a busy week ahead.

Although unaware of my presence, a single player startles me when he emerges from the locker room on the other side of the darkened rink. His hair is still wet from his shower, slicked back. He’s wearing a suit and tie, adjusting the fit as he walks toward the lobby and his family or girlfriend. I recognize him as someone from the first line, one of the leading scorers, one of our hot shots. He moves with that athletic grace that only hockey players seem to master. He looks unconcerned with the outcome of the game tonight, knowing fans cheered for him right to the last second. He’s young. He’s ready to battle a new team in another game next weekend. Just before he steps into the lobby, I notice he gives the ice a quick look. I wonder if he thinks of tonight’s game or the potential of the next. A smooth sheet of ice in a darkened arena can offer a reflection of what was and what will be in one slight instant. He could be Dan, 25 years ago.