At first it was harder for Coach to deal with me being a girl than it was for the guys I played with. All I needed to do was tackle the guys a couple of times and they learned real fast that I might be a girl but I was a girl who would hurt them if they underestimated me. In the end Coach wound up using me on the varsity team because the JV boys didn’t seem to want to play with me after a while. I also noticed that Coach had to hide behind his sunglasses and clip board the first few times we scrimmaged. I worried that maybe I was doing something wrong but Dad laughed and said, “No honey. Just keep on doing what you’re doing.” So I did … and I loved it.
I can’t explain the freedom that I experienced for the first time in my life. I was around people I didn’t have to be so flaming careful with. On the field and during a game it was like I had been let out of prison. I could use my full strength and know for certain that the other guy was going to as well … well, at least he would if he wasn’t stupid and wanting to eat turf salad.
As I got older I understood … and some of it was with Jonathon’s help who was a spectator of life more than a player in it … that it wasn’t the aggression and the release of it that I craved so much as the inclusion in something that was … that was … I guess that put me in a group that was also set apart, but because people admired them. And early on that is all I saw and all I felt. Eventually though I heard the adults whisper … steroids, freak of nature, and things that were a lot ruder still. The only time that I let it bother me, because I knew the truth, was when they tried to rag on my parents. I almost gave the sport up because I couldn’t stand what they were saying.
But of all the people in the world I didn’t expect to tell me to keep playing, it was my mother who almost forbid me to quit. “Rocky, I don’t particularly like you playing football and you know it. You scare me to death when you are out there; you play so hard. But I also won’t let anyone tell my little girl what she can and what she cannot do. Even I have to admit you are good and if this is something that God is going to use in your life, or just let you have for a time in your life, I won’t stand in the way of it. I don’t want you to ever let ignorant people stop you from doing something you feel called to do.”
That was a little heavier than I’d ever thought about. I don’t know if I felt called to play football, it was just a game and I loved playing. Giving up the game wouldn’t hurt me so much as it was giving into the people who tried to stop me from playing that would.
My freshman year our team went to the play offs. They tried to keep me from playing and I had to do all of this drug testing and stuff. It was the first time I’d really heard the term hermaphrodite used in something other than mythology. They were a bunch of idiots. I am a girl … I am all girl … I just happen to be a big girl … I never have understood why some people get so freaked out by that. I found out that Jonathon’s family put some pressure where it would hurt and threatened some lawsuits. I was so mad that I nearly quit again because of that but Jonathon talked me out of it. Apparently he saw me playing as some kind of win for all GWBs. When I found out some of the other kids saw it the same way I shut up. I didn’t want them to let me play because I was a GWB and was owed something. I wanted to play because I could and because it was the fair thing to do.
Finally that controversy was over and things settled down and after the first game people stopped yapping so much. After the second playoff game they shut up all together. Coaches on the other teams would put their biggest guys up against me and at varsity level they were easily twice my size. But size doesn’t count for everything. I got clocked pretty hard a few times but I never cried and just got up, spit the grass out of my mouth, and kept playing without complaint. If a better player had taken me I told people that it was just the opportunity to learn how to make me a better player. If a poorer player had taken me down then I deserved it and vowed not to let it happen again.
We were practicing for the third game in the playoff and the coach could see my game was off. An article in the newspaper had said some pretty raunchy things – all veiled in scientific terms of course – that had been so nasty people had tried to hide the paper from me but there was no chance of that because it got carried nationally. Some ignoramuses that called themselves “journalists” even tried to interview me but I blew them off as it was all just none of their business and my family didn’t need the grief they were trying to create. I felt under a microscope like that chick from African must have that had tried for the Olympics.
Coach put up with it for maybe two seconds into practice before he’d had enough of my performance. When he called me on it, in front of God and everybody I blew a gasket and told them why I was angry. “People are so stupid! For some reason it seems a bigger deal that I’m playing a straight game and not crying to mommy when I get a bruise than the rest of the guys who are doing the doggone same thing! Why won’t they just leave us alone and let us play?! They aren’t nothing but a bunch of busy bodies that have forgotten how to wear their big girl panties. I swear, the adults whine and complain lots more than we do!” Then I went off in a sing song voice while swishing my hips to the other side after every sentence, “It’s not fair. She’s a girl. She’ll distract our sons.” Then I went back to my normal voice and posture and railed, “If their sons are too stupid to pay attention to the game then they deserve to lose. It ain’t like I got a lot to show off and even if I did I sure wouldn’t be showing it off to … to …” I’d finally caught a hold of my mouth and realized who I was talking to. “… well, I sure wouldn’t be showing it off to idiots like that,” I ended a lot more quietly, and a lot more embarrassed, than I had started.
“Are we through throwing our tantrum Charbonneau?” At my nod he continued. “Good.” I flinched, waiting for the blast. You just didn’t trust coach when he sounded all polite and stuff like that. “Now listen up ladies … your pardon Charbonneau …,” I caught a couple of the guys trying to hide a grin and my eyes promised them pain during the next tackle drill. “This is exactly what those people want. They want to distract you. They want to take away your self confidence. You earned your way here but the works not over. You want the state championship then you are going to have to keep working, keep driving … and stop listening to idiots that have more time on their hands than sense!” He ended on a voice bigger than I could ever hope to get mine to be … ever. Coach could make a drill instructor shrivel up in envy. “Charbonneau, you are going to run laps until I say stop and then you are going to drop and give me fifty. I catch anyone else thinking they can mouth off on my field they’ll be joining the queen here. Got it?!” I never could decide whether I loved that man or hated him.
We didn’t win state that year but we came close. We got closer the year after that. My junior year we destroyed everything in our path, took state, and was in the running for high school national champions. We didn’t get the title but the fact that our dinky little school from the middle of nowhere was ever in the running in the first place was an honor in and of itself. Then things changed.
Someone got to the people at the state level who made the rules. They couldn’t penalize me for being a girl, oh no, not if they didn’t want every libber in the world bearing down on them and burning them on a pyre of made of cast iron bras. They were also trying to avoid getting hung up in the courts over discrimination for like years and years. No they pulled the one card there was no way for me to fight against … insurance.
There’d been several deaths over the last couple of years, and more than a few serious injuries, of high school sports players that probably shouldn’t have been playing if they’d really been given a thorough physical. And some of the deaths had nothing to do with playing and everything to do with what the players did off the field. Some of the injuries on the field were just … well, you play hard you get hurt and sometimes accidents happen … and sometimes really bad accidents happen. Insurance for schools with sports programs was a huge deal. I won’t bother going into all of the crud of it but basically I was deemed too high risk because I was a GWB. Oh no, of course it wasn’t that I was a girl, it was that the sport was so … well … dangerous and as a GWB I put the whole school’s ability to get insurance at risk. Blah … blah … freaking … blah.
I was sidelined. Coach offered to let me stay on the team but I would be benched and that was probably more than he was supposed to have offered me. But I couldn’t do it. It hurt. A lot. To be that close, to even wear the gear and uniform, but for what? I had noticed the guys were closing ranks, too worried that if they fought for me they’d be losing their own chances. There was never any chance of me playing at college and some of the guys were counting on sports scholarships to help them get in. I’d played with most of them since eighth grade and they were friends … at least on the field. How was I supposed to ask them to give all of that up for one girl when it could make a huge difference on whether they’d even get to go to college or not. My tuition was already taken care of and my grades were good, without sports some of them would never get a chance to do more than dig around trying to survive on minimum wage.
So when I cried it wasn’t where anyone could see me. I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me, not even my parents. Dad kept talking up how far I’d gone and how proud he was of me. Mom was just so relieved it made me sick, but I loved her so I just accepted it for what it was … the end to her fear that her one and only chickie would get drain bammaged or something. The only person I let see me cry was Jonathon. That was when I found out that I wasn’t just one of the guys to Jonathon but a living, breathing girl … a real girl that he wasn’t exactly averse to having as more than a friend. And wasn’t that something strange to suddenly find out after so many years of friendship.
I spent the summer before and the first half of my senior year with something completely new to occupy what little bit of down time I had. Not that there was much down time. Everywhere I looked there were reminders that my childhood was ending and that adulthood was about to slam me face first into the concrete sidewalk of life. SATs, college applications, senior this and senior that with streamers and confetti to go along with it. Dad was also big into politics so as my eighteenth birthday approached he would talk my ear off about who I should vote for and why and lots of other stuff I tried to be interested in for his sake if not my own.
I did learn things. It seems while I was playing football the world had turned into a dangerous place. The Green War was getting all mixed up with the international movements of the “have’s and have not’s.” It wasn’t just about the environment any more. It wasn’t just about the wee little animals being so much more important than humans ever could be. Some of these people really believed that humans were a disease of the planet and that everything would be better off if we were all eradicated. Now it was about who deserved to live and who didn’t. Who deserved to have any wealth and who didn’t. Who could prove that they were more deserving than everyone else. It was crazy.
Crazier still was that us GWBs were somehow an embarrassment to the Greenies and that we needed to be put down as mistakes that never should have been born in the first place. We were using up resources that should have been reserved for the … you got it, the deserving few.
All of this was going on in the background when it was time for the GWBs annual spring get together. This year it was planned for San Francisco and it was going to be a really big deal. It was always a big deal when we all got together but this was one of the few times we’d done it in a major city because it was usually a logistical nightmare … and expensive. But this year it was special. Those of us who still lived … and we lost a couple every year though the number was smaller every year as we beat the odds against us … were turning eighteen and this was supposed to be like a coming of age extravaganza for us all, both a celebration for those that had made it and a memorial for those that had not.
I’ll never forget that week. It was amazing. On our last night we were having kind of a prom thing I guess you would call it, a formal affair and we all got dressed up. The biggest of my muscles from playing football for so long had softened a bit and I’d had to fight hard not to have it all turn into fat. Jonathon said I looked like an Amazon queen … and he really meant it as a compliment so I took it that way though it embarrassed the heck out of me that he’d said it in front of my parents. My mother smiled like she’d had an answer to prayer and my dad got that “I’m gonna get my shotgun” look that I’d seen on the faces of some of the other girls in school I knew.
I was dressed way more girly than I had ever dressed before. Not just girly but grown up woman kind of girly and I knew my dad wasn’t too comfortable with the amount of skin I was showing. Heck I wasn’t too comfortable with the amount of skin I was showing but when you are 5’10” with legs that were as long as some were tall there was a lot of skin to cover up. We couldn’t find a formal long enough to reach the floor so I had to settle for an “evening frock” from a big and tall store. It managed to pretend that it wanted to cover my knees but it didn’t quite make it. I wanted a longer dress but it seems if they put material into making a dress long they take it away from covering the top part of you. I’m not an easy customer preferring jeans and t-shirts or peasant skirts for Sunday morning church but what the hey … when in Rome and San Francisco was the most decadent and hedonistic place I had ever been. As weird as I felt the one shouldered, dark green and black patterned silk dress passed inspection.
I’d even let my mom talk me into doing something with my hair besides the one thick braid down my back that I normally left it in. It was the one girly thing that I’d never changed about myself even when I was a football player. Short hair would have been a pain to deal with under the helmet and despite it all I did want people to remember I was a girl. I would have looked like a dork with a pixie cut so I just braided the hair and used my pads to keep it under my jersey so no one could “accidentally” grab it.
I actually liked how I looked when it was all said and done but I was going to regret the get up and hair style before the night was over. And the shoes. Oh yeah, piling my feet into the size nine spikes was definitely a pain … it turned into a torture later.
Every time that night I’d tried to go to the ladies room there had been a line and after a while I was pretty desperate. I told my parents where I was going and my mother rolled her eyes and said good luck. Dad said be careful which was a kind of private joke between us because it would take a pretty hefty person to do me much harm. Some of my muscles weren’t quite a big as they used to be but that didn’t mean that I was some helpless pixie; I could still throw a bale of hay harder and further than many grown men. Those are the last words I had with my parents.
I asked the hotel concierge where a less … uh hmmm … busy ladies’ powder room was and she smiled sympathetically and told me where it was located the floor above. I found it and finally was able to stop bouncing around nervously. Thankfully I was the only one there. I wasn’t too eager to go back to the crowded hall and was doubly thankful I wasn’t out in the hall when I heard what I thought was another rowdy party going on in the banquet all on this floor.
I was finally gearing myself to head back – and probably get an earful from my dad for taking so long – when the bathroom door flew open. Jonathon stood there with fear written all over his face, but he didn’t stand there long. He catapulted into me and the stupid heels I was wearing didn’t let me catch myself before we were both going down.
Anyone else I would probably decked and had off of me in less than a second but this was Jonathon. I was considering whether I should give him the benefit of the doubt or kill him fast or slow when I realized he was trying to cover me with his own body. And then there was a rumble I still have nightmares about.