In the middle of the party, Soobz, of all people, who had disappeared for a good hour-and-a-half, maybe more, walked down the stairs into the living room wearing an oversized fur coat and pointy red sunglasses. Stringy brown hair flopped when he walked. Sloppy red lipstick. Only white briefs underneath.
Soobz, aka Scotty Prince Subalenko, had turned into a wild man, a complete one-eighty from the guy I grew up with. He and I had set a high-school scoring record last year, before turning into bulldogs in the spring. With that fur coat on he really looked like he had nothing to lose. Underneath, I could see bruises on his chest, that immediate yellow and purple kind, from training earlier that day.
Over the summer, the older players had taken him in. He didn’t leave their side during practices or swims or mealtime. They loved him and he discovered he loved to be loved. He went to Espio before any of us. Soobz had talent.
He lit a cigarette and had obviously smoked a few before that one, because a haze followed him down the stairs. He shouted to himself, hands in the air wildly, the wrong words to every rap song that played in the background. And then he yelled at us to call him “Prince.”
“I’m the motherfuckin’ Prince,” he said.
Parko said fuck off Soobz and tried to remove the coat, I think so he could wear it, though Soobz held on. Parko grabbed a Bud Light from the fridge and poured it onto Soobz’s head. The pale foam sank into the fur. The girl whose house we were in wigged out and ran up the stairs into a bedroom and slammed the door. Jonesy laughed so hard he fell backwards off the counter he’d been sitting on. He grabbed a fruit bowl and a bottle of red wine on his way down. His huge body wriggled on the ground.
My mother’s fur coat, my mother’s fur coat, the girl yelled from the bedroom. Out a window I could see that half-light that appears before the sun shows. The street looked pretty. The morning gleam did too much for an otherwise boring place—boring, except for, or because of, the oil roads, farms and sports teams that connected the place to every other place. A drive-through city in a flyover province. A suburban glitch. Airport hotels, car dealerships, overpasses, freeways, outlet malls and soccer fields. Fields so green in the summer they made up for the impossibility of another winter.
The party had turned sour. I hated to look at the time. I caught a glimpse of the microwave’s clock and it said we were well past curfew. Kickoff in less than twelve hours. We were playing the snakes or maybe the wolves. Baz, the team captain, yelled from across the room saying, ya, Soobz, what the fuck and Soobz practically swallowed his dart, inhaled the whole thing, stumbled over to Baz and blew smoke right in his face. Soobz turned to look at the rest of us—a mix of athletes, college students and scrapes from town—laughed and kissed Baz on the lips.
Baz hurtled his head into Soobz. Soobz’s body flattened on the floor, head sent into unconsciousness, alcohol-blood bleeding all over the place. Somebody got us home. Probably Jonesy drove. Soobz and Baz would link up that day for a goal and an assist while Soobz scored two more on his own. He’d arrived at the field still wearing the fur coat—no sunglasses—and when the both of them walked into the locker room with matching forehead cuts and cloudy red lips, the coaches kept their eyes down.
Coaches always kept their eyes down, sweat it out, they’d say. I should’ve told Soobz that the kiss didn’t seem half as bad as the headbutt, that it wasn’t worth the concussion. I opted to sweat it out, eyes down. The bulldogs lost, pushing themselves to the limit as I watched from the bench.
The first week into training camp Soobz had proven himself one of the better players on the team. He couldn’t be stopped. During one training session, still early days, we stood in the soft green field. Players in neon pinnies ran through pylons, sprinting, committing to tackles, attacking, defending; directed by the coaches with their hoarse calls and toneless whistles. The drills were thoughtless yet meditative, the closest thing you could get to safe space amongst the strangely ordered confusion.
The white line boundaries and goal posts were geometric and glowed in the grass. We waited a moment for the coaches to set up. The drill looked attack-focused, one-two-pass-and-move with an emphasis on finishing on target. The other players were bigger than the players from last year, from high school—they were the size of men. Scotty splashed water in his mouth.
“I’m going to fuck a hundred girls this year,” he said, “for real.”
I asked if he’d shave my head after practice. Preemptively attack-focused, a bulldog. After that, we divided into the starting eleven and substitutes. I took an elbow to the face from either Jonesy or Baz and my nose broke. I stood up easily but decided to go back down. Roddo’s blotto!, one of them said. I didn’t come to for a bit, and when I did, I was fanned out on a folding table in the physio’s office. I closed my eyes to the dirty cone light above while my head bubbled and swelled and went from being one thing to another.
You’re fucking bulldogs, let’s go, coach said calmly at halftime at our next game, like his heart wasn’t in it. We are bulldogs, I thought. Though coach half-assed it.
His wife had been cheating on him. I think everyone knew but him. Parko noticed her at Espio one night and before he could cross the dancefloor to tell us, stupid smile on his face, we’d all noticed her, planted among the strobes and people half her age. I’d used Baz’s ID to get in and stood off to the side drinking tap water from a beer can I’d refilled in the washroom. Coach’s wife danced and pulled herself deep into someone who definitely wasn’t coach. He had a boy face and looked like he could’ve played on our team. They left together. We’d decided to leave when Soobz lobbed a full bottle of beer into the crowd. He pulled the fire alarm on the way out.
That night actually ended with a crash that I wasn’t around for. Drunk, Jonesy slammed into a guardrail at a crosswalk and spun out into a tree. He’d had his seatbelt on but it didn’t show. He looked brain-dead from the shoulders up. Apparently the car hit a fire hydrant, too, and sent water gushing straight up into the air, falling down on the existing dew and damp suburban grass.
He wasn’t brain-dead. When asked about it, Jonesy tried to tell to us how he’d made it rain, the water from the hydrant landing in tiny drops on the pavement. McNeer practically cried from laughing so hard, fucking hilarious, he said, Jonesy’s one of a kind, Parko said. I noticed Jonesy spent more time on the sideline after that.
I’d been with Jonesy up until right before the accident. He wouldn’t stop talking about how Soobz better figure his shit out, figure your shit out, Soobz, he’d said, unhappy with Scotty’s behaviour at Espio. He dropped me and Scotty off at my parents’ house and for once we got to sleep before whatever practice or match came next.
Thinking about it now, someone should have said something. Coach did a good job looking out for us. But Jonesy’s crash and coach’s wife at Espio were in the past now, when we were in the middle of summer camp, three-a-day sessions then, I think. No one told coach, he never asked, Espio forever packed, Jonesy never the same, Soobz still Soobz—or Scotty—and all of us still fucking bulldogs.
The locker room smelled like piss and dust. Wood benches, concrete floors and crooked white cone lights. Damage marks and electrical tape all over the walls. I could see the dried salt stains on the bodies of everyone around me. Salt stains and cuts and scratches and balms and lotions for the pain and different colour tape wrapping and holding together different parts of our ankles, calves, knees, thighs and ribs—bodies of brilliant wreckage. Coach went on about consolidating our efforts in the final third, quit shying away from fifty-fifties. Parko leaned over and showed me some nudes of his girlfriend. He smelled like old beer.
“I got those, too,” I said.
“Fuck off, Roddo.” He slammed my ribs with his fist, “bitch boy.”
I winced. I had purple around my eyes and a gash on my nose that looked moldy. My shaved head likely made me look like a madman.
I didn’t show him my phone, obviously. I had the pictures—everyone did—but I didn’t want to be the one to tell him. I didn’t want to end up pinned down at the rookie party, waterboarded by the team and their Bacardi 151. I didn’t drink and never had. I also didn’t want to end up like Soobz, concussed on the floor and leaking because I couldn’t figure my shit out.
The other team was only up one at half but we lost by four in the end. Scotty scored a hat trick.
The rookie party closed out the summer, training camp and preseason. We hadn’t won a game, really lost everything.
The party had a reputation. Soobz blacked out almost immediately. I tried to act the way I would at Espio. There were more people there than just the team. The house smelled like cigarettes and a different kind of sweat than the locker room. Rap music played loud enough from the kitchen to fill every other room in the house. The whole scenario looked unremarkable from the outside.
The older players gathered and sat the new players in front of them like a job interview and asked questions, like, How would you want to go out? How many girls have you had sex with? What’s your wildest sex story? We had mostly bad answers. The growing crowd laughed.
“I want to die in my bed with Nikes on my feet,” said Sneeze, a thousand-yard stare through question period.
They called him Sneeze because every single time he did a shot he would sneeze. He probably sneezed fourteen or fifteen times that night, his eyes bloodshot and bulging, cheeks red, forehead slick, huffing and puffing around the house. When they asked him a different question he answered with the same stupid line about his Nikes. They didn’t like that and shaved the top of his head to look like a newborn’s, like he was balding. Then the diapers came out and we all had to strip down and wrestle for a rubber dog toy shaped like a dildo.
The rest of the party went like this: more stripping, more drinking, baby karaoke, called girlfriends on speakerphone, handed over our wallets, intricate head shaving, watched porn, they used our credit cards to shop online for butt plugs and VHS pornos, the beer bong came out, 151 waterfalls, and then they shipped the online purchases to our parents, girlfriends or coach.
I managed to sweat it out and avoid most everything until Jonesy, incoherent and in pain, took my beer and spat it out. What the fuck is this, Roddo, he asked, and in the midst of the mayhem some players turned their heads. I didn’t say a word and then they all looked at me. A pit opened in my stomach.
“Roddo’s always blotto!” said Soobz, from the couch he’d passed out on. He was coming to life, having missed the party entirely. He looked like he was on life support. They laughed, then hesitated. My stomach gaped. I deferred to my head injury, the deep wound on the bridge of my nose, the tape on my ankles and calf, my eyes aren’t right, look at my head, I said, I pulled at the tape, pressed my eyes hard, fruitlessly squeezed my skull, but they had all these things too, these things we would always come back from.
They closed in. I turned into a babe, a bulldog for real, eyes down, lost my head, nearly died, according to Jonesy, it was hilarious, McNeer said.
Later, I understood what Scotty Prince Subalenko had tried to do for me. I know they hesitated. Had to for Soobz.