The air around me was hallow and cold. Each breath danced vaporously in front of my nose. Whenever a voice would bellow out, it would reverberate with a staccato until finally coming to rest in the fibers of the wood benches that had been designed for spectating. I could feel a swell of adrenaline swim through my veins as another player neared the bench—it was my shift.
When he was close enough to touch the boards, I leaped over the side and felt my blades dig into the ice, causing a crunching lamentation beneath each stride. The game was fast and rough. This was beer-league hockey at best, but there were a few guys on either side that seemed to feel as though there were scouts in the stands as opposed to chilly, apathetic wives and girlfriends. There had already been a fight, a big hit in the corner and a time-out that had come with a warning from the ref that each team needed to settle down or the game would be called a “no contest”.
This stern warning seemed to work for a little while, but in the waning moments of the game, sticks were flying into unprotected chins and groins, elbows were being tossed with careless regard and there was even a knee on knee incident that looked near-lethal at the time. This should have served as a caveat of what was to come—I guess the wives and girlfriends were not the only apathetic bunch in the arena that day.
The final whistle blew sharply. The game was done. Each respective member of their teams began to spill over the sides of the boards of which they had previously been sequestered by. I hadn’t even fully stood up yet when I heard it… a sickening thud akin to that of a flat rock being hurled into a bed of water. When my eyes tracked the ghastly noise, I became privy to an ensuing donnybrook. Amidst the chaos of flailing punches and flying hockey gear, I noticed something that was eerily still—a player unconscious on the ice. When the melee moved a few more feet away from the downed iceman, another sickening jolt punished my insides—it was one of our teammates. A guy by the name of Rory. A real-estate broker, if memory serves me correct. Our team was comprised of paramedics and nurses, Rory was the odd man out… professionally speaking. He was however dating one of our other players, so an honorary spot on the roster was made.
Before I had the chance to glide over to Rory, another teammate had found what I had moments earlier. It was Adam, another medic. A skilled medic with many years of city service. He pushed along the ice with meaningful stride to reach our fallen man. I heard him call out to Rory, but I didn’t hear a response returned. Adam kneeled down and within a moment of doing so, snapped his head upwards to find someone to call out to. He found me.
“Matty, call 9-1-1… he’s seizing…” I immediately turned around and looked into the stands at where my girlfriend had been sitting, watching. I gesticulated with my hand a “phone” pantomime and called out: “Call 9-1-1! Seizure!!!” She reacted swiftly. She was a fellow first responder, so she was not completely disconnected from the world of misadventure and emergency.
When noticing that she had connected with 9-1-1, I skated over to Adam, who had now removed Rory’s helmet. I looked into the features of Rory’s face and noticed nystagmus—this is a common sign in someone having a seizure, uncontrolled, rapid eye movements that look like twitches of the iris. Needless to say, this is not a good thing.
I folded myself until I was lain prone on the ice at the head end of Rory. I was protecting his head from slamming on and off the ice. It was fortunate that the seizure did not last long, but the damage was already done; he had been knocked unconscious and was now horribly confused as to what was transpiring around him, blissfully unaware of his perfidious circumstance. The rabble of ice-boxers had ceased in their truculence and had now became stationary onlookers of what was happening with Rory.
The paramedics would arrive, and I would assist them with getting Rory on a spine-board and readied for transport. Being a healer is a funny thing; always running towards the danger, not wanting to partake in its continuance, but to find and fix the broken.
I watched Rory leave the ice affixed to a stretcher. I knew he was in good hands as I knew the crew taking him away. I stood for a moment, hands rested on my hips, gaze pointed to the blank patch of ice where Rory had once lain. By the time I had lifted my head, all other players had left the ice, and the stands were barren. Not even my girlfriend remained. I couldn’t have been standing there that long…? I propositioned myself.
After I had showered and changed, I went outside into the crisp Fall air and found my girlfriend sitting in our truck with engine running. She wasn’t paying attention as I neared the passenger side, she was texting. I had assumed that she was getting updates on Rory, so when I entered into the cab of the truck, I pressed for details. She seemed perplexed at my line of questioning.
“Babe… any word?”
“Hmm… word? On what…?”
“Uh… Rory! Who are you talking to?” I asked while casting a curious gaze towards the illuminated screen of her phone.
“No one… my sister, why? Who’s Rory?”
“Jesus, really?! You know, Rory… the guy whose melon just got smeared into the ice 2-minutes ago… that Rory!”
“Well, frig… I don’t know his stupid name, Matt!”
“Stupid name…? Nice… real nice.”
“Well… don’t come in barking at me and expect me to know everyone on your teams’ name!”
“Oh, so you were watching? See, cause every time I looked into the stands, you were either buried into your phone! Maybe I shouldn’t be asking you how Rory is and instead question what guy it is that you’re talking to this time…?!”
“Whatever, Matt. Fuck you. Don’t you know how it makes me feel that you would even ask that?!”
“That I would ask that… that I would ask that…?! Miranda, you had a dude in my house when you thought I was at work less than two-weeks ago! HOW COULD I NOT ASK THAT?!”
“THAT WAS TWO-WEEKS AGO! GET OVER IT.”
“Get over it…? Get over it…?”
“Yeah… like, fuck!”
“Did you even see what I did out there…? Did you see me help that man tonight? Or was I as invisible to you as I was two-weeks ago…?”
“Do what tonight, Matt?”
“Do you mean play? Yes, I fucking watched you, okay!”
“No… not okay. Did you even see me help Rory! Did you see me do what I’m good at?”
I think you can tell by now that there were many layers to this heated colloquy. Our relationship was drawing to an end, I knew that. I could feel it. I had been for a while. She was resistant to its end, even though she seemingly cared little for me and had a rather unappealing proclivity towards sleeping with other men.
I’d been feeling invisible to her for a long time. My question as to weather she had witnessed my actions tonight were born from a naïve hope that if she had, maybe she would fall in love with me all over again. Seeing my skill, my ability and my desire to help those in need would seduce her back to me. A fool’s hope. She didn’t even know who the fuck Rory was. Nor did she care.
There was a period of unspoken exchange between us. I was standing outside of the passenger compartment, and she was behind the wheel of the driver’s side, perplexed and inquisitive as to why I had not gotten in yet. In front of my nose I could see frantic breath escape me, just as it had done in the arena. And just as I had stood alone on the ice, I felt alone and loathsome outside. Invisible.
We shared a lingering look at one another. Each of our expressions saying something vastly different. I took a breath in, and slammed the door closed. She looked through the pane of glass, mouthing the words: “Matthew, what the fuck are you doing?” What was I doing? Why was I allowing myself to be cared for so little all the while caring so much?
I started to walk away. I could hear muffled pleas from inside the truck call out from behind me. She even attempted to drive after me for a ways, but I purposefully navigated pathways that a vehicle simply could not pursue. I went to the bar. Of course I did… that’s the only place I went to back then.
After several stiff drinks and a lingering sensation of feeling invisible among the masses, my phone rang. My inebriated fingers struggled to remove it from my pocket. After I did, my liquor-stained gaze stretched and squinted into focus to see who was calling. To my surprise, it was not Miranda… she’d given up. It was an unknown number. I accepted the call and pressed the cold glass of the phone’s face to my ear. A dry voice spoke in from the other side. It was Rory.
“Yeah… hey… Rory, what’s up man?! You good?”
“Yeah… yeah… they are keeping me for at least the night but look… listen… Linda told me what you did—what you did for me… uh… thank you… okay… thank you, I mean that.”
“Yeah… shit… not an issue, man. Just glad you’re okay. Crazy game, right…?”
“Thanks for helping me, Matt. I won’t forget it.” He hung up the phone after a few more moments of chit-chat.
Turns out, I was not invisible. I was never invisible. And I am not invisible today. Sometimes we are just not seen by the people we wish to see us. That should not dictate our value or worth. Because somewhere to someone, we are as visible as a glowing sun. We can feel a little lonesome sometimes… but it’s nice to know that we are never truly alone.
Rory made a full recovery. And I continued walking away from apathetic eyes. I now stand before all of you… humble and very visible. I am continuing to recover… that’s something that is crystal clear. Not at all invisible.