Battling the Darkness Andrew McSorley
The first fight feels like wind in your face, nothing more, until he rips your helmet off and lands a left jab above your right eyebrow. As soon as you feel the blood trickle into your eye you pretend to slip, fall quickly and lay still on the ice, elbows covering your ears, the sound of horns blowing through the PA system at the Brandt Centre, their trademark victory cry. The trainer stitches you up between periods and you feel so much older than everyone around you. You decide to keep fighting because there’s no other way, nothing else to be done.
You can’t remember winning a fight until your second year in the juniors. You jersey punched the prick right in his mustache until he started to turtle and you landed a lucky right uppercut across the left side of his face. They had to reconstruct his jaw and cheek with metal plates and screws. After that, you started to get calls from scouts, and coach moved you up to the third line.
Three years after you’ve been drafted you wake up one day to find that you really don’t have knuckles on your right hand anymore. It’s all flat, no more ridges like on your left hand. It reminds you of Saskatoon, and the way you realized one day that everything you remembered as a child was wrong. All the mountains of your memory broke into hills, wore down into valleys, shrunk into river beds where you skated on a flat horizon, everything repeating: the skyline, the motion of your legs and hands. You wonder how long someone like you lasts. As long as a place like Saskatoon, as long as anyone is willing to put up with the same thing every day, until they don’t even recognize pieces of themselves anymore.
They put you on a plane and fly you to Philly. You fight an old-timer in the second period, your first left-hander. It’s the only NHL ice-time you get all year. When the refs break the two of you apart the old man shouts over an outstretched arm, “Where the hell did you come from?” You want to tell him you rose from something inconsequential, silt and mud from a melted glacier, or frost in the cracks of a tree branch. Instead you say, “From your mother’s ass,” as you turn to face the Philadelphia crowd, filled with the kind of pain that gives life to something else. You feel the rope of darkness for what’s left of yourself, but everything you took for granted is gone, so you blow ironic kisses to the crowd and pace the empty locker room like something in a cage, like snow blown by thoughtless wind.