OffsidesJocelyn Jane Cox
The first time they explain offsides to me, I don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. I’ve never watched a game and never heard the term, despite growing up in ice rinks. Maybe the thick helmet protecting my skull from errant sticks, the ice, and other heads, is also blocking me from this concept, preventing its entry to my brain.
Surely I’ll figure it out. I can skate, so they put me in the game.
I still don’t understand when the coaches go over it the second time, or when my fellow players yell it at me the 37th time, or when a succession of refs blow their whistles and point at me 859 times.
I figure out that whenever the refs stop the game, it’s my fault, even when I’m sitting over on the bench between shifts: It’s me. I’ve somehow managed to be offsides even when I’m not on the ice.
They try to be patient. They break it down slowly, as if I’m a five-year-old. Through the metal cage latticed across my face, I watch my coach’s mouth move. I nod my head at her. Yes, I say, Got it. Then I waltz onto the ice right past that blue line approximately 14 minutes before I am supposed to.
The blue line is a boundary, a threshold I should not cross, an electric fence. I try to hang back so I don’t get zapped. But then I find myself out of position in different ways, not skating up when I’m supposed to, bungling plays we’ve gone over in practice and I’ve proven I can help to enact. Apparently, it is a matter of timing. And relativity: me, my stick, and my skates already inside the offensive zone watching my teammate control the puck at center-ice so competently, wow.
It’s frustrating, not just because the refs have to so often stop play and set up new face-offs, but because I otherwise have potential. Nothing NHL level, but I’m getting the hang of the other parts. You could even say I’m excelling, aside from my fatal flaw. Call it “self-sabotage.” “Fear of success.” Maybe I am “getting in my own way.”
It seems like my problem is that I’m always early. But really, it’s that I’m late. Maybe if I’d suited up in all this padding ten years earlier, I could have actually learned this. Maybe I would have been even better at this than the sport to which I devoted thousands of hours of my athletic youth. Maybe I’ve been doing the wrong thing at the wrong time in all the years (and in other areas of my life) leading to this.
I am anxious, over-excited, too enthusiastic, and glad to be part of a team. I take deep breaths. Concentrate. My desire to figure this out is more of a goal than a goal itself.
They install a password in the blue line. I guess it correctly every time.
I get contact lenses that amplify my vision by 1000 percent. I get hearing aids so powerful I can detect every blade slicing across the ice. I can hear the puck cursing. I can hear the fingers of the ref’s wife texting her from their couch to see if she can pick up some pizza and maybe some salad, too? on her way home. I can hear the blue line. As I get closer, it says, Don’t do it.
I can hear all of this but for some reason, I can’t hear everyone screaming, Clear out, clear the zone, get out!
I visit a hypnotist. She dangles a puck back and forth in front of my face. You are onsides, she repeats. Onsides. This may or may not be an actual term, what the hell do I know? I appreciate that she’s trying to implant an opposing ideology and I hope it works.
I gain admission into a prestigious Ph.D. program called “Ice Hockey and the Applied Science of Offsides.” My teammates pay my tuition. I’m failing out.
After class one day, one of the professors pulls me ‘off to the side.’ She quietly suggests I get tested.
The doctor analyzes the footage and runs some diagnostics. Afterward, on the examination table, she tells me she’s never seen a case like mine. It is a rare condition she doesn’t even know how to classify. It’s like a blind spot affecting the ice hockey part of my brain and perhaps a few other critical parts, too. Mostly, I’m fine, but she bends down and looks at me with compassion. I’m sorry, she says, you will always be offsides.
She turns out to be right. It’s not like everything that has happened in the world is my fault. Just a lot of it. In fact, I’m probably offsides right now, here at my desk with no skates, both early and late, never in the right place. But I’m trying so hard. I’m here! I’m ready for a pass. Pass it to me. I’m open.