a life toward soccer, pt 4
The TIAS Diary Project continues with the 4th part of a series put together by Los Angeles artist Noe Valladolid. This is his life story, his soccer story in words and pictures. For the first installment, I referred to it as a stab at a TIAS comic book. Then I called it a graphic novel. Below, Part 4 continues where Part 3 started. Those who touch our lives are more than just names.
How important are role models for young women? How important are friends? Does family ever matter? Are those the only things that really do? Every ounce of support seems to matter when a girl is finding her way in the world; when she is trying to become a woman, that support makes them bold and fearless. The more kindness and interest they get, the more likely they are to succeed. I saw it happen with Danielle. I saw it fail her as well. Sometimes we forget to say the things that are on our minds. We forget to say that succeed or fail, they will always have someone to depend on, someone to fall back on and someone simply there to listen. For a girl becoming a young woman the things not said are the most important.
My cousin Cecilia (Coco to her friends) is an energetic young girl. Tanned, short, pretty and intensely athletic. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better example of Hispanic soccer playing pride. I see many of the great qualities that Danielle had in Cecilia. She has a joy in school and life that I haven’t seen in more than a decade. Everything is a world of wonder, and her future is filled with unlimited potential. So long as she believes it to be, then that is the way it will be. It is as if she could shape her friends, her school and her life by will alone. How did she develop this sense of optimism and even fearlessness? It was not simple, and it certainly was not easy, especially when compared to the life of her sisters. Their paths were not as simple or filled with promise. They grew up with all the same amenities but not quite the same support system as Coco.
She had four sisters, two from each of her parents’ previous marriages. While the girls got along at first, over time the household grew tense. The thing that began dividing family, including the extended family were how the girls were treated. Where a parent should strive for equality in love, compassion and discipline between all of the children, there was a disparity at their home. It was a small disparity, something not done intentionally or even noticed by the parents but it created a rift with the family, mine included. Each of the two daughters were favored by one but not both of the parents. Each fought for the attention, the support, the fairness from the other that never seemed to come. They suffered in a house divided, not physically as much as emotionally. The grades were not there, the friendships were not as memorable, school was only a temporary relief (or escape) from home. Relationships were strained and the family tried to carry on as every small discrepancy escalated into a full-blown argument. Those bits of doubt and strife shaped the girls into young women, not imperfect but lacking. Those things the family never spoke about but we all acknowledged in our own ways. Some of the daughters not quite sure of their place, having strained relationships with their friends as much as their family. Others saying that their adulthood was fulfilling while trying to rewrite their own childhood.
Coco was the exception.
She was loved by her sisters equally because she was the first and only child from the remarried couple. She was the bridge between the families, the sisters divided no longer. She was loved and supported by her parents equally as well. She was given every opportunity to succeed, knowing that even failure would be met with kindness and understanding. This made her bold and daring.
On the soccer pitch she was not the greatest star her team had ever seen; she was not the tallest or fastest. She was however the most determined and tenacious the school had ever seen. Often playing out of position and finding herself as a leading scorer when she was supposed to be pedaling the backline. Her passion to win was fearfless. It was written on her face with an intense look that I hadn’t seen outside of professional sports. She challenged girls that outsized her by a good margin, doggedly plucking the ball out with a hard tackle and forcing her teammates to play as hard as she did with nothing more than a look and a lot of yelling. Her team was one of the best in the region and invited to compete in Texas for an invitational. We knew she was a good reason why.
A summer ago she showed up for a visit wearing a bright pink cast. We were shocked and dismayed by the injury. Her mother was mortified by the cast. Coco didn’t seem to mind as she recounted the story. It was the final game of the season and the weather was drizzly. Both teams were playing very rough but the referee’s whistle remained silent. Those that think only the men play hard have never watched teen girls playing. Coco went down as a bigger girl pulled her jersey. She came down hard on the palm of her hands, a loud pop later and she knew it was a break. Her wrist was folded in an awkward position. The ref blew the whistle as the medic and her mom ran out to the field. Both benches cleared to see the injury, the girl that had pulled her down apologizing profusely as Coco knelt in the wet grass holding her wrist and looking around, not quite sure what to do.
She said it didn’t hurt but began freaking out when her mom started crying. Which caused her teammates to begin crying. The rival team and coach did their best to keep her spirits up. Her mother was in hysterics, wondering how anybody could hurt her baby. She held Coco and chastised the players, saying that it was not only the final game with that team but it was also her birthday. Which made an already sad scene really pitiful. They rallied around and sung happy birthday to Coco as the paramedics were arriving.
That last part was a lie, her birthday was actually the following day. Not that it made the events any better.
Cecilia told a slightly different version of the events. She felt like the accident was karma catching up to her,the cast a badge of honor. She recounted the number of times she got the upper hand with an elbow or a trip during heated games. The number of girls she dropped without being called on it by the ref, the number of rough or even dirty tricks she used on the field. She told me about those poor girls in a hushed tone. The pulled jerseys, the nudge with a hip, the tumble in the mud. It brought a devious smile to her face, something that the rest of the family missed. She wore the cast through the summer and sported it in her team photograph, which she proudly gave copies of to her relatives.
The cast was off by the time the next season got rolling. It would become her prized possession, her favorite souvenir stacked in between the MVP and tournament trophies lining her bookshelf. Names from all her classmates, well wishes from her team covering every inch of the cast in a spectrum of Sharpie hues. With her confidence at an all-time high, she continued playing as hard if not harder than the boys.
I went to visit my uncle not too long ago. Coco was on the way out to the mall with one of her sisters. She was wearing oversized sunglasses. I asked if she was hiding from the paparazzi. She took them off and showed me a shiny black eye. Her cheek puffed a little with the bruise and the spot above her eyelid scratched. I jokingly offered to beat up the kid that did it to her. She said that wasn’t necessary, the other girl got off worse than she did. She gave me that devilish grin again, and I believed her. She put her sunglasses back on and left. It was then that I remembered how Danielle was, before Coco was even born. When she was at her happiest. When she felt like she mattered.
Danielle would come to work and sometimes sport several fresh bruises on her legs and arms. At least once that I could clearly remember with a bright shiner, something that looked much worse than it was. It made us all worry in the lab, but it never made her feel self conscious. She thought it was all part of the game and something that made her stronger. A couple of times the inside of her lips shredded—a shoulder smashed into her mouth—causing her braces to cut her mouth terribly. She would chew on ice cubes and talk about getting on the Cal State soccer team. It was soccer that kept her going, but nothing outside of it seemed to have as much importance. If only she knew, or had the type of support that Coco had.
Support means a lot to young women finding their way. For many sports can be the most important way to direct the energy, channel the focus and build the confidence that might be lacking from home and school. These were things that I was pitifully aware of growing up around soccer. It wasn’t until I lived through the tragedy of Danielle and saw the triumph of Cecilia that I realized how beautiful the game really was. It turned girls into strong young women, it brought families together and it inspired us to hold ourselves to a higher standard. I hope that some day even the most jaded sports fan will understand how important it is for those little girls “hogging” up the parks on weekends chasing a stupid soccer ball is every bit as important to the national fabric, the future and our collective identity as the loudest football stadium, the oldest baseball rivalry or the flashiest basketball team.
Words, illustration, and photos by Noe Valladolid, author at 1Up.com