A lot of people have been asking me: Brian, where are you going to watch the USA-England match? And it irks the crap out of me.
It’s an innocent question, sure. There’s certainly no malice behind asking someone who eats, breathes, sleeps, and secretes soccer where they’re watching only the biggest World Cup match of the past decade.* Maybe it’s the first question after “Mind if I join you?” or “Care to predict the final score?” or “How many adult beverages will you be consuming prior to the match?”
(*I’d say the last “big” World Cup match the Yanks played in was against Germany in 2002 quarterfinals. Disagree? Feel free to rip me a new one in the comments section below. )
Again, these are all harmless questions. Typically, I am an easygoing guy. It takes a lot to get me riled up. Inquiries like these shouldn’t bother me.
But this one definitely has.
About 17 years ago, on a coolish, late-November afternoon, my friend Matt and I were playing street hockey in his driveway. One goal, three sticks (our friend Derek joined us), and a hard plastic ball. That’s all we needed for a decent game. Anyway, while dodging the orange, brown, and gray leaves scattered along his driveway, this young kid across the street asked if he could play.
“Do you have a stick?”
He nodded yes.
“Go get it.”
I must have forgotten my manners, because a few minutes into our mini-Stanley Cup final, it dawned upon me that I didn’t get his name.
“It’s John. I think your bother’s in my class at Kent Heights. His name’s Chris, right?”
If you had asked me at the time, whether this wannabe street hockey player would stick around for the better part of two decades, I would have called you an idiot. Then again, I was 12 at the time, so I probably would’ve called you something far worse.
I’m not going to lie: John and I did not become fast friends immediately thereafter.
We didn’t do sleepovers, ride bikes to the comic store, or even play much hockey after that autumn afternoon. In fact, we pretty much went our separate ways after that initial hockey game.
Over the years, he became close friends with my brother, and they often hung out at our house. Of course, John and I would still talk. John’s never at loss for words. He’s a future politician, I swear. So while we weren’t on each other’s fives or anything, we remained friendly toward each other.
Heartache has to be one of the worst feelings in the world. Those of us who’ve been snakebitten by it know its merciless grip all too well. The worst part is there’s nothing you can do to stop it. All you can do is cope. Of course, it helps to have friends surrounding you though. Makes the process easier.
I was going through a bout of heartache myself a few years ago. Like any failed relationship, it’s the separation from someone you’ve spent so much time with for years that really tugs at the heart. The familiarity of it vanishes. Happy routines cease. And so on. For me, it was made even tougher because my ex had moved far enough away where I’d have to buy a plane ticket to see her. I never did. Instead, I allowed myself to be surrounded by people who loved me. Interestingly, John turned out be one of those friends.
He’d been in a similar situation. He said “Brian, don’t think of it as just ‘you’ being hurt. It’s ‘us.’ We’re you’re friends. You hurt, we hurt. You laugh, we laugh.’” I took those words to heart. And he was right: we’d laugh together; cry together, and find time to watch sports together. We became close. He became like a brother to me. And it was just what I needed.
John and I used meet every Sunday for breakfast. No matter what happened throughout the week, no matter how busy, we always made time to see each other every Sunday.
We talked about sports, politics (I mean, he is a future politician), and girls. Speaking of girls, it wasn’t long after we began this Sunday morning tradition that John brought a girl named Jill along with him.
Two Decembers ago, my buddy Mario called one night in a panic. “I have to get John and Jill a present. Any ideas?” I urged him to remain calm. Granted, it was only five days before Christmas, but as a guy, that’s still plenty of time to complete one’s shopping.
“No you, don’t understand. It’s not a Christmas present. It’s an engagement gift. John’s going propose to her tonight.”
An innocent little save-the-date card came through the mail last fall. John and Jill had set the date: June 12, 2010. Ceremony at 2, reception at 4. No conflicts, of course. I circled the date on the calendar. It’s going to be a big day, I told myself. A few weeks later, I would fully realize how much that statement bled with truth.
Now that I think about it, I shouldn’t be terribly upset when someone asks me where I’ll be watching USA-England. The truth is, I won’t be watching it – live, at least. I’ll, of course, have to DVR it, and likely watch it around the witching hour, which could be a form of fun I’ve yet to discover.
If I had to miss this colossal game between colonizer and former colony, David vs. Goliath circa 1950, superpower vs. upstart, I would have to have a damn good reason not to see it. I’d say that witnessing John marry his beautiful bride Jill will be one hundred thousand times better than any soccer game I will ever watch or partake in.
Don't get me wrong: I love soccer. I think it's pathetically evident that I do. But, my passion for it doesn't even rival the love I have for the people who love me.