“Go! Go! Go!” my husband commands, pushing me out the door. “You’re going to be late!” I am in a fuddle about what to wear to the soccer game he has pushed me into — friends of friends who play casually each Sunday.
“Why am I even going?” I pout, nervous about this new solo adventure, about being one of two women playing with a group of men I have never met. “I haven’t played in like a hundred years. Forget it.”
“You’re going,” he says, walking me to the car, “because you love soccer.”
Correction. I loved soccer, once, a long time ago. Back before I discovered boys and make up and the thrill of sneaking cigarettes in dark alleys. Back before I threw myself into one night stands and other people and true love. Back before I learned to care more about others than myself, and certainly back before Mother-Love polished off what little me was left, seducing me with gray contentment, leaving me awkward and clunky in my old self, my own desires and wants buried under a steely mother bliss. Clink clank, clink clank, my heart, my heart for you.
Now, I can feel destiny tugging at my heels; muted colors, khaki clothing, a life for others. I am a step away from Monochrome Mother; I am but a small SUV away from becoming — insert horror movie scream here — A Soccer Mom.
The soccer moms of the kids I grew up with were masters of sideline gossip, always perfectly coifed and absolutely committed to over-involvement in their children’s lives. They shuttled their children to ballet and piano and birthday parties seemingly without question, didn’t work outside the home and had no apparent hobbies, desires, personality, or teams of their own. They looked perfect, acted perfect, and appeared perfectly happy slicing oranges, fighting stains, and hosting elaborate ice-cream parties. Later, of course, I would hear of their depressions, their divorces, the affairs, the now-open closets. But at the time, I envied, then hated, their apparent satisfaction. I wanted my own mom to give in to domestic motherhood as easily, to join the ranks of beige overcoats clucking on the sidelines. I wanted her to choose that life, not follow her own. I desperately wanted her to be what I am now running from. A stiff. Empty. Zombie Mama.
I am sprinting to beat a 22-year-old Argentian boy to the ball. We get there at the same time and crash into each other, our heat and breath and sweat co-mingling as we fall, arms and legs into each other.
“Sorry! Sorry!” he shouts, jumping up and offering me his hand. I take it — it is electric. His youth, his energy, his thinly veiled attraction to me are arythmic. I freeze and for a moment envision our life together; freedom in the Argentinian heat, no kids, no husband, no details. We roll in warm rain, our skin like fire, consuming. He is dark, untamed, relentless. We spend hours sipping Mate and reading poetry. He sings a song in my ear, I inhale his youth, get lost, forget.
I snap back to reality, pull myself up, and get back in the game. I am ridiculously out of shape. My legs are shaky, my muscles exhausted. I tell myself to slow down, take it easy, go home, but I know I won’t. Here, on the soccer field, my body remembers movement, sensation, the clarity of adrenaline. Here, I am free; I have a pulse; I’m alive. They can’t make me go back, I think, and I drift for a minute into a flash of memory. My mom in brown corduroy overalls, the faint smell of pot, a guitar. She is singing to me a Betty Carter folk song, the lyrics now bearing weight I could never understand before: “Freight train freight train goin’ so fast/freight train freight train goin’ so fast/please don’t tell what train I’m on/and they won’t know where I’ve gone.”
It suddenly strikes me as another irony of motherhood that we arrive here via that essential and inalienable human right, Freedom of Choice. Because to me, Mother-Love is the anti-freedom, the anti-choice. I can’t grow out of it, break up with it, get over it. It is tireless and amnesic; it makes me forget I have I ever desired anything else, ever dreamed different kinds of dreams.
I get home to find a clean, quiet house. While my daughter naps, my husband draws me a bath and sits at the edge of the tub as I show off my new scrapes, my new good mood. He feigns jealousy as I tell him about the young Argentinian, the unexpected body-bumping bonuses of co-ed soccer. Suddenly, I’m wistful. I tell him about a crowded bus ride I once took, in stop and go San Francisco traffic. How I fell forward into the man in front of me, innocently at first, then stayed there, pressed against this stranger, feeling his heat, his desire, his confusion. How two stops later, we were even closer, my hips rubbing against his, my face in his chest, more bumping, more stopping, more going.
“What happened to that girl?” I ask, watching my husband undress and slip into the tub with me, his body showing the effects of all this talk, this steam, my nakedness. “Where did she get off to?”
“I think,” he says, kissing the bruise beginning to show on my upper thigh while moving generously, slowly, up, “that she’s still . . . right . . . here . . .”
With all the excitement my husband comes quickly, pulling out just in time — a dangerous game I won’t play anymore. Just like that, I have decided there are some things that are easier for me to do with one kid, easier to do if I don’t find myself pregnant again just yet. Things I had forgotten once mattered to me, things like soccer, and sex, and having a life.
When I show up to my OB-GYN’s office, she is out delivering a baby. I opt to stick with my appointment by using the on-call doctor and take it as a good sign when she introduces herself as — no joke —Dr. Freely.
While Dr. Freely preps me, I lie back on the exam table and study the butterfly mobile hanging from the ceiling. I cramp as she inserts a copper IUD into my uterus. This is a (now mostly) safe, non-chemical form of birth control that can last up to ten years. The butterflies blur with a sharp, searing pain, and I realize I am crying. I cry for all the sterile ceilings I have stared up at in my life: my first trip to Planned Parenthood, an abortion when I was 19, the birth of my daughter. I cry because I will most likely never be pregnant by accident again, maybe never even pregnant again. I cry because I can feel history in the making. I can feel the power this choice holds, the weight of this gift, the choices I have now that my own mother and grandmother did not.
I hug Dr. Freely on the way out, pick up my daughter from preschool, and float unsettled and giddy through the day much as I did when I first discovered I was pregnant; my little secret inside me, my life, my dreams.
That night, I dream the boys from soccer have invited me to join them as travelling gypsies in far away places. In my dream, I am thrilled, vibrant, flirtateous. It is not until I am actually at the airport that it hits me — in the same shocking dream way you realize you have shown up to school naked — that I could never go. That I have a daughter, a husband, a life.
I wake up and pull my daughter close, my husband loops an arm around us both. Sometimes, I’m learning, you don’t have to run to be free. Sometimes it’s all right here.