Soccer was my safe space. On the pitch, I was in control. My future was certain, my focus was clear: to be a champion.

More than that, it was a place where I created and joined a new family: my teammates were my sisters, the parents became my tio’s or tia’s or even like second parents, and my coaches were especially like fathers and mothers to me.

And I felt loved by them all. They picked me up for practice when my father couldn’t and dropped me off just the same. They brought me to games or treated me to food. They made sure I had water and took care of me if I got hurt.

But that wasn’t just with me, we all did that for each other. All of the parents took care of the players as if they were their own. But for me, it really meant something because it was rare for me to receive that kind of nurturing from my father. From him I could only expect one thing: endless rants about how I could’ve done better could’ve given my all but was half-assing shit.

Even though I expected it, the criticisms still hurt. They stuck with me and have become so internalized that I often stop myself from doing things in fear of not being the best. That is especially true of how I played in my last two years of soccer. I definitely did not end on a high note. Transferring and playing with a new team and in a completely different state was more difficult for me than I realized at the time. Add the fact that I was going through a lot of emotional shit with my family and myself and you just get one un-focused and upset soccer player. But even before my move to Boston my game was changing. After I left my father’s house things were different. I became a girl with an intense attitude problem on the field. I was out for blood most times, unafraid and practically ecstatic to tackle another player. Somehow, during my games, my father’s voice would get in my head. I became angry very easily, at my teammates, at the other team, but especially with myself. You see, I had put this huge weight on myself once I stepped out of my father’s threshold; I promised myself that I will prove him wrong. On the day I left he said, “you think you can survive out there Marysol? That’s a big scary world, you think you can survive? Because once you walk out you can never come back.”

I took that risk. More than that, I took his words as a challenge and have made it my goal to succeed and not just survive but thrive in this ‘big scary world’. Then that pressure carried over into my games, invaded my safe space. When I touched the ball wrong or missed a shot or let someone get past me, it was all a sign of failure. I wasn’t just playing for fun anymore; I was basically playing for revenge and with a grudge. Any failure was cataclysmic because it was all proof that my father was right. I could imagine his face, a big smirk and the words Que te dije?

So I got angry quick, walked around the field with a chip on my shoulder and an overwhelming belief that everything was on the line, there was no time for fun and games.

I wish I had the ability, at the time, to see who I was turning into, but I was too deep in my head and no one else seemed to notice enough to bring it up to me. To them, I was just some tough bitch or a hard-ass with an attitude problem. But I needed help. Now that I look back, I was practically screaming for help. Why did no one notice?

Or maybe someone did tell me something and I just would not listen. I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case. I guess I had to figure it out and discover it for myself.

 

The split from my father, from my sisters especially, was heartbreaking. My future became uncertain and scary. My guilt for leaving my sisters weighed heavy like a black cloud in a gray sky and I know that’s cliché but I’m sticking with it anyway.

Most of all, even my one safe and sure place, my game, mi juega, grew into a place of anger, hate, and doubt. No, it wasn’t like that for me all the time. There were a few games where I was able to just play for myself, for fun. Those were my best games, that I will look back on with pride for years to come.

I then think about how anger, hate, and doubt carried into my everyday life and I ask myself, how the hell do I get through a day with all these things buzzing over my head??? Sure it’s not every day and every moment because there are a lot of times that I am filled with happiness and laughter and genuine compassion when it comes to others. But towards myself? When I am dealing with my own life? I’m completely different and I feel that pressure again to make sure I never fail and never need help.

I’m learning to let go of that imaginary pressure because if I hold onto it then I will truly never be able to follow through on all my creative aspirations. I am learning how to make soccer my safe space again. And I am learning how to take back my life.

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