A Slap Shot Straight to the Heart

While his marriage floundered, his hockey team flourished

We basically moved in together on campus. In the morning we'd slide across icy sidewalks to grab breakfast at the commons. After studying in the library at night, we'd fall asleep on her bed, my arm draped over her waist.

She stuck with me as I found my path. I dropped out of graduate school in Chicago and took a series of jobs digging ditches in the summer and shoveling snow when the weather turned cold. Another job found me chauffeuring handicapped people in a rusty white van. After my shift ended, she and I often shared a spaghetti dinner at my apartment followed by a muffin at a neighborhood coffee shop.

When I enrolled at a second grad school in Chicago, she took the train down to meet me on weekends. We continued to talk on the phone every night after I accepted a job in Utah, and then jobs in Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Our friends began marrying: Chris and M.J., Patty and Kurt, Mike and Karen. When her younger sister found a husband, our fate appeared pretty much sealed. It seemed like our turn.

Steve Satterwhite
Steve Satterwhite

I compiled a list in my mind: She's the funniest person I know; she's attractive; she'll probably make a great mother. And now all our friends are getting married. So we did too.

A typical night. I arrive five minutes before our late game to see that the early game is not even half over; we won't be able to take the ice for at least 30 minutes. Norm begins stretching out, executing jumping jacks that amuse us all. Tom leans up against the boards, nearly dressed already. Geoff, Bruce, Dan, and Dave arrive, Dave wearing a suit and tie, Dan in a grungy black T-shirt and shorts. Steve walks in with a bit too much energy, as is his nature. "Man, there are a lot of gray hairs here!" he bellows. More than half the team is over age 40, though Steve is no whippersnapper himself.

Bruce tightens his skate laces while sitting on a small collapsible stool he owns. I join Tom along the boards, near the bench. Javy is back from a vacation in Las Vegas with Mo, a former Wildcat who gave up the team when he got married. "I'm telling you, the women in Vegas have the biggest tits in the world," Javy reports. Several with Vegas experience verify his observation. Mo is doing fine, though he appears to have gained weight since he left us.

Geoff announces there are no new women in his life. He used to have a steady girlfriend who sat on our bench during games, studying a legal textbook. When I asked about her once, he peppered me with questions about marriage and whether I was happy with mine. Eventually his girlfriend just stopped showing up.

In the distance we watch a black cloud move in from the north. Will it hit? If it does hit, will it hit before we finish our game? Tom optimistically pulls on his elbow pads, tightening Velcro straps over his forearms. Suddenly the temperature plummets. Ignoring the bracing plunge, Steve decides to pull on his padded girdle, a big commitment because the stench from the equipment will now contaminate his shorts and cling to his skin. The wind picks up, raising billows of fine orange dust from the adjacent softball fields. With one minute left in the first game, with only one minute until we play, the drops start to fall. "It's a drizzle," Steve declares, still holding out hope. "It'll pass." A crack of thunder erupts, followed by a deluge of fat wet drops. We scatter to our cars like kids playing hide-and-seek. We'll try to make up the game Sunday night, provided family obligations don't get in the way.

Looking back on the first years of our marriage, I always think of my older sister, with whom I lived for a summer after college. She married at the same age I did. The day after she returned from her honeymoon, she took me out to the state fairgrounds, just the two of us. As we walked among the blue-ribboned livestock and the washed-up musical acts, and as we nibbled on the fair's famous cream puffs, she told me she'd made the biggest mistake of her life. She wished she'd never married. And she didn't know what to do.

Two years later I stopped by the house where she and her husband now live. They'd recently bought the place, a wonderful old Victorian made affordable only because it was in disrepair. She spent her nights painting the walls while he polished the wood floors. Their first child was on the way. Taking a seat beside her in the living room, I reminded her of the conversation we'd had at the fairgrounds. She strained to recall the evening. "Marriage is the best thing that ever happened to me," she said flatly, looking perplexed. "It's absolutely, amazingly wonderful. I wouldn't trade it for anything." Two years. I kept that in mind.

Our first two years were spent in Miami Beach, in a cute apartment close to the water. On Saturdays we'd often walk across the boardwalk with our towels, ready to broil away an afternoon. Some nights we'd walk down to the Art Deco District to marvel at the buildings and the people and the implausibility of our presence here in South Florida.

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