It was a beautiful night and the stadium was completely full. The smell of popcorn, french fries, pizza and hot dogs mingled on the night air and the chanting of the cheerleading squads led both sides in some good natured ribbing. The game between arch rivals promised to be a challenging one and everyone felt nervous and excited. Friday night lights were already glowing and the homecoming court would be introduced at half time on floats the student body had worked on tirelessly right up until the very last minute. There were decorations everywhere.
In a little room to the side of the field, a young girl stood feeling somewhat out of place, wearing a dress that made her feel beautiful, even as it made her feel strange. Pulse fluttering, she could smell the fresh roses in her hair and reached a hand up to run her fingers over the tiny buds tenderly... hoping to find some sense of calm in the gesture. Her hands were shaking. She hated being the center of attention for any reason... her usual place in the game was on the sidelines with a clipboard in her hands, marking stats and keeping score. Older sister to many brothers, she felt entirely at home surrounded by this group of guys who made up the high school football team. Not quite sixteen, she had already learned to put on a brave face, while inwardly battling her emotions. Placid and cool on the outside, scared and shy on the inside. Looking around at the other girls, she felt way way way out of her league.
When it came time to walk out onto the field and up onto the float, her friend and classmate, and quarterback on the football team held his arm out to her and smiled reassuringly. She took it and found it steady and comforting. The band began to play and they ascended, halfway up the ramp.
And then... everything shifted.
The ramp gave way beneath them and she fell to the ground first. It knocked the flowers from her hair and she held her breath, bracing for the impact of the 6' 2, 200 pound football player about to land directly on top of her, hard. Somewhere in her heart, she registered that the entire stadium had gone completely silent, collectively holding their breath as he came down on top of her, crushing her flowers, as he rolled sideways and did his best to avoid crushing her. To a fifteen year old girl... it felt like an eternity. I'm sure it did to him, too.
Somehow that girl mustered every ounce of dignity she could find within her that night, picked up her pride and the smashed flowers off the fifty yard line, and gently placed them back in her hair. To her great relief, her escort brushed her off first and then himself, and they both turned to the crowd, who had still not made a single sound... and smiled. She never forgot the ensuing roar, but she barely remembers the rest of that hour.
How I would love to go back and hug her on that night... tell her that it was only the first of many times she'd fall down and that she would always somehow find her way back up again, just as she did in that moment. That someday, her mother would find this photograph in a box, and give it to her and tell her that those silent moments were an eternity for her too. That when she was 48, she would pull out the photograph taken of her shortly before she fell... and decide to tell her story. That she wasn't fat, or a failure, or clumsy or any of the number of negative things she told herself in the years following... only human. That she wasn't the only one who struggled with those thoughts or felt out of place and that she could save herself a lot of heartache if she'd simply believe me. That eventually she'd look back on it all with a wisdom that can only come from years of experience and finally, finally love that little girl for how brave she was.. for how brave she is and for all the times she fought through hard things, instead of laying down on the playing field and giving up.
And then buy her a vase filled with perfect tiny pink roses.... and set her free.
All these years I've wanted to say so many things to her. This morning, I realized she's been singing to me all along and I didn't need to talk to her... I needed to listen to her.