You’ve been given one-time access to a time machine to visit your younger self. After a brief pause, you know the when and the where, hop in the machine and take off. When there, you chat with your younger self but offer one piece of advice to him/her that you hope will change his/her life.
What am I, 14? It’s got to be about that age. And I never really realised just how much this place stinks. But then again, why wouldn’t it? Stick 16 kids in full hockey gear, after an hour long game, in a room barely big enough to fit them without equipment on, and you pretty much can smell the last time your goalie didn’t wash his undershirt. Superstitions go hand in hand in this crazy sport we call hockey. Well, sports in general, but I’m not here to talk about any of that nonsense. I’m sure when I have to start doing my own laundry I’ll stop hiding my lucky socks away from my mum and was them on my own.
Everybody is happy and laughing, yelling at each other from across the room, but not me. I know, because I’m standing in the doorway watching my younger self curiously. Sure, I lived it, I know exactly what I was like as a teenager, but being able to look back on it, perhaps make things better, well, that is something not all of get the chance to do. I should be happier. We just won 8-2. I had 6 points. Not bad for someone who only learned to skate two years ago. But I don’t join in the hooting and hollering. I never did. It wasn’t something I was really able to do.
One of the parents comes over and gives me a high-five. It’s Mike’s dad, the current mayor of our city. He’s waxing philosophical about something I had done. I smile, mouth the words ‘Thank you’ back, and he heads over to Mike to help pack up his gear like all the other parents. He’s not the mayor in here, just another hockey dad. My dad brushes right past me as I’m watching younger me. Helps put my gear away and we walk out. My dad never says much after the games. He doesn’t have to. He knows. I wasn’t sure at the time, but yeah, he knows exactly what he is doing.
I finally have the chance to sit with myself. How weird is that sentence? Yeah, so it’s not just me then? I’m at home now, after an indoor soccer game. Playing two games from two different sports in one day is not unusual for me at this age. All told, I was out 6 nights a week during the winter with hockey and indoor soccer. We won again too, but not as handsomely. I didn’t score this evening, which is okay, as long as the team won.
My room is tastefully decorated in mess. Clothes on the floor, half built Lego and Meccano creations in the corner. I have Battlestar Galactica wallpaper on two of my walls. Not sure if it was the last of the wallpaper or if I only wanted half of my room done that way. Seems odd now, but hey, it was the early 80s.
“Good game this morning. That spin and no-look backhand pass to Mike was a beauty.”
I smile back at me. “Thanks. Just felt it really.” I shrug. “I don’t really think about it.” My awkward indifference is obvious. Painfully obvious.
I’m small for my age, not necessarily in height, but definitely in weight. The term runt was often thrown my way, but that had little effect on me. My size didn’t really hold me back. I played sports, and was good, very good, and in terms of school ground dominance, I was usually picked within the first 5 people for any team game. Like most little guys, I had spunk (as a side note – spunk is one of those words that sounds dirty but isn’t [unless you’re on the set of a porn movie]). The fact I was bow-legged didn’t really get noticed, not with my overstated pigeon-toed stance. It made cross-country skiing a royal pain, but I learned to deal with it as well. I could have been the poster boy for teenage awkwardness, but because of my height and what we would call “hockey hair”, I was not going to be offered any kind of modelling contracts. In a word, I was a bully’s wet dream – although back then, I don’t think we referred to it as bullying. Teasing, yes, but bullying no. And if I’m honest, name calling aside, it didn’t go any further than that. For the most part, my status as the school athlete kept me out of the crosshairs of any real teasing.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was only months away from what would be the lowest point of my teenage life. For those of you who want to, you can read about it here. And it would have been really easy for me as I looked down on me to say, “Your stutter will never define you!” But I didn’t. I didn’t say that at all. I didn’t even mention the stutter. With the blessings of wisdom from added years, I knew that the trials and tribulations of growing up with that stutter made me who I am today. By hearing the pearls of wisdom from the people I did, at the times I did, helped shaped me and my future. I was not going to spoil that despite the awful pain and humiliation I would feel that coming September.
No, I was going to say something else that young Geraint needed to hear.
“You know, it doesn’t matter if you don’t become a professional athlete.”
Young me looked at me with a look of bewilderment. “How else am I going to get girls?”
I nodded. That went better than I thought.