It’s another rainy day here in Buffalo, NY. Hard rain, too, with thunder and lightning cracking on all sides, and the amount drivers around roaming around with no lights on, aren’t helping to make it any better.
The rain is fitting today; it’s not exactly a happy day in my book. It’s the first day of the fall semester in graduate school for me; a new school, new major, new apartment, and a new start. Spending the past four years at the same school (with little time spent sober on other campuses enough to remember them and their layout), SUNY-Buffalo – or UB as we knew it – was more than just where I lived, studied and played. It was a home. It had everything a student could want: food that wasn’t that bad, a friend that I saw on any walk through the buildings, and my ultimate team, Green Eggs and Ham. I had friends outside of the team from class or my hometown, but they don’t compare to the guys I ran stairs with what hundreds of times, or the girls from the Lorax (UB’s Women’s team) that I shared messy jumping (not dancing) to ‘You! Me! Dancing!’ with in crowded basements. Not only did I not see a single person I recognized during my two hours on my new campus today, but I didn’t even want to try the food – no matter how much my stomach rumbled for any kind of grub I could get.
I walked around campus while it was truly busy for the first time today, but I knew something was missing. There wasn’t anything to look forward to at the end of the day. While other teams may have used the first week to kick off rookie camp, we typically used the first week to gauge where the returning players were at. Those practices were always some of the best. Playing ultimate with all the guys you love again after spending most of the summer away. No longer is the defeat from last season fresh on your mind, but the possibilities of the year in front of you.
Defeat; ever since our defeat at regionals, in pre-quarters no less, I had been thinking about a way to start writing this. I know I wanted to write it, but just wasn’t sure how. There just didn’t seem to be a good time, until today. How we finished sure was disappointing, but it would’ve been better – like in years past that ended in similar ways – had I been returning to play for a fifth year. I would have been able to use it for motivation, use it for something more for this year. Instead of being able to reflect on the mistakes I made, they now sit in my head like one of those GIF’s on tumblr. Looping over and over again – yet I keep watching it, expecting something to change, or a new reaction out of me; it never comes. Playing didn’t feel the same after that loss, and I really haven’t played since that day this past May. Sure, a bit of summer league (not that it’s on the same level), but no club and certainly no college now that fall has started. Summer league just wasn’t the same, and the thought of club, of playing for another team, still makes me think I’m moving on from Green Eggs and Ham, when that’s the last thing I want. I picked-up with a team at Cooler Classic, and while it was a lot of fun to get into the game again and play at least a bit closer to where I was at last spring, it wasn’t the same either. It wasn’t who I was playing with, it was still all in my head. I couldn’t forget what happened – the disappointment of failure.
Still, I wear my egg with pride, everywhere I go. I can’t not wear it – I think I’m the first person to have it tattooed on them. That’s probably going to get me some flak with the alumni at our annual tournament in a few weekends, not to mention my parents and non-ultimate friends. They might be right. Unlike players from the Hodags or Mamabird, there’s not many accomplishments to the Green Eggs and Ham name. Over four years with the team, I don’t think we won a single tournament (besides sectionals once – but really, who’s counting that?). We never made it past quarterfinals of regionals, after giving up blood and sweat for the chance to get to nationals. Over the four years, that’s what seemed like the most important part of our time as a team though, to try and make nationals. It was a goal we thought was reasonable and achievable, and it consumed almost every one of us. I just never got to reach it, only attending nationals because Bryan Jones and Zack Smith (both former GEH players) thought I could write.
The first thing I ever wrote about ultimate was this piece for Bryan about my journey going from a freshman who practiced with the team but saw next to no playtime to a starting D-line cutter as a sophomore. I cringe when I read it now; it isn’t any good at all. That piece, though, is a call back to a time much different than now. I didn’t end my play at this year’s Cooler Classic by thinking, “Oh man Jimmy, you should really improve your around flick.” I did two years ago though. Things really change when that drive is taken out of you.
One of the reasons I didn’t play where I wanted to at regionals was because I was afraid of this, afraid of not having a team to call my own, afraid of not having GEH in my life all of the time. I may still be in Buffalo, and able to drive up to any practice or party I can make, but it doesn’t feel the same. My mental drive isn’t there, I don’t have the same goal as the rest of the guys on the field do. They are there fighting to make the team, or to make themselves better as a player, I’m wondering how I’m going to pay rent, and what to cook for dinner. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to do any of that with them, it just means that I’ve finally understood why the alumni that have come back from those practices only come for a few, why they didn’t give 100% the whole time, and why they typically shied away from the after practice shenanigans – it just isn’t the same.
I had to drive through the UB campus today, to return some books to the Erie County Library on my way home from work. That’s where it really stung that I wasn’t going to be a part of the team, as the ride took me not only right past the fields where the team holds the informal rookie practices, but the stadium we practiced in, the arena we ran in – almost every building and field had some connection to the team, or something stupid we did. Like the fake disc golf course we have across the campus, where it’s better to hit someone (a near impossible task depending on time of day) than to have them try and help you out with getting the disc. Surprisingly, I don’t think we’ve ever been told to stop.
Somehow to tie things together, my first class was cancelled. I was one of the handful of students that apparently didn’t get the memo and had shown up to an empty classroom. That my day didn’t end with the typical first day syllabus handout and introduction, or a GEH practice, is only fitting. And I still don’t like it.