I went shopping for avocados the other day to concoct my new lunch obsession: toast with mashed avocado, sliced cherry tomatoes, chopped basil, aged balsamic, olive oil, and a dash of salt and pepper. The colors, textures, and flavors are like a game-winning goal celebration in my mouth.
At the store, I intimately groped each avocado to find the perfectly ripe one. I found it and drove home, salivating at the mouth. When it was time to create the masterpiece, I pulled out the cutting board, surgically sliced around the pit, un-hugged the halves, and the avocado was …brown. It tasted like solidified dirty bath water.
I immediately thought of you. Because it reminded me of our last two years, eight months, and fourteen days together.
I have soooo many things I want to say to you.
First and foremost, Fuck You.
Secondly, I love you. Please forgive me. Take me back. I need you. I want you. Do I have to let you go?
“Have you ever heard of something called MS?” the doctor inquired.
“Ya.” I muttered back.
“Now again, I’m not saying that’s what it is, but when we see that we have to check it off the list.”
“What could other possibilities be besides that?”
“Lyme disease, hypertension, sometimes diabetes…there’s something going on that’s quite unusual for someone your age…but if we never got this scan, we might never have caught it.”
I just completed an intensive 5 day concussion rehab program at Cognitive Fx in Provo, Utah. The program is intended to balance out the blood flow in certain areas of my brain that got out of whack from my concussion. I’m in the conference room reviewing my results with the head doctor. My structural scan revealed that I have white matter changes on my brain, that sometimes indicates a demyelinating disorder.
When the doctor was speaking, all I could think of was what this meant for you and me.
“What would you recommend in terms of playing soccer?” I asked, fearing the answer.
“I would wait until you know more about what’s going on. The great news is that with a lot of these things like lyme disease, and MS, and hypertension…getting the most blood to your brain is only going to help you. The healthier and more balanced the brain, the better it will deal with some of these other issues.”
I thought only old people developed Multiple Sclerosis. And even if younger people could contract it, Kendall and MS don’t go together. This wasn’t meant to be my battle. It wasn’t my plan.
I was meant to represent my country and play in the Olympics and the World Cup. Ya, people don’t know me now, but I don’t care. That’s how all the greats start out. As nobodies.
But, you know who I am. Our game plan. We promised each other.
At the presuppose of our relationship, we were inseparable. We held hands (mostly feet), danced until the sky’s curtains closed, and then, we climbed under the covers, and dreamt of our future together. We had the wildest aspirations. We weren’t the kind of couple to settle.
You were my safe place. I could run, compete, and push my body to its limits with girls who also lived to run, compete, and push their body to its limits. Not much else mattered to me. When I was faced with a painful challenge, I didn’t see any other option than to keep moving forward. For you. For me. For us.
We knew we would encounter obstacles, but we always two foot slide tackled them. Get cut from a team…two foot slide tackle. Tear my ACL…two foot slide tackle. Hospitalized for a week in a foreign country…two foot slide tackle. Until we were back in the game.
We were promiscuous, secretly escaping to racquetball courts, abandoned side allies, and recreational baseball fields. We put in the work. And then we got rewarded. It’s how I helped my high school team win its first ever state championship, how I got recruited to my dream college, played in a U20 World Cup, and was drafted to the pros.
You + Me + Work Harder Than Everybody Else= Get $$$ (not actual money, because it’s women’s soccer, and we get paid diddly squat).
What happened to us? When did our system stop working?
I think October 16th, 2015 was our tipping point.
It was gradual and sudden all at once.
Sudden, in the sense that I was instantly bed-ridden. The concussion was gnarly. For months, I couldn’t ride in cars, read, walk in crowded places, listen to music, let alone play soccer.
But even then, I had no doubt I was going to get back to you.
For the first year and a half, my comeback was clear as Crater Lake. It wasn’t a matter of can I??, it was simply when? I knew we were going to reunite. Each setback would make the return that much sweeter. We were going connect on a deeper level. One that could only be experienced by those who’ve gone through the ringer. I was going to play the best ball of my life, and inspire others who were struggling in the dark.
I feel like there are two distinct “Me”s: Kendall-before-her-concussion and Kendall-after.
Pre-concussion Kendall was narrow-minded. I think you have to be with such ambitious goals. It was you and me until the end of time. Post-concussion Kendall, felt like someone silly stringed my body with so many challenges that I didn’t have a choice to change, unless I wanted to be miserably trapped in neon green netting for the rest of my career.
The physical symptoms were difficult enough, but then I got depressed. Wow. I didn’t know it was possible to feel so low.
Depression is very different for everyone. For me, I knew something was off and was desperate to get out of it. But it was like a vampire broke into my soul and sucked out any ounce of motivation. I felt trapped in between a myriad of polar opposites.
I wanted to make magic happen in the world, and yet I felt this force field around me (like the girl’s from The Incredibles’ superpower) that prevented me from making any forward movement.
I wanted someone to hold my hand and walk me out of this emptiness, but I had an even stronger desire to get into my car and drive and drive and drive until I found an isolated cave in the depths of the forest for hibernation.
I was sad, confused, lonely. Intensely uncomfortable. The scariest was when I started feeling nothing at all.
During my lowest low, I wanted to resort to you. For you to be there for me, like you had been the past 20 years of my life. But you weren’t. Or couldn’t.
Fuck you, for that. I needed you.
I was mad at you. Really mad. Why couldn’t you just accept me for who I was?
When I got released from the Portland Thorns, I was upset, but felt it was exactly what we needed. To say goodbye to our past, and welcome a fresh start.
I decided to move to Utah to tryout for the new NWSL team. For the first couple months, we were jiving. Things were hot and heavy. It felt easy. That fairytale kind of love.
But it was naive of me to think that a location change could fix all of our problems. My symptoms crept back up. Even at my best, it was always mind over matter.
Nearly every training session, my eyes were more glazed over than a Krispie Creme donut fresh out of the oven. Energy-wise, it felt like I had eaten one-hundred of them. Exercise took 10 times more effort than it used to.
My whole life, training was about improving our relationship. How can we be our best? Ever since my concussion, it felt more like survival.
I am an all-in kind of person. 100%. I never bought into that “110% work effort” bull crap. That’s not physically possible. When it comes to the things I love, I’m not a half-asser.
I pride myself on controlling the controllables. I was always one of the fittest people on my team. It was part of my success formula: You + Me + Work Harder Than Everybody Else = Get $$$.
Now, whenever I toed the line for sprints with my teammates, I finished in last.
I used to always do extra ball work before or after training. Now, I was too emotionally and physically drained to put in extra time.
Playing wise, I hung on. I don’t think I was at the level for onlookers to be like “ohhh that girl sucks, she doesn’t belong here,” but I fell way short of my standard. I constantly compared myself to pre-concussion Kendall.
That’s often the hardest thing for people to understand. From the outside, I look fine. I’m able to live a normal life, even train at the most elite level. But I’m constantly living with this feeling that something is off. Like I’m sinking in quicksand while everyone else appears to be walking on water. I try so hard to hide the feeling though, because I yearn to be Bruce Almighty.
You really did me dirty.
Sometimes I felt like you found great joy in taunting me. I entered the league starting every game, incredibly optimistic about my future. Over the past 6 years of my career, almost systematically, I slid back to a “practice player.”
You full on chucked my ego into flaming barbecue coals. You made me question my worth as a human. You used to be the thing that let me forget about my worries. Now, you are the thing that reminds me who I am not.
When I signed up for my intensive week of concussion rehab at Cognitive Fx. I felt this was going to be the thing that set me free. I think it was, but not in the way I anticipated.
After the doctor informed me of the white matter on my brain scan, she left to give me time to process the news. I hyperventilated-ly cried for a few minutes. I was crushed and confused. Yet, in the midst of my meltdown, I felt something shift deep inside of me.
This entire recovery journey my mind has taken the driver’s seat, and my body, slammed in the trunk. Whenever I thought about throwing in the towel, my mind piped up: you’ve got this Kendall! You are so much closer than you think. How amazing is it going to be when you step on the field and feel like yourself? All this suffering will be worth it.
But this current feeling was so subtle, yet so distinct-too powerful to be coming from my mind. It was that inner-knowing that unexpectedly shows up to guide us in inexplicable ways. The one that makes no sense to you or me or anyone else, until one day it does. And it implored me to get out of my head.
In that moment. I asked my body “body, what do you want?”
Without hesitation, I heard ”Please. Please. Please, give me a break.”
When you’re a lifelong athlete who’s sole love is your sport, life can get skewed pretty easily. Your sport isn’t just something you do, it is a part of your identity. It’s your most intimate relationship.
Letting it go, feels like betrayal.
I said I hate you. You know that’s not true.
How could it it be? You made me feel things I haven’t felt with anyone else ever before. You introduced me to lifelong friends. You took me to places I never knew I’d venture to: Guatemala, Spain, Germany, Peru, Australia (hot damn, I love you Australia) and several others. You allowed me to access parts of myself I didn’t know existed. You taught me (I’m still learning) that I am so much more than you and everything else external.
I truly feel like I’ve given you every part of me. I put you before school, family, and my wellbeing.
But something isn’t working. I wish it were. I’ve tried and tried and tried to get back to the way we used to be. I can’t ignore my body any longer. It’s exhausted.
The Universe is clearly trying to speak to me and I think it’s pretty selfish to keep plowing through.
It doesn’t make sense to me because I want you so badly. But this sensation is beyond logic.
I needed a permission slip, this brain scan raising concern, to step away. I’m too driven and stubborn (and mostly afraid) to walk away from the game on my own.
They say losing your first love stings the most. Isn’t that the truth. I dream about you. More than I ever have. Almost every night. Sometimes nightmares, other times glimpses of hope. I’m not sure what it means. But I’m tired of trying to figure it all out.
I need to breath. To let you go. So you can do you. And I can do me.
I don’t know if this is the end for us. It’s scary as shit. A little bit exciting. I feel both confident and lost. Confidently lost.
I sincerely hope our paths will cross again. If not, that’s okay too. What’s meant to be, will be.
Just please know, you are the ripest avocado I’ve ever known.
I’ll always love you,