He was tired and sweaty and alone in the locker room. The team had won, tying the series. He should have been happier, especially since it was the first game both of his parents had come to... in two or three years, perhaps longer. Together even. The rest of the guys were off, celebrating. The coaches were probably out of their suits, in more casual attire, dining with their wives and later having sex. Good for them, he smiled. Probably just the Zamboni guy out there now on the rink, carefully gliding through his ritual, listening to reggae or gospel on his headsets. Now, there was one relaxed guy with one mood--- happy, in the truest sense of the word. Made enough money, didn't care what his parents thought of his job, was at one with the ice and the machine. And without his skill and attention to detail, billions of dollars could not be made, billions of fans could not enjoy the game.
The game. What had started out innocently enough when he and his brother were so young. His older brother who he adored and hated. His older brother who had gotten recognised first, and embodied everything a proud father, a proud community, a secretly proud little brother saw as admirable in the world of competitive sports. His mother worried, but that's just what Moms do. He and his brother had discussed it. One day, they would both be good enough and she wouldn't have to worry any more. Her worrying must have really bothered him because his brother brought it up at the school cafeteria, where between stealing each others' food and throwing spitballs at the girls, boys would every once in a while talk about something important like sex or the latest scary movie or things their parents did or said. The conversation about why Moms worry re-surfaced during recess after a short game of Alien-versus-Predator Tag. They were all flopped on the cool grass, faces flushed, sharing their 11-year-old secondhand explanations:
"My Dad says it's 'cause they're built different."
"That's 'cause your Dad's a builder, duh."
"No, he said Moms have different brains and hearts."
"My Grandma said all Moms worry until they're old, especially if their kids don't listen or go to bed on time...or read in bed with a flashlight."
"Well, your Grandma is your Mom's mom...did you ask her if she still worries now that your Mom's a grown-up?"
"Yeah, she said that's where all her wrinkles came from."
"Whose wrinkles? Your Grandma's or your Mom's?"
"Your Mom reads in bed with a flashlight???"
"I dunno, this is getting stupid..."
Silence, as they all thought about their own mothers and grandmothers.
Looking back, remembering that day in particular, so clearly, he realised how naive they had been. Mothers never stop worrying; they just learn to hide it better.
The locker room cleaning crew came in with a burst of mops and rags, happy chatter, and the smell of cleaning and disinfecting products. He looked up and nodded, "it's okay, I'm almost out of here." He didn't want to alarm them or make their jobs any harder or off-schedule. They had families to feed, families to go home to, children to tuck into bed. In deference to him, the cleaners started as far away as possible, so he got out of his uniform, threw it in his locker and saw the faded notes, taped up, in his brother's familiar scrawl, KILL THE FUCKERS! For Mom---X. The X was a secret code from before either could spell. A blue X meant his brother's stuff, a red X was his because once they had asked their mother why their Great Aunt Millie signed birthday cards with X's and O's, and she said, "it means hugs and kisses. It means Aunt Millie loves you and wishes she was here." Their response was, "Ew, yuck," about the hugs and kisses part. But later, it had become one of their superstitions before games to get a note into the other one's locker. He and his brother used to laugh at the lengths they resorted to, sometimes to accomplish this, miles apart.
Miles apart. That's when things changed, that's when his brother changed. Odd phone calls in the middle of the night, rambling and hyper, out of breath. Then weeks of no contact and rumours. He showered quickly and left. He didn't go to the party where the team would be; they assumed he would be with his parents. He had made some excuse to his parents about previous plans, since he hadn't expected them in town. There was a measure of fleeting relief on both of their faces, so he figured the white lie was worth it.
He went for a drive, up around the lake. He needed silence after a win, not more noise. He drove to the place where he and his brother had their first major fight, both physical and emotional, over a stupid girl they each wanted to date. He couldn't even remember her name or her face. The doctors told him after his third concussion he might have these holes in his memory, and then after his brother died...the bad memories were not in the holes but in full colour and surround-sound. Like the hospital. Like the funeral. Like finding his brother's body, cold on the sofa, alone with his pill bottles. Like the last time he had seen his brother skate and the crazed look in his eyes, the newspaper accounts, the fucking television news. Like the look on his parents' faces when the doctors vaguely explained what had happened. Or what they were paid to say. The official responses from the team were carefully crafted statements to cover their negligence.
He couldn't even imagine how his father had the presence of mind to donate his brother's brain for a better answer. How his father collected as many of his brother's medical records as possible. Like him, his parents were still living, and learning how to lose a son with dignity. In some ways, he thought as he threw a rock into the lake, learning to win and learning to lose were very much the same. Yep, as he slid into his restored Thunderbird and headed back to one of his ridiculously over-priced mansions, there are definitely some things money can't buy. Like a new brain. Or your dead brother.