A letter from a coach to his star athlete, after kicking her off the team.
“Yes, I saw the sit-ups and the extra laps.
The saw the striation in your arms develop as the fat on your body whittled away to nothing.
The 6 inches higher your vertical was than everyone else’s.
The endless hours in the weight room, until the janitor came and said he had to turn the lights off and that you had to go home.
I suspected you’d rather be anywhere but home.
The pulled muscles and dislocated shoulders without a single missed practice.
The three broken ankles, three seasons in a row, that you continued to play on against yours doctor’s advice.
The way you punished your body, on and off the court.
None of that was to please me.
It couldn’t be.
It wouldn’t have allowed it.
But I should’ve seen it.
Those feats were driven by the same pain that told you to bring vodka in your water bottle to the weight room.
The cigarettes you smoked in the locker room before games, even though you have asthma.
I saw the desperation in both your eyes and the cuts in your arm that you tried to hide under the ace bandages you used to wrap your dislocated shoulders.
The tiny trails of blood giving your secret away, blaming the cat that everyone said you didn’t have.
I hate myself for believing your lies.
I heard the “fucks” that flew out of your mouth like a flock of angry birds in the stormy sky, yellow cards raining down from the dark cloud that followed you everywhere.
Tiny rebellions against the world that took things from you before you knew you lost them.
The pain that morphed into abuse of your teammates who dared to seek your attention or tolerate your bullshit.
They lost your respect for admiring, or even excusing, the young woman you hated so much.
They got a punch in the face in return.
I saw how much you had to lose, and it was more than verticals and stats.
I couldn’t be a part of it.
I had to let you go.
That’s not my team and that wasn’t you.
I couldn’t co-sign your attempts to salve some broken part of yourself or fill some hole that I’m just not close enough to you to understand, by inflicting pain and drawing others into your chaotic atmosphere.
You can damn yourself to hell, but you’re not taking your teammates with you.
It doesn’t matter how many laps you run or how high you jump.
As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t help you defeat your demons.
I walled your dysfunction off to protect the others.
You can’t get better for me. To please me. To cajol me into letting you come back.
That won’t fix a goddamn thing.
Me wanting better for you isn’t enough. If it was, it would’ve happened a long time ago.
You have to want better for you.
You have to heal, whether I let you back someday or not.
I’m sorry I let it go on this long. That part is on me.”