I moved from the tough streets of Brockton, MA to the lunar surface of the moon in the summer of 1985.  By surface of the moon, I mean our family moved to Hobbs, New Mexico.  Hobbs is a little oil town on the West Texas/NM border, and they are so torn as to state loyalty that they simply call themselves Hobbs, ‘Merica.    Really.

My 10 years had taught me a lot about bike riding, holidays, Barbies, and roller skates, but very little in the way of how to deal with crippling outsider loneliness. Mrs. Walthall, my fourth grade teacher, with deep red lipstick that bled into the wrinkles just a touch, and a love for the Carpenters (she played their records every Friday for us) still had us bow our heads in prayer at the beginning of class.   I came from a giant brick school built in the 1800s (before New Mexico was even a state), to a single story sprawling/built for tornadoes/recess on a lawn full of goatheads instead of concrete elementary school with people who spoke in full Texan.   I couldn’t understand anyone, literally, and when boys sent me little check yes or no love notes, well-meaning Walthall stood in front of the entire class and said “BOYS, do not ask Laura to be your girlfriend, you are embarrassing her!” and my god if that woman’s words didn’t stick with me through high school.

My social life was over.  It was a sham.  There was nothing that would save me.  So I sat during recess every day (it felt like months…I will guess possibly a week) on an adobe planter and cried my little eyes out.  And then it happened.  One day, like a bad Brady Bunch, a soccer ball came whizzing directly at me.  I caught it – threw it back – and my soon to be new friend Denise Ramirez said “HEY!  Why don’t you come play with us.”

I had just been picked.  To play.   ALL the reindeer games.  And so began my initiation into full badassery.  I became a soccer player.

It began slowly enough – getting to stand in the goalie box with Matt Matthews or Chad Evans, who coached me like no other… no one that came to play was “just a girl”…we were fierce competitors…we were a team… we were the Walthall Wolverines, that field was Sparta, you were going down.  For real.

I would go home every night and kick my soccer ball against the front of our brick house…thwack, thud…thwack, thud… over and over until I found just the right spot on my foot.  I remember one winter, it snowed – the field was fresh, the ball sluggish in the air.  One of the really good guys from the other team (Ms. Isabelle’s class – formidable, hungry) was tearing towards me, the ball in tight, controlled, swift movements.  He thought he’d fake me out.  I dove – butt to the ground, sliding right through his legs, soccer ball in my possession and up into a full run down, pass – score.  I felt like a god that day.   Soccer – sports, athleticism, competition – made me feel alive.  It gave me a closeness to my teammates, my now friends.  All those years ago, those little kids on the playground followed the rule by which we really all should live.  It didn’t matter if I was new, a girl, a Yankee (gasp), it was “can you play?”  …. and if not…”let us see where you fit, let us show you.”    Those kids are beloved pastors today, rodeo-ers, trainers, sales and marketing staff, rock stars, government employees, government protesters.  Those kids changed my self image in a very positive way and I owe them thanks for that.  The Walthall Wolverines had an end of the year bash at Mrs. Walthall’s home.  We watched Neverending Story and ate orange creamsicle pops and hot dogs.  I held Matt Matthew’s hand (my first ever boy hand hold you guys!  BIG deal.  😉  )  Walthall didn’t even tell him to stop.  😀

Those days on the elementary moonscape soccer field are why today I feel that sports for women gives you a very specific equality and edge in a world essentially run by men.  Ladies – get in there, play, dive in the mud and hold your own.  You’ll find you have so much more inside and you’ll seek and find that in others.

And sometimes you just need to kick a few balls around to get your mojo back.

Go USA this weekend in the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015!

❤  Thank you ALL for being my very first New Mexican friends, and picking me for your team.  #TheFacebookProject

pics to come.  I promise.