I fell in love watching him walk away. His retreating back was straight; his sweat-drenched t-shirt clinging to the shoulders like a second skin, stripping his form to skeletal clarity. Wings of bone flexed with every step, as if straining to slash free of his skin and soar scudding into the pockmarked sky. His plastic-pale waxy skin gleamed in the dying sun. From that moment forth, my first infatuation was inflamed into an ill-concealed passion.
The football ground became my ballroom. We danced in aching discord, flitting between the netted goals, fated to be in opposite teams. The muddied ball painfully ricocheting between the players was my only way to touch him. Defending my goal post and threatening his advance were the only means I had to make him look at me. I paid for his grave, impersonal gaze with bruised ankles and sore muscles.
And he never spared me an extra glance. I knew I was ugly, with my spindly awkward legs, looking even more spidery in my jersey shorts, and with my long unkempt hair bunched up unbecomingly into a tight knot at the back of my head. I searched for myself everywhere: in curved car windows, trembling puddles shot by rain and dust-blinded shop-fronts. I hoped, every time, with undying optimism, that somehow the feeble quavering light, or the sunlight bleeding dust motes, would transform me, and make me look beautiful. But I was always ugly.
One day, after football practice, I saw him leave his friends, who were dunking themselves with water from their bottles, to meet a girl. She was waiting for him at the edge of the field, careful not to touch the mud squelching wetly as he walked up to her. She was beautiful, with smooth glossy hair laughingly glinting sunbeams, and pale skin unburnt by the sun’s scorching fingers constantly scalding me. Her clothes looked like the freshly laundered sky, unclouded by spatters of dirt like my jersey, seemingly chosen with care. He was looking at her in rapture, with an intensity I could have never won with my painfully earned triumphs in the field. I gazed down at my mud-caked shoes, and a tear left a salty trail in the grime on my cheek.
I left the team the next day. And he forgot me: the skinny little girl who looked like a boy, who played and even behaved like a boy, but had a girl’s broken heart.