As a writer I have chosen isolation, finding pleasure with working alone in front of my computer. And so it is quite spectacular that on the night when all the cameras of the sports world are turned to East Rutherford, New Jersey for the 2003 Stanley Cup Playoffs, I am allowed to go where the beautiful people go. I go because I walk in with a person who has access to the underbelly of the Continental Airlines Arena.
Nameless—feeling invisible at five-feet tall, bee-lining between the cluster of blond, blue-eyed, 100-pound, five-foot-eight young women waiting to get inside the Devils’ lockerroom after they win The Cup—I am able to skip around the State Troopers who guard the doors, squeeze along the cinderblock walls lined with an international press corps and players’ emotional parents and make headway to the small back room where the medical staffers keep their Tums, Lidocaine and Tylenol.
Like nothing out of the ordinary, the Goaltender walks through the hallway with a cigar in his mouth and sprays champagne into the crowd. He is something to behold, alrighty, and I can’t help but wonder, What the hell am I doing here? I have no media pass. I have no personnel credentials hanging on a chain around my neck. I am no one.
Scanning the backs of strangers in The Devils’ locker room, filled with some of the strongest and most athletic stars of our day, I glimpse for the first time the inside reality show of a professional sport. Everyone is big; tall, wide bodies towering over me with cover-boy smiles. I feel natural in my state of inadequate growth. I am used to being the smallest adult human in the room. But I don’t feel quite as invisible as earlier and march at full speed through the crowd. On sight, everyone hugs and shakes the man I am with, appreciative and thrilled. I do have my own obscure identity and rights, but tonight, I am: The team-doctor’s wife.
The treatment room that was meant to max out at about ten people is starting to pack, and my husband authoritatively unplugs the ice machine because its motor is throwing-off too much heat. A young trio of pretty wilting Russian women thanks him for his ingenuity. One beautiful blonde notices me standing next to the emptied whirlpool tub and asks in her adorable accent, “Who are you and who are you with?” I tell her. She smiles and thanks me for the doctor’s care of her husband. “You’re welcome,” I say.
Seated on the exam table is a huge half-dressed player. His hair is soaked with sweat or champagne, and his recently unwrapped legs and feet hang cooling off the side of the table. My husband introduces me to him; the newly-crowned defenseman on the table acts as though he is impressed to meet me. I get a kiss and a hug. I am, after all, the team- doctor’s wife.
No one is interested in talking to me, naturally, and so I stay silent in my corner and watch all the happiness: grand smiles, shrieks of joy from immediate images of the Cup and the win. I am happy for the team. I am happy for my husband and my two sons who are also with us getting to participate in the Devils’ dream, and their fantasy of being up close and personal with champions, though I wonder why I don’t feel present, why I feel this privilege of access extended to me and my boys is not because of who we are but because we are related to—you know who. Yet by some prerogative of youth, my sons don’t seem absent from the moment. I can see by the beers they are swigging they know they belong here.
I am feeling increasingly socially unacceptable and want to go home, when the team captain walks into the room with the Cup in his arms. The room comes to a hush and the crowd gravitates, not too gently or slowly, toward the warrior with silver chalice. I am drawn by his magnetism and though I am little, nothing can keep me back. My two twenty-something sons have instantly made their way from the beer cooler to my side. I rush to the Captain. “Congratulations,” I say and touch his arm. Big. By now you know why I get to touch his arm. Remarkably, he remembers my face from some long ago encounter and he kisses my cheek.
“Mrs. Jaffe. Thank you.”
My son yells, “Mom! Smile! I’m taking the picture!” I look toward the lens but instead see an elderly woman stroll mindlessly in front of his camera. I know my time with him is measured in seconds and without the least bit hesitation I place my hand on the woman’s fuzzy-haired head and push down, firmly instructing her, “Get out of the way!”
The picture is snapped. The henchman smiles at his wife who remembers I am a shoe fanatic—many years my junior she still is young enough to retrieve minor facts from a few years ago—and my mind snaps with triumph. She asks to see what I’m wearing. I stick out my foot and she and her husband look with approval at my distressed leather boots.
I feel the sense of identity-theft lifting and decide, for one night, it is okay being allowed into a world that is otherwise off-limits.
I become the center of the world.