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I was a master of my hometown, of its shortcuts, playgrounds, and potholes. I knew all of the secrets of Cary, North Carolina — admittedly not difficult in our traditional, white, conservative community. The houses were, by law, as beige as their inhabitants.
One early morning, I arrived at the park for a skateboarding tryst, expecting solitude on a Sunday. Yet as the sun began to rise, cars started pulling into the parking lot, filling the air with their clunks and door slams. What could possibly be going on at 7:00 on a church morning? I left the pavement to investigate.
As I neared the soccer field, the composition of the noise began to change to the rolled “r”s and fluid syllables of the Spanish language. Suddenly, black and white whirled by my feet, and I raced to kick it back to the field. As I pivoted to send the ball flying back, I looked up to meet open-mouthed gapes. For a moment, we watched each other.
Finally, a young man motioned for me to join them. I considered the offer. Something about foot-eye coordination simply evades me, and the players here could move. I knew I would embarrass myself, but I was going to try.
“You play with us,” the man told me in a thick accent. A motion towards the chest indicated the shirts versus skins division of teams. Evidently I was the only female as well as the only non-Hispanic.
I was even worse than I anticipated. I could run fast, but I simply could not keep the ball from getting stolen. Despite taking Spanish for two years, I could not comprehend the good-natured advice thrown at me from all sides. Yet I was thrilled to be accepted by these strangers, whose feet sliced the air around my own clumsiness. I smiled unabashedly at my teammates, trying to convey all of my excitement, gratitude, and apology at the same time. I think they understood.
As the sun began to loom high overhead, men trickled away. The young man called out, “Next Sunday, 6:30.” I waved and stumbled away on my bike, nursing bruised knees and sore legs.
Over the ensuing mornings of Sunday soccer, I was always the last to be chosen for teams. Nevertheless, the others soon learned that I was eager to talk if they spoke as if to a toddler. I never learned most of their names; I never knew where they were from or who their wives were. But it didn’t matter — this was a community, and it was one of Cary’s true secrets. I may have found its roads, but I didn’t know its people. The real treasures, the surprises, lay in the scrawny 10-year-old boy and the heavyset 50-year-old man, out of breath yet still blending into the amalgamation of Hispanic males gathered to share their love of soccer. This is a group hidden in the shadows of time and place, emerging only through chance encounters of shared passions.
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