I was watching my three older brothers playing soccer on a cold day, holding a notebook in my five-year-old hands. I tried to keep the pages from whipping around in the wind. I was determined that when it came time for me to play, I would never make the same mistakes the boys did. We were a competitive family, and I wanted to be at the top of the hierarchy. My aspirations were diminished when I realized that playing in the yard with my brothers was very different from being on the field and competing against strangers.
I had my chance at a breakaway and ran as fast as I could towards the net. With my heart pounding and blood pumping, the warnings that I was going the wrong way must have gotten lost. After I scored on my teammate, I spun around on my heel and looked towards my father expecting a smile—and I got one. However, it was accompanied by a hardy laugh, and him shaking his head.
Needless to say, I learned more every year, and as my experience grew, so did my desire to be the best. We were playing in the rain during a soccer tournament and a huge puddle had formed in the center of the field, and the ball had been kicked into it. A barrier of my teammates and our opponents surrounded the puddle. I didn’t quite clue into the fact that it was “inappropriate” to continue to chase the ball, and ended up charging through the water; soaking everyone in my passing. It didn’t matter to me what they thought, I did what I had to do. This competitive streak continued through every sport and game I ever played. I use the term “game” very lightly, because every time I was invited to play something I took it as a personal challenge. It was a virus, and I had been infected by it for a long time.
And, if what happened last summer is any indication, I still am.
Our annual week at the cottage is always a blast. It’s the one time per year when our entire family—aunts and uncles, cousins and friends—are stuck in a wooden cottage approximately the size of a Costco box. It doesn’t take long before anxieties run high, and people need to blow off steam. One day in mid-August, the adults—meaning anyone over the age of 40—decided to leave seven restless 20-somethings unattended while they took an hour drive to Bancroft, the closest town. It was a particularly hot day, one where you can actually see the humidity squiggles in the air. We tiptoed from our cottage down to the beach, avoiding the sharp rocks and shards of glass left from the previous owners. Stepping onto the sand didn’t provide much of a safe haven, however, as it threatened to melt the skin on the bottom of our feet. Everyone ran to the cool water, splashing, and making bets on who was going to completely submerge first.
Once we were all in, we set out for the floating dock, it had been a dream of ours since childhood to completely flip it. We had enough people to make this dream a reality, and no responsible parents were present to tell us it was probably a bad idea. One by one, we grabbed and climbed the slippery steel ladder, and got onto the dock. Soon, everyone was wrestling, and falling—sometimes after being pushed—back into the water. It progressed into a game that combined our desire to flip the dock and our desire to watch one another fall unwillingly back into the water. We called it “Dock Survivor;” a legendary challenge that I needed to win.
We ran from one side to the other, and the normally horizontal dock began to slope more and more vertically. We were nearing a 90-degree angle when time seemed to slow and everyone’s grip loosened. People trickled back into the water one after the other. I stared at the water below, which threatened my win, and grabbed onto the mostly submerged ladder. As my brother took the final uncoordinated plunge into the lake, the dock shot up from its skyward direction and I felt my foot slip. Laying on the dock, I could hear everyone else cheering and hollering over how scary it was to see the dock almost flip over and how it was too bad it didn’t completely make it. If I would have jumped in like the rest of them, it probably would have. I could have celebrated with them over our joint accomplishment, but as usual, personal victory came first. I sat up and beamed at everyone treading water until my attention shifted to a stream of red running down my leg. I leaned towards my knee, which was refusing to meet half way, and saw that a large chunk of tissue was missing from the area. The skin was still attached, but folded underneath, forming a bump. I didn’t want to be the one to end the fun, especially with tears, so I just said, “I think I should go to back,” referring to the beach.
My brothers must have seen my expression because they could have put Michael Phelps to shame with how fast they swam to my side. Showing weakness isn’t something that I like to do, so I told them that I was okay and insisted that they let me swim to shore. Without a word, my brother did an impressive swan dive into the water, swam to shore, and with a paddle in hand began pushing one of our canoes into the bay. Ignoring his loving gesture, I stood up and stubbornly jumped into the water.
Swimming proved a little more difficult than expected with my right leg being dragged straight behind me. My brother silently canoed beside me all the way back to shore. I scrambled onto the sand, plopped down in a beach chair, and took another look at my leg. Most of the blood had been cleaned up by the swim, allowing the exposed muscle to be easily seen. My brother wanted to take a look, and after a brief glance, the colour rushed out of his face. He turned away, but still asked if I was okay. A family friend sprinted back up to our cottage on the hill, and brought back a medical kit. Shuffling through the contents, picking up BAND-AIDS, and sizing them against my wound, we quickly realized that we had no idea what we were doing.
My sister-in-law came on shore, and suggested a trip to the hospital. I shook my head, frowned, and planted my feet in the sand. In response, she lovingly threatened the possibility of being thrown over my brother’s shoulder kicking (more or less) and screaming. After seeing my objections from the dock where they waited, everyone else swam back in as well. One of the family friends was studying as a paramedic, and began poking the area around the gash and tilting her head. She determined that stitches weren’t necessary but were probably a good idea. In other words, no stitches for me.
Two years later, I sit in my apartment in Ottawa, running my fingers over the healed dent in my knee and flip through the pages of a notebook not filled with ways to be better than the others, but filled with the tools needed to be my best.
Marta Zwart lives in Ottawa, Canada, and is intrigued by writing, acting, and sarcasm. Her greatest accomplishment is being able to blow a bubble with a whole pack of Hubba Bubba gum in her mouth. Marta’s dream is to briefly concern the public by writing for The Beaverton or The Onion.