I swore we’d never get back together. Not after this time. Not after the hurt, the emotional turmoil and the deception. Even after we broke up, the drama continued with promise after promise of making things right, then the inevitable disappointment when they all went terribly wrong again.
And now I find myself going back.
They’re going to play hockey again. And I will be there.
I broke up with hockey immediately after the lockout was announced. I’d been through this before; wasn’t something I wanted to experience again. There’s not enough Xanax in the world to get me through another messy “are we or aren’t we a couple” relationship again. I wanted to cut it off, clean break. Maybe see other people. Lionel Messi was calling. I could hook up with La Liga and never look back.
My relationship with hockey goes back a long way. We started hanging out together in 1972, when the New York Islanders made their home in Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum, just a five minute drive from my house. We stayed friends for a little bit and then our friendship grew into a full blown romance. I was in love with the NHL. I loved everything about it. It was an unconditional love that grew over time into something I admit bordered on obsession. But it was a co-dependent relationship, right? I needed hockey. Hockey needed me, the fan, to exist. Sometimes in the depth of a cruel, cold northeast winter I’d settle in to watch a hockey game and think “I’d die without you, NHL. You are my only true friend. You are my warmth on frigid evening. You are a beacon of light in the dreariness that is February.” Hockey reciprocated that love by being awesome.
Over 30 years together. That’s a lot of emotion and time invested. We’re talking over 30 years of highs and lows, of love and despair. We’ve had some great times together. All those Stanley Cups the Islanders won. The joy of watching the Ranger fans’s hopes being crushed again and again. The bench clearing brawls. All my favorite Isles. And Gretzky. Dionne. Messier. Borque. Kurri.
Oh, we had some bad times as well. Introduction of shitty new rules. Strikes, lockouts, the cancelation of an entire season, the Rangers winning the Stanley Cup. The reign of Gary Bettman. But I stuck with the NHL. I stayed even when it felt like I was being taken advantage of. I stuck up for hockey. I defended hockey. When all my friends asked me what I saw in hockey, I practically wrote odes of joy in its honor. I tried to get them to see what I saw. I tried to make them love it, too.
Even when I was hanging around with others, when I was making sweet love to baseball and football, I was always thinking of hockey. It were always my favorite. The others may have made me smile, made me shout with joy, but the NHL was always number one in my heart. If I could have given it a gift, it would have been one of those pendants from Things Remembered with the two pieces of a heart. Me and You, NHL. Me and you.
Then came this season and another lockout.
I realized I’d been lied to. Used. Manipulated. The NHL didn’t care about me. The NHL did not reciprocate my feelings. The NHL did not give me the respect or love I had spent all these years giving. It did not keep up its end of the Things Remembered pendant bargain. Nothing was mutual. Nothing. When the lockout became official and it looked like it was going to be a long one, I felt abandoned.
So I broke it off. I penned a “Dear John” letter in which I said I was done, that I would never go back to this poisoned relationship.
Yet here I am at 5:00 on a Sunday morning, arms open wide, ready to once again embrace the league that played me so hard, that wounded me emotionally to the point where I took the heart pendant and gave the other half to FC Barcelona in a fit of heartbroken madness.
After 113 days of going from “in a relationship” to “single” we’re now back on again and yea, “it’s complicated.”
It feels good to be back in the arms of the NHL. I know. I’m weak. I’m a liar. I’m said I’d never do this again. But even with the shadow of Gary Bettman hanging over us like a dark lord, I can’t stay away from this relationship. I can’t abandon it, even when I feel like it abandoned me. It came back. It must love me, right?
At least until 2021 when we might have to do all this again.
But I’ll worry about that later.
Right now I have to go to Things Remembered and buy a new heart pendant.
Me and the NHL. Forever.