I started querying this week. Three years. One version lost to a computer crash. Two huge revamps. Thousands of hours spent at my computer getting this “writing” thing just right. When I first started this journey, I didn’t even know what YA was or if what I had written was even any good. I never worried about that part. I just focused on what was in front of me. And I suppose that’s why it was so hard to look at my manuscript, deem it finished, and send it out into the universe. Really. I didn’t think this would ever be me.
I’m the least competitive person I’ve ever known. I’ve always been horrible in sports, not for lack of athleticism, but because I don’t believe in keeping score. My eyes would glaze over while sitting out in the way, way left field waiting for a ball that would never appear. I was picked last, most commonly, because I just didn’t care enough to help anyone’s team win. I suppose that’s why I surprised everyone when I let myself be talked into playing lacrosse my senior year of high school. “It would be good for you,” my guidance counselor said in her last ditch effort to make me participate in something, anything. So I ran sprints in the cold February air until I could taste blood. I walked around with a lacrosse stick, jerkily learning to cradle. I still have a permanent bruise on my right thigh from the time I winged a ball against our garage door just a little too hard.
‘This is stupid,’ I thought as my cleats sank into the soft mud. It was a game day and my parents didn’t show up. They never did. They were too busy. Or my siblings had other activities. Or the field was too far. Plus, it had just started to rain. My coach, in some crazy thinking, had decided to put me in a center field position, close to the goal. I was supposed to score. My strategy in these situations was to just keep running, preferably away from the ball, in a more “supportive” role. You know, in case someone got hurt, I could run to the sideline to get the First Aid bag.
So you can imagine my surprise when I glanced up to see a white, rubber ball hurling toward me. On instinct I held up my stick, cradled it into my net and pulled it in toward my body. A stampede of girls in plaid skirts ran toward me. I never thought this would ever be me. So I played the game.
Our coach had this play called Ice. I have no idea why it was named that. I didn’t get the memo, much like I didn’t get it when the girls would yell out chants like, “Throw the biscuit in the basket!” I just knew, when I had that ball clutched close to my chest and I heard “ICE!” that I had to run around the back of the net and aim for the bottom corner. So I did.
This play had been drilled into us. They talked about it endlessly. It was supposed to work. So you would think it would work perfectly for me. That I would run around the back of the net and there wouldn’t be a huge boulder of a girl standing there waiting to block me. Or that I wouldn’t bounce off of her, all 5”1’ and 115 pounds of me. Well, you would be wrong. Except when I staggered back, something ignited inside of me. I looked down at the ball, still safe in my net and I, for God only knows what reason, decided to try again. This time, she pushed me, sending me flying face first into a puddle. The front of me was covered in the cold, goopy mud and I could see a the traces of fog in front of me when I exhaled a long, shaky breath.
I stood up, pushing a wave of mud off of my thighs. Someone handed me my stick and my fingers found the grooves I had made in the tape wrapped tightly around the pole (something I learned to do after watching the other girls). They gave me the ball and told me to take my penalty shot. That’s when I could taste it, deep in the back of my throat. It tasted right. The weight of the ball in my net. The rain rolling down my face. The mud heavy against my shirt. I wanted this. I really, really wanted this. My grip tightened around my stick as I steadied my breathing and listened for the whistle.
After weeks of worrying about if my story was right, if my query letter was right, if agents would like it, if I would get rejected, this familiar taste settled in the back of my tongue. I want this. I really, really want this. I’m not going to play this from the side waiting for the ball to come to me. I’m charging into the crowd to catch my turn.