Reading List 2017: A surprise choice (Forward – Abby Wambach)

img_20170103_100353 I looked at my blank kitchen wall yesterday morning and realized that we were calendar-less which, of course, meant that it was time for a post-holidays trip to the book store. I rarely buy books at a retail book store – I’m far too cheap to pay full retail prices – but my shopping-averse wife left me to browse on my own for as long as I liked, so when I finally made my way to the checkout line, I had a half-dozen calendars and Abby Wambach’s recently released memoir in my hands.

This was a odd book selection for me; when it comes to memoirs, I drift towards journals and letters and I am the least athletic person that I know of. Yes, I have married into the world of soccer, but all who know me will attest that I quickly get soccer-weary. In fact, this is the first memoir of an athlete that I have ever picked up, much less read. I was familiar with Abby Wambach – she’s a contemporary women’s soccer icon, a lesbian, recently retired, and when she kissed her wife after winning the most recent Women’s World Cup (haha! I know what the World Cup is now AND I know that they have one for men and one for women!) they garnered significant media coverage and attention. Wambach’s memoir offers up a raw self-examination from an injured, complicated, seeking soul.

“In that moment, buried beneath a pile of euphoric teammates, it’s so easy to trust that my voice will never fail me.” 

In under five hours, I plowed through this book; the prose is conversational and forthright. Kudos to Wambach if she wrote this herself rather than depending upon a ghost writer as it rolls along at a comfortable clip. Manda asked me what I thought about the book as I was reading, all I could say was: it is raw. I lifted my head up several times during the reading to get my wife’s thoughts and perspective about her experience as a soccer player and her love for the game. Touted as a naturally-gifted and talented soccer player, Wambach unabashedly owns her athletic prowess while confessing that her love of soccer is not necessarily a pure love of the game. Now, I’ve spent the last six years surrounded by women who LOVE the game of soccer – genuinely and deeply LOVE the game. I found myself taken aback and resistant to the idea that such a talented and accomplished professional soccer player respected the game, appreciated the game, was intensely competitive in the game, but her love for the game was complicated and layered with ego and ambition, a desperate need for validation and recognition and a wounded soul that seemed to fall easily into dependence on external sources of comfort and identity.

I appreciated Wambach’s candor as she walked her reader through her own recognition and ownership of her lesbian identity. At a time when it seems that we need to be even fiercer in safeguarding our civil rights, I celebrate every voice that is willing to share their story as part of the LGBTQ+ community. I applaud Wambach for writing (and her wife {ex-wife?} for allowing Wambach to share in her memoir) the crude and tender truths of marriage and relationships, humbly demonstrating that heterosexual relationships don’t hold the monopoly on the work and heartache that goes into trying to blend two lives to create a family that can successfully endure the challenges of everyday life.

Wambach may not have intended the book to be a confessional, but it reads as if she is seeking atonement for pain inflicted by past choices, all the while, her telling of her tales seems brashly raw. There were times that I wondered if she shared her manuscript with her people before it was published? And I wondered  – if I were her people, would I be comfortable with the telling of these tales in this way?  I want her words to be genuine. I want her revelations and recognition to be sincere. I want her to  be the dueling-personalities that she presents in this book because her flaws and shortcomings serve only to enhance her charismatic intensity.

When I finally closed the book, I turned to Manda and told her, “I don’t know how I feel about Abby Wambach.” I’m a fairly decisive and opinionated reader. When I finish with a book, I have a firm grasp on why I like or dislike a book, what I appreciated about the author and their writing craft, and whether or not I’d recommend it as a read to someone else. Here’s what I know – yes, I’d recommend this as a read to people because it is a book that, I think, is meant to leave us recognizing that flawed humanity is reality and the value that others place on our talents may not be as important as we are led to believe. I know that I plan to keep this book in my classroom library because I want it to be available to my students who will connect with Wambach’s truth as an athlete, a lesbian, a seeking soul, an intense competitor and a healing individual. I know that I have a deeper appreciation for my wife’s love of the game and a keener understanding of the loss she has felt in having to abandon it.

Forward – Wambach’s chosen title – is likely the most resonant take-away for me. We all need to move forward, but moving forward does not mean that you leave behind past experiences. It is through these lessons from a life lived that we can figure out where the hell we’re going. Maybe this book choice wasn’t so odd – at a time when I have been feeling so apprehensive about what comes next, the title of this book called to me. I have to move forward – into 2017, into a new career, into a new era of my life as mama and wife, into whomever I am to become, but I won’t do so without carrying with me all that has come before.

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