Just Listen Public Lives, Part 2

By: Clare James

Public Lives Series, Part 2

“Hockey seems completely lawless and, therefore, inexplicably sexy.”

-Rachel Nichols

Plug (n.):

A hockey term used to describe someone who is completely and entirely useless.


In the NHL, players, coaches, and commentators talked endlessly about Hockey Sense. It was something extremely difficult to teach, you really either had it or you didn’t.

A player with hockey sense made the correct play nine times out of ten. They were a step ahead of the play, rarely caught out of position or off guard. In other words, born to play hockey.

I had that.

But once hockey was gone, I lost it all.

“Dude, you have no choice,” my friend and teammate, Nate Denny, said last spring after I emerged from another weekend bender. “It’s time to face this.”

“Face what?” I asked, still in denial. Since the initial diagnosis, I refused to think about it, let alone talk about it.

The only people who knew about my problem were Nate, my agent, Stan, and the doctors, of course. Nate took the docs side on pretty much everything, but Stan wasn’t all that concerned. In fact, he thought we could use my diagnosis to our advantage.

Money-grubbing asshole.

Nate didn’t let up until I finally checked into an inpatient facility. That’s really when everything changed. The fog began to lift and I felt my head clearing for the first time since I could remember. The clarity was something I couldn’t explain; the control and calm I experienced was something I knew I desperately needed. Unfortunately, that meant some big changes in the months ahead – necessary changes, if I wanted to have any quality of life.

I called it the new normal.

And when it became apparent that retiring from hockey was part of the new normal – at least until I got ahold of my life – Nate was the only person in my corner.

When I woke up this time, he was the only person there again. Slumped over in the chair, snoring.

I was happy about that. It gave me some time to get orientated after my latest stumble. As I looked around the hospital room, a familiar feeling came rushing back – a feeling I thought I experienced for the last time.

I was wrong.

The docs told me I most likely would have episodes at times – when I was stressed or faced certain triggers – but I didn’t believe them. I was too tough, too disciplined.

I followed all the rules to get better, for fuck’s sake. Yet I still wound up here.

It was a kick to the goddamn nuts.

My last moments with Casey began to seeping in to my newly found consciousness. That smell of hers – spicy and inviting – hit me first. I could detect her scent in the hospital room even with the potent disinfectant filling the air.

That meant she was there, at least at some point. A mild comfort.

The memory of her striking face was the next blow. The look in those large brown doe eyes that last night, when she was bound for me, open and waiting for my next move. Her pupils large; her lips parted; her bare chest, rising and falling rapidly in sweet anticipation.

And then, the disturbing image I couldn’t shake – the way her expression of wanton desire turned to panic.

It was terrifying.

I tried to recall the rest. What did I do? What did I say? What did she see? Was she okay?

All I could think was that I had to get to her. Soon.

I had no idea how long I’d been out. That was the trouble, it could’ve been hours or days. My body told me it had been a while. As I tried to get up, I was overwhelmed with an uncomfortable sensation of exhaustion mixed with regret. Like when I was young and getting trashed every night, waking up to a stranger in my bed and wondering what the fuck happened. It was like that. But worse. Far worse, because there was nothing (or no one) to blame. No alcohol, or wild party, or swarms of girls begging me to do filthy things to them. This one was all on me. My unstable, unreliable, crazy, fucked-up, destined-to-be-miserable self.

Falling back into bed, I slowed my breathing. With the raging war going on in my chest, I could feel my blood pressure rising, which would surely start setting off these monitors I was chained to.

I needed to calm the hell down, but part of me was livid that Casey hadn’t stayed. That she ran at the first sign of trouble.