Once upon a lifetime ago, I was a minivan-driving, sideline-cheering soccer mom, but I haven’t watched a single World Cup match this year. Not one. Part of my avoidance is due to my late husband’s attitude toward the host country, Brazil. It’s not that he had anything against Brazil — on the contrary! He lived there as a missionary years before we met, and he appreciated the culture as much as he admired the people and their language.
(The first time he told me he loved me he said it in Portuguese. He was too shy to say it aloud — in case I didn’t feel the same — so he wrote it on a slip of paper and handed it to me. I suspected the words’ meaning, but he refused to translate them for me, so I had to find a Portuguese-English dictionary to be sure. But I digress …)
In our decades together, my husband shared his love of Portuguese with me. I understand it better than I speak it (he always made fun of my accent), but the beautiful language makes me feel saudades — an untranslatable nostalgic, homesick, loss, and beloved longing — for him. Hence, the first half of my self-imposed World Cup boycott.
We met while enrolled as students in our university’s language programs. I lived in the women’s Spanish house, a rambling old, three-story home to 17 women (including two native-speakers). He lived in the smaller men’s Portuguese house with a handful of roommates (including one from Brazil). Residents were under obligation to speak only their contracted languages while on the premises of each house (unless talking on the phone or entertaining guests in the living room). The only TV channels available (in those pre-internet days) were those broadcast by stations carrying only the languages of our houses.
The second reason for my avoidance of this World Cup is the same reason I shied away from watching the worldwide event — even before his death. Ever since the 1986 World Cup held in Mexico, back when I still lived in the Spanish House, just hearing the words “World Cup” sends shudders down my spine the way an arachnophobe reacts to a tarantula or a coulrophobe avoids circus clowns.
It happened early in the days of that 1986 event. With 16 roommates in my always creaking three-story house, we came and went at all hours. We seldom knew one another’s schedules, but at any given time there were usually several of us at home. One day I came home from campus to make myself lunch and do some intensive studying during that usually (relatively) quiet time of day. Even before I put my key into the lock — which was not only unlocked but slightly ajar — the sounds of cheering roared from inside the house: GOOOOAL!
A group — a very large, very rowdy group — was watching the World Cup in my living room. As I crossed the threshold, I doubted I’d manage any studying with so much noise. We had hosted 25 – 30 people in the living and dining areas before, with only the slightest sense of crowding, but this was a much, much larger throng that left no space for my feet to step between people. I threaded, kneed, and elbowed my way toward the kitchen (getting dirty looks and derogatory comments for interrupting the wall-to-wall spectators’ views). One thing became clear: I’d never seen ANY of these people before. I checked the other rooms and floors in the house. Not one of my 16 roommates was at home. I was ALONE in a house full of strangers — and I mean full!
I didn’t know which (if any) of my roommates had let them inside (none ever admitted to it after-the-fact, either) and I didn’t know when any of my roommates might return. I couldn’t have called any of them if I’d tried; this was before cell phones, and the house phone was out of sight in the middle of the living room hoard.
One of the strange men even followed me into the kitchen, cornered me near the sink, and begged (yes, begged) me to go out with him. He refused to take no for an answer until I shoved my engagement ring — sharp side out — in his face. (Thank goodness my then-soon-to-be-husband had already proposed!) I smacked my sandwich together and left the house through the back door — which was also unlocked.
For the rest of that World Cup, I avoided the house unless I KNEW other roommates would be there. Even when I arranged to meet one (or more) of them on campus before we headed home together, we were frequently far outnumbered when we arrived. For the most part our “guests” behaved themselves (though I recall a number of groceries disappearing from the kitchen) and at the conclusion of the matches they dispersed as suddenly as they’d appeared. Still, the three-story house never felt quite as safe as it once had (and although I know it looked different, my memories paint it looking like the establishing shot of the house outside the Bates Motel).
It was one event, nearly thirty years ago (Am I really getting that old?!?), but it still shapes my view of the world — at least of the World Cup. In the intervening years we had children together, fell in love with soccer as a sport for our daughter’s sake, and went about our merry way from year to year. But between the saudades for my husband induced by this year’s host country and the shudders induced by memories of an otherwise happy time, I’m still not planning to watch.
The loss of my husband was more than “an event,” nearing four years ago, and it will continue to shape my world–but not entirely define it. In the years ahead I will continue to grow and find new things in life to fall in love with from year to year. Even in the joys of happy times ahead, I won’t deny the occasional tempering of saudades for what once was.