I wish I had a name like Frankie DeBella. Back when I was a kid playing rec league soccer in my hometown, she was renowned for her prodigious skill. For years we dreaded the weeks we played “Frankie’s team,” because she could dribble circles around us and through us. She’d score on us four or five times int he first half and even when their coach (her father) would take her out after half time, we were so shaken by the maelstrom that hit us that we would play badly.
It was always “Frankie’s team” because there was no amount of mediocrity that could dull her, and no amount of skill that could compete. It was irrelevant who else was on her team that season; she carried them.
At one point in middle school I grew into a solid defender (as long as I didn’t have to run too much) and when we played Frankie, I was assigned to mark her. It was probably the most aggressive I ever played, the most competitive I ever felt. If I could beat that name, stop her progress, slow her down, I could be important to the game, and people would notice me.
Up close, she was beautiful, Francesca DeBella with Italian skin and long swishing dark hair like a horse’s tail. She seemed older than the rest of us, svelte and muscular without the pudginess that ringed our midriffs and thick ankles. She wore eyeliner. She never crowed and never smiled. She was hyperfocused without being overly aggressive. She knew she was on another plane; I’m sure she knew how her name was thrown about in loving, fearful whisper. But for her, the only chase was the ball, the only game was perfection, the only living person at that game was her father, and maybe if she scored one more goal, he would take the rage out of his voice when he screamed the name he gave her.