Field of Queens

The life and loves of Eric Merfalen, a gay athlete who forged his sexual identity while playing America's most macho, bone-crushing sport

Coach Bahr looks concerned, though. He almost always does. Bahr is a true aficionado of the sport, at once beautifully passionate and coldly analytical. At times he does not communicate well with his players, many of whom are still rugby novices.

A rugby team playing well advances down the field as a horizontal line of men. It is able to collapse quickly toward the ball and spread out just as quickly to take advantage of open space on the wings. The Knights don't do either well because many of the players, including Eric, are early in their careers. They're accustomed to sports where positions are more defined; the defensive tackle always lines up in the same spot in football. Rugby is far more fluid. Bahr thinks it takes at least one full season for a player to start understanding the game.

After losing the first game, as usual, the Knights tie the second. It marks the first time the team has ever not lost a match in a "straight" tournament. Eric also scores the first try of his rugby experience.

photo: David Yellen


Eric is a bit dazed and sore afterward. He doesn't want to eat anything and sips from a bottle of water. Martin has been working on a temporary basis in Virginia for the last month, and Eric is still unsure of the status of their relationship. Martin refers to it as a strong friendship; Eric points out that they talk multiple times every day, have been visiting each other on weekends, and remain intimate. Eric briefly tried to date other men and even fell for a tall bartender named Christopher. He invited both Martin and Christopher to his birthday party in February, but ended up giving most of his attention to Martin. Both Christopher and Martin are making plans to travel to Italy for most of 2007 for work-related reasons. Martin claims the trips are unrelated. Eric does not. As he slowly wanders around Randalls and watches other games, Eric reaches into his front pocket to check for his cell phone. He is waiting for it to ring, waiting to talk to Martin and tell him about his try. Then, finally, he'll be able to celebrate it.

The Knights players begin to disperse. There are, much to Eric's chagrin, no plans to go drinking later that night. A week earlier the team had hosted a boot camp, initiating more than 20 new players into the team through a long drinking session. In the still unfinished basement of the Gym Bar, members of the Knights sang vulgar rugby songs, gave speeches about the meaning of the team, and forced rookies to reveal their rear ends. They also drank quite a bit.

An impromptu version of "(I've Had) The Time of My Life," the song made famous in the movie Dirty Dancing, broke out in the middle of the dancefloor near the group Eric had spent the evening talking to.

I've had the time of my life.
No, I never felt this way before.
Yes, I swear, it's the truth,
And I owe it all to you.
'Cause I've had the time of my life,
And I've searched through
every open door,
Till I found the truth
And I owe it all to you.

Several of the new players snickered, and many of the veterans didn't even pay attention. Eric didn't hear or see them. He had already put his beer down, walked up the steps, and left the bar.

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