Did I truly believe the US would beat Belgium? No.
I wanted to, though. I want to believe in a lot of things. I just can’t.
When I was about five years old I reasoned myself out of believing in Santa. I remember the precise moment it clicked, too. I sat on the couch watching TV when an add for Toys R Us came on. This was the mid-’90s, so the logo was all yellow bubble letters and the R still backwards, and as Geoffrey the Giraffe rattled on about a Christmas sale and percentages I didn’t yet understand, something bothered me. If Santa is real, I asked myself, then why do we need toy stores?
Now, I have two older brothers, so this was probably not the first anti-Santa thought to pass through my glossy little grey matter, but it was the most damming. For a moment, I reasoned that parents wanted to buy their kids presents in addition to the ones Santa brought, so that’s what toy stores were for. But I wasn’t convinced, and from then on, Santa and his subsidiaries–the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy–were more or less like characters from a picture book, like the Cat in the Hat or the Berenstein Bears. Part of me liked the idea of them being real; but I didn’t believe.
A few days after Belgium defeated our national team 2-1, Germany eviscerated Brazil. 7-1. Five of those goals were scored within the first thirty minutes of the game. I watched it live and it made my soul hurt. Inevitably, the cameras panned through the stadium brimming with Brazilian fans in yellow, green, and blue who’d all been kicked in the gut by the German team. They weren’t just frowning and disappointed; they were weeping. Disillusioned, despairing, and helpless.
That’s what happens when you believe in something. There are seven billion people on this planet, so the chances of something happening in your favor are astronomical.
So, what am I saying? I don’t know. I’ve been an atheist since I was fourteen; the trouble is I never replaced my faith in a Christian god with anything else. I just embraced skepticism and became one of the most jaded high schoolers you could meet in real life. I was the April Ludgate of Millersburg, Pennsylvania.
It takes a lot of energy to maintain that level of misanthropy. I can’t do it anymore. Since I graduated college last year, I’ve realized I need to refocus. Rather than living in contradiction to the people I grew up with–a personality by elimination–I need to take a breath and trust myself. I need to have faith that the passion for storytelling that moved me seven hundred miles west and catapulted me through college has enough momentum to carry me into an adulthood where I’m content with myself; where I feel capable and creative.
I some people call that hope. It’s a nice idea. Maybe some day I’ll believe in it and make it real.