Only four teams out of over one hundred playing the event escape this feeling, these doubts, these questions. They creep up as you take off your jersey and pads and throw it all in the gearbag, before you sit in a shady spot, covered in sweat, face in your hands going over everything that went wrong. “Why do I do this, why do I waste all this money and time, just to feel this way. Why the hell haven’t I quit yet.” You blame yourself more than anyone else. And after you put on basketball shorts and a dirty tee shirt, you do not want to stick around and watch the finals, you only want to get out of there. You want to drive or fly away from this failure. In the long car ride home, or on the plane across the country you might share a couple, a few, or too many beers with a teammate, trying to put a finger on the one crucial error, the turning point when all optimism disappeared and the pit became a cemetery in its ghastly silence. After every laugh, an extended silence, minds drifting back to the mistakes that linger in the mind; parasites that cannot be extradited.
Those conversations rarely lead answers — sometimes they get heated and result in fights rather than solutions. The failure is too fresh, too new, it cannot be resolved so quickly. The solution, if there is one — a roster change, a new practice field, more practice, more drills — never reveals itself on Sunday afternoon. The frustration of an irrevocable loss that, once you finally make it home, no one can come close to understanding. To the family and friends, even those who have seen paintball, the sport still lives in obscurity; more than anything else, it is the reason you miss birthday parties and weddings, why you stay in on a Friday night instead of going to the bar, why you are always spending your Summers in Joliet, Illinois, Rock Hill, South Carolina, or Chesapeake City, Maryland. They might give you a hug, try to console you, or even miss the point altogether and congratulate you for your 5th place finish, not able to comprehend how 5th place feels so much worse than 25th place. Coworkers might ask how your weekend was. After you explain that you were out of town at a paintball tournament, they might say “Wow sounds fun!” and be confused by your melancholy expression.
On Monday morning you might go right to the gym rather than sleep off the exhaustion. To right this wrong training must begin immediately. But as you lie on the bench, or run another wind sprint, you might stop and close your eyes, knowing that that extra set, that extra lap is in vain. Yesterday cannot be corrected.
You might drive in your car, unable to hear the music you turned up as loud as your speakers could muster, and almost get into an accident as you space out, and think to yourself, “Why do I do this?” If you get some friends to go out with you to a bar that Monday night with an excuse like “Yeah they got a two dollar draft beer special on Mondays,” they might be confused when, by the end of the night, you stopped being able to pretend you were having fun and sat alone at the bar drinking whiskey staring off into space remembering every single gun battle you lost over the weekend.
No matter how down you get on that Monday or how sure you are that this event was the last time you will ever play paintball, the following Sunday, out of routine, out of grief, or out of a desire to make right what went so wrong, you will get up at the crack of dawn, you will throw that gearbag in your trunk, and maybe stop for a second before putting the key into the ignition. This is not something you can just walk away from. This is not something people on the outside can understand. This is not just an addiction. This is not just a game. This is what makes you feel alive. This is the answer to the monotony of the 9 to 5 grind. This is the escape from the harrowing bullshit of high school. This is the answer to the aggravation of a naggy girlfriend or wife. This is a martial art. This is at once a classroom, a fraternity, a training ground. This is paintball.