Christen wasn’t a religious person, she hadn’t been taught to believe in anything. Her mother was catholic and had taught her their believes but she never forced her daughters into becoming believers. Christen wasn’t convinced by the teachings of the Bible and while she knew them she never believed them.
She hoped for a power beyond them to exist, something that would ensure they could see who they loved after their deaths. Yet she was never one to grasp firmly to the wish, it wasn’t something that preoccupied her mind often.
Christen made the USWNT later on in life despite being a top college player and rookie of the year during her first year on the WSL. She worked hard and stressed herself over not getting even a call, when the league folded she went to Sweden. A fresh start did wonders for her game and after an amazing season she was called to camp for the first time ever.
She met Tobin Heath there, confident midfielder turned into forward. A girl with a laid back personality and a blinding smile, charming and thoughtful. A girl that wondered through the world, never belonging anywhere. The definition of a free spirit, something Christen never was.
Christen was enchanted by the player, enjoying her insight on her game. Being a shy and reserved person isn’t always the best when it comes to team sports, it could make things difficult. However, Tobin didn’t mind her being quiet and didn’t feel the need of filling the silence between them. Never one to push to far, letting Christen move at her own pace.
As time went on she fell for the hazel gaze and fancy footwork, the kind soul behind the superstar that often shied away from the very deserved spotlight. It was however, a love left only for Christen to know. She never thought Tobin would love her like that, besides at the time the then PSG player had a girlfriend.
Apparently it was something that had come in her time abroad, a teammate from Costa Rica. People around Tobin liked the woman, she had even manage to get Lindsey to like her too. If she hadn’t it might have been a deal breaker for Tobin, never one to dismiss her loved ones opinions.
As time progressed Christen became a sideline watcher of both the forward and the field. It didn’t matter that she was at the top of her league nor that she was close to win a WUCL, she was a super sub. Reduced to the minutes the starter players left for her.
She grew frustrated by it, but didn’t complain nor stop working. Christen got herself back into the game, she grew comfortable on the pitch so that every time she was called upon even if it was for a couple of minutes she would make a difference. She made peace with being second in Jill’s eyes, it didn’t mean it never hurt.
They won the 2015 World Cup, she was new and spotted for the first time a big tittle with her national team. It was a big deal, it was supposed to be great, but things don’t always turn out like you want to.
She didn’t know what it was at the beginning, she didn’t suspect anything bad. Perhaps she was a little softer on her practices and needed to better her conditioning, getting short of breath once.
It started when she saw them together, though she didn’t make the connection. It had only happened once and as far as she knew nothing was wrong with her. One of the things she had always pride herself was her health, never one to do something that could damage it.
She ignored it the first few months, trying her best to make room for more conditioning. Training harder and eating cleaner, keeping a strict sleep schedule and making sure to recover exactly how she needed; and it worked, at least at the beginning.
Later Tobin would introduce her to the team, something she had never done before. Her name was Shirley Cruz, she spoke in broken English to everyone and French to Tobin and Lindsey. Christen made the decision to start learning French then.
Being taught about Christianity and growing up in the US Christen wasn’t knowledgeable about eastern religions, nor culture. Her sister was a big on meditation and she had grown to like it but she never dove into the core beliefs that they upheld.
You are always taught to be skeptical of things, to think rationally and look for an explanation. This was impossible for her the first time she found herself coughing rose petals.
Christen thought about going to a doctor, but found herself unable to do so as she didn’t know how she could explain this particular development. Coughing flowers, as any person with internet that is what she put on Google.
Hanahaki Disease - An illness in which a person grows flowers in their lungs because of one sided love, it doesn’t have a cure except for that love to become mutual. It must be a romantic love, a friendship one will not be enough.
Christen was never a believer of any type of religion or myth and even with that sounding beyond fantastic it made sense. She checked all the requirements and as she read she found herself coughing frantically once more red petals with dark blood spots.
As if life hadn’t been hard enough the universe had decided to fuck her once more, this time dooming her to death. Of all things she thought she could die from a broken heart was by far the worst one considering everything that came with it. What could be worst than dying because you couldn’t breath, she was going to eventually drown in flowers.
Christen had a choice to make, what was she going to do? She wasn’t telling Tobin, it would burden the woman, and she wasn’t going to tell a doctor, they wouldn’t believe her. She could tell her family and gamble on their reaction, but they would pressure her to tell Tobin, not deeming embarrassment a good enough reason to die.
In the end Christen decided to keep with her life as if nothing had happened, she could hide it hopefully long enough to have a back up plan and retire sooner than she had expected. She would stay near her family and the beach se had always loved, meeting her end where her life had begun.
There had been a fatal flaw on her plan, people would notice if she started getting sick. Coughing and getting short of breath wasn’t a good sign on any athlete, especially one known for keeping up with her health as she did.
At this point she had manage to earn second place in the WUCL and gotten signed to the Chicago Red Stars, where she roomed with Julie. The blond midfielder became a close friend, sharing club and national duties, she knew how much work Christen put on her health.
It was worse than she could have imagine. Julie found her coughing into the toilet, Christen thanked whatever deity was out there because her friend could only find Kelley in her search for help.
They both rushed through the door and found an exhausted Christen breathing heavily, flower petals on her hand. This time the rose had changed color, it was no longer red but white and you could see the blood spots clearly this time.
“What the fuck happened Christen!?” Kelley asked in shock, never one to filter her thoughts. As much as she love her Stanford teammate she could have a little more tact.
“It’s fine Kel, nothing but a little cough. It should pass in a couple of days.” Christen tried to dismiss it, her throat hurt and her voice was hoarse from coughing the damned petals.
“Christen you are anything but fine. You shouldn’t be sick, the routine you uphold could make Dawn cry from happiness. What is happening?” Julie more sensitive and calm, not one to rush answers from her as she had learned it only served to close the forward off.
With a heavy sigh and looking at the petals in her hand she mumbled “I’m sick.”
“No shit Chris, you are going to have to give us more than that.” Kelley didn’t budge, not happy with the brief admission without context nor clues on what to do.
“You are going to think it’s crazy.”
“We won’t.” They said at unison. She wasn’t getting out of this so she gave up easily tired from coughing almost half an hour with nothing to really lose at this point. “I have something called Hanahaki Disease.”
“What is that?” Kelley asked, Julie seeing Christen’s apprehension took her phone out and googled it.
“The flower disease.” She looked confused as she read through whatever page she had found. “A person suffering from one sided love grows flowers on their respiratory tract until it kills them...”
“How is that possible?” Kelley asked looking at Christen as if she had the answer. The latter shrugged because she didn’t have an answer, but held up one of the spotted petals.
“Is there a cure?” Kelley took the petal and examined it, not sure on what to do.
“It says here that the love has to become mutual, it can’t be friendship though.” Julie read.
“You know who it is right Chris? We just have to tell them. There is no way I’m letting you die.”
Christen shook her head and gave them a small smile. “I’m not telling them,” she said careful with her words, “they are happy and in a relationship. I’m not breaking their heart nor taking away their happiness.”
“So that’s it?” Kelley asked angered by the answer, it was stupid for Christen to choose dying over something that could be fixed. The woman was amazing and whoever she loved would surely love her back. “You are giving up without a fight?”
“There is no fight Kelley, it’s just me and my heart’s poor choice of love. If I tell them the love will not be real, it will be dependent on my health. I can’t ruin someone’s life because the universe played a sick prank on me.”
“You are coughing bloody petals Christen, this isn’t a sick prank is a death sentence.” Julie said seriously, as much as she respected her friend’s decision she didn’t like it a bit. It was outrageous that something like that happened to such a kind hearted soul.
“Then so be it.” Christen said raising to her feet. “You can’t tell anyone, if people know there is something wrong I’ll be cut from the team. I don’t want that.”
“It will get worse and you will eventually get cut Christen.”
“I know Kelley, but for now I want to enjoy my achievement. I will dwell on my heartache later when my career ends.” She walked out the bathroom and changed, not leaving room for her friends to argue.
Later that day she would smile and spread joy to the team that had grown to love her. Being all but two oblivious to the reality of her situation, thinking that she was someone they would have for a long time. Kelley would be particularly explosive the next couple of days, not telling anyone the reason for her sour mood.
Christen didn’t distance herself from Tobin, she never did. However she was careful to never let the woman know how much she affected her life, and they kept it up for a little longer.
Julie and Kelley followed her everywhere from then on, never letting her alone in fear something happened and they weren’t there to help. The coughing continued and the flowers varied from daisies to gardenias, getting progressively worst with time.
Then there was the phone call. Tobin had called at 3 am telling Christen that her relationship with Cruz was over, she never explained why they had broken up and Christen never pushed for it either. Just like Tobin had always let her set the pace she returned the favor.
They grew closer with time, however that meant Tobin picked up on her health too. Christen was a promising player, a health freak to the extreme even for some of their own teammates. Getting short of breath after a couple of hours of walking wasn’t something that was supposed to happen to an athlete like her.
“What’s wrong Chris?” Tobin had asked a couple of days later while they were at a USWNT camp.
“It’s nothing important Toby, probably just a cold catching up with me. Even I get sick every once in a while.” It was an excuse, a cope out, an answer that would satisfy the less perceptive.
“A cold doesn’t make you breath like you ran a marathon after two hours of walking, we are professional athletes Christen that applies even less to us. Especially since you haven’t had symptoms of a cold.”
“I’ll get checked out by the team’s physician, if something is wrong they will tell me.” Christen said only to appease Tobin knowing fully well that she wouldn’t go, it would be to much of a risk.
“Okay, tell me if anything comes up. The last thing I would want is for you to be sick.” Christen smiled touched by Tobin’s words, she nodded and felt guilty for lying to a woman she loved so much.
It’s for the best. She always told herself, no matter how bad her coughing got or how much it started to affect her performance. It was becoming something she couldn’t hide for much longer, it was catching up with her.
The breaking point came with the whole team present. There was nothing Christen could’ve done to hide the incessant coughing nor the petals that came out of her. The secret was out, she expected questions instead she heard softly a voice she had loved for a long time.
“Hanahaki...” Christen didn’t expect anyone on the team to know what exactly she had, much less know the disease by name and not as the flower disease.
“What did you say Tobin?” Kelley asked worried while trying to easy Christen’s pain.
“Hanahaki, that’s what’s wrong isn’t it Chris?” Tobin said with tears in her eyes, Christen only nodded while trying to keep herself from coughing more petals. Cursing her luck as realization came to Tobin.
“You didn’t go to the physician.” It wasn’t a question but a statement, Christen didn’t look at her confirming her fears. There was nothing a doctor could’ve done, this was beyond their comprehension.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Tobin’s voice laced with hurt.
“Tell you what Tobin?” Christen said between coughs. “That I was dying? That there is no cure for me? That I’m too weak to handle a broken heart?”
“You aren’t weak Christen.”
“Someone explain what is happening now.” Becky broke the pair’s bubble, stern but concern tone.
“I’m sick.” Christen said controlling finally her coughing breathing heavily but breathing nonetheless. “I have something called Hanahaki Disease, it’s an illness in which flowers grow in my lungs.”
“How the fuck does that happen?” Sonnet asked only to be scolded by her choice of words.
“It is something of eastern culture, it’s said to be a product of one sided love.” Tobin answer not taking her eyes of Christen. “The cure is to ensure the love is no longer one sided but mutual.”
“It basically means I’ll die from a broken heart.” Christen laughed sourly, the rest of the team didn’t know how to react. Kelley and Julie has stayed by her side the whole time.
“You both knew. That’s why Kelley was so pissed of a while back.”
“Yes they knew Toby. Kelley was upset because of my decision in regard to my current condition.”
“You know who it is.” Christen nodded, there was no point on hiding it now. “Do they?”
“No we don’t, Christen is adamant on not telling them.” Kelley said unable to disguise her annoyance. “We’ve tried for month to pry it out of her. She won’t budge.”
“You’re giving up?” Tobin sounded small and broken, as if she had been told she was the one dying.
“I guess you could put it like that, it isn’t your fault Toby.” Christen lied through her teeth, she did her best to sound convincing but Tobin had grown to know her far to well.
Wide eyes and open mouth, she took Christen’s hand and dragged her out of the room despite protests from their teammates.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” This time it wasn’t accusatory, it was soft and nervous.
“You were with Shirley when I realized it. I wasn’t going to tell you then.”
“We broke months ago.”
“I had made my decision already Tobin, I’m sure you can understand better than anyone that love can’t be forced.”
Tobin hadn’t told her the specifics of the break up but she could infer it had to do with the lack of commitment from Shirley which later translated to lack of commitment form Tobin. After all a relationship needs two to work.
“I know.” Tobin paused measuring her words, not wanting to get tongue tied. “I know it better than anyone else, that is why I can tell you with certainty that I’ve grown to love you. Still I never believed that I had a chance, you were never emotionally available even if you were single.”
“You let me go at my own pace despite hurting, you never pushed me into anything. You were kind when others could’ve been annoyed by my whining over a girl I no longer loved. You showed me compassion when I needed it and loved me from afar. How could I not love you?”
“I though you saw me only as a friend.”
“You are my friend, always have been. With time I realized that you were my soulmate, if it wasn’t romantically then I would learn to live with that because I could never live without you. Christen you are special beyond what I can express with words.”
If you asked her in what moment she became a believer, Christen would’ve told you that it was the moment in which she felt her lungs open up and she could take a deep breath without feeling like it stabbed her chest.
That it was the moment Tobin pulled her into a soft kiss that ended up with shy smiles. That is was the next day when the team came to the realization of what had happened and everyone shared the relived sensation.
That it was the moment where all her pain and suffering became worth it, because despite the universe forcing its hand on them it ended with Tobin by her side.