This week marks my return to the tennis court after an 18 month hiatus. Shockingly, tennis wasn’t a course offering in seminary, which I think is a gross oversight, since prayer has always been a large part of my game, like Please, God, let that cracking sound be something other than my ankle snapping…and Dear Lord, I am truly sorry for beaming the woman in the next court over with my wayward forehand…
Tennis was one half of the PE curriculum at my high school, the other half being golf … and if that doesn’t scream prep school, I don’t know what does. Led by Mrs. Snook (aged 127), we girls would change into gym uniforms and tote our wooden rackets to the other side of campus (approximately 17 miles from the changing rooms), where we jockeyed for a spot under the lone, straggly palm tree at the far end of the courts.
The boys got to wear normal PE shorts and school T shirts, but for us girls, the mandated dress code for physical activity was navy blue polyester short-shorts with a zip-up top of blue and white horizontal stripes. Hideous. But here’s the real kicker: it was a one piece. I can only assume that Snookums chose the uniforms based on a fond recollection of the bathing costumes she wore as a maiden, circa 1892.
I didn’t learn much tennis from Snookums, nor did I learn anything about golf, other than the fact that well-bred women always replace their divots. But the experience (along with my undying devotion to a certain phenomenal tennis player in my school) must have whetted my appetite for the game, because I took lessons here and there over the years, and when I turned 40, resolved to get serious.
I was lucky to find a tennis pro, Tennis David, who knew exactly how to work with me [Tennis David is his working title, differentiating him from the zillion other Davids in my life: Wicked David, Father Davids I, II and III, Dave the Man, Tattoo Dave, Dave the Dog, etc.] Tennis David sized me up in about twenty seconds, and knew that the key to our working relationship was for him inflict just the right amount of torture to make me angry.
So, on the days when I was sleep-deprived and dragging, David hit every ball to alternating back corners, forcing me to run hither and thither like a cracked-out hamster. If I backtracked to the baseline, anticipating his Mach 5 forehand, he’d take his racket back like he was going to launch the ball into orbit…then tap it gently over and chuckle as I sprinted forward and dove toward the net (I picked a lot of clay gravel out of my knees because of him). He could always tell when I was getting aggravated (mainly because I’d fire balls at his torso), but would just yawn and check his fingernails and tap the ball back like a sleepy kitten, unconcerned that I was plotting to kill him with a racket blow to the temple.
When I was feeling like I might know something about the game, David would announce that it was time to change up my grip or learn a new skill, putting me back at square one. Sometimes, sensing my waning attention (while I daydreamed, for instance, about finding a nicer competitive sport, like Tiddlywinks or finger-painting), he’d revitalize my interest by aiming balls at my body. [*Legal disclaimer* He swears these were all “accidents.”]
“You walked right into that one!” he’d say, laughing. (One time he actually zinged a ball directly into my neck. I had a previously-scheduled doctor’s appointment the next day and had to explain to the physician and two concerned nurses that really, seriously, I was safe at home…)
We played in the pouring rain, in cold so deep I couldn’t feel my hands, in snow flurries, and in heat so intense the sweat pouring off my face blinded me. But somehow, the game — and my wonderful, sadistic coach — had me hooked.
Yes, I was in love….and tennis was my bad boyfriend.
I loved everything about tennis. I thought about it all the time, and wanted to please it and gain its approval, but tennis took no notice of my love and loyalty. The court was my happy place, but at the same time, being there made me feel used and sweaty-dirty, and bad about myself, and insecure about my abilities. I was crazy in love with the game, but tennis was lukewarm about me…and definitely seeing other people on the side.
Now, I know that there are people with natural, God-given athletic abilities. My dad, a former three-sport Varsity athlete and captain of everything and golfer and racquetball player and rodeo rider, is one of them. But I did not get his athletic DNA. I got my mom’s, which was evident back in the 1980s when step aerobics was a thing, and my mom and I actually had to quit taking classes at the Y because we both fell off our steps repeatedly and disrupted the class with our laughing. (People took aerobics very seriously in the 80s).
Balance, agility, speed…these are attributes I do not possess. What I do have, however -definitely from my mom – is a blatant disregard for my own corporal safety, which explains why my entire torso has been reconstructed with chicken wire, and why she sculls in the shipping lane of a major port every morning, happily dodging cargo ships in her barely-visible vessel. And, while I can’t say I care a whole lot about what other people do and have virtually no interest in participating in team sports, I would rather die than quit once I’ve decided to do something…another trait my mom handed down.
So this is a long way round to saying that while I’m completely excited to get back into tennis, I won’t be at all surprised if I come out of it bruised and battered. And that I miss you, Tennis David, every time I step on the court! And that I’ll be praying, as always, that for once, my bad boyfriend will love me back.