I loved tennis.  I got to be pretty good at it.  Good enough to walk on and play the last slot on the  local junior college women’s tennis team. I really had no tennis club membership or training.  Just a few sports camps and a few lessons here and there.  I played in high school and my extra forced practices consisted of hitting a ball against our garage door or against a tennis wall. 

It was my mother who discovered the junior college women’s team and suggested I continue to play.  She set up an interview.  The coach allowed me to try out. 

I filled in the last slot securing my place.  I was the worst player on our team. 

In those two years of play I traveled all over the state of Michigan.  Our team won nearly all of our meets.  We were now going to Nationals in Tempe. 

Most of my teammates liked me well enough.  They tolerated my oddness.  I was the smartest on the team and was appointed our official tutor.  My job was to keep our number one and sometimes number two singles player, Kelly, eligible to play.  Coach Nelson pulled me aside and told me he needed me to keep her academically eligible.  Would I help? 

Of course I would. 

I fit this in on top of my part-time job, my studies, and of course, our daily tennis practice. 

My thoughts of Kelly were unkind in this sense: I thought she was unfortunately dumb.  I found myself struggling to give her my respect.  For the most part I did like her.  She was very athletic and pretty.  She was a great tennis star.  But I pitied her.  How could someone be that unbelievably stupid?  On our weekly academic meetings I would assist her with her papers, editing, and asking her questions.  She was truly grateful for my help.  When she gushed and admired me for my smartness —I would feel guilty for all those thoughts I held about her.  I was conflicted. 

After our meetings I often muttered prayers to the Divine: Thank you for not making me stupid.

I wouldn’t have exchanged my academic talents to be better on the court.  I loved tennis more as a social bonding activity.  I also liked the feel of that ball hitting my sweet spot and nailing the back corner of the court.  It felt good when my opponent was unable return it.  Every hit was a mental challenge to see if I could control the ball and put it where I wanted to.  I knew of my limitations.  I had no Wimbledon desires. 

On the team I had created an enemy.  Colleen was slotted number one.  She had a full ride pending at Ferris.  One day coach called her and I up.

“You two are going to match up.”
The whole team was we gotta see this:  This is the biggest joke. 

Coach had full team attention. 

“This is going to be a complete waste of Colleen’s practice time.”  Colleen was talking about herself in the third person.

I am like, “Aww really coach this isn’t necessary.”  But you didn’t talk back to coach. 

I guess I wasn’t as easy to defeat as she or the team thought.   Maybe coach knew this.  In the end she was stronger and more powerful in her strokes and the match ended as predicted.  But my teammates saw parts of our match.  I, in part, had humiliated her.

Her shots were fast and powerful. My returns were calculated and placed.  My serves were extra soft and she couldn’t adjust—she belted them past the back line.  I had her running to the front of the net and placed the ball barely over it–again her power was her weakness.

She wasn’t so quick to adjust.

Eyes become darker and hard–you can see a glint in them when someone becomes pissed.  My apparent smiling did not help the situation.

After the practice session I learned to steer clear of Colleen.  Her verbal jabs were pointed and continual.  I continued to keep my mouth shut.

We made it to Nationals and the school flew us to Tempe, Arizona.  I was slotted to play the last position and I was the only one at the end of the tournament up for a trophy in the finals round.  Coach had promised everyone a trip into Mexico if we finished early (i.e. everyone lost) but I was holding us up.  I pulled coach aside.  “Look I will stay and play—- take them to Mexico.” 

Colleen had never been.  That’s all she talked about.

Coach said “No. you play we stay.”

His reasoning made no sense to me.  I felt my hand was being forced.  I had been to Mexico so many times in my childhood.  I had been to Mexico City and Acapulco in high school.  I really wanted to stay and play. 

My team wanted to go to Mexico.

I was not going to play tennis as a career.  I was going to the University of Michigan.  I had some academic scholarships.  Tennis was a diversion.

The answer was apparent.  My wants were less important.

Many of the girls on my team had never even traveled out of state and if they had it was Florida.

If this is how coach is calling it—- I was throwing the match.

It’s another one of my life’s —“what ifs—why wouldn’t coach give me the space to just be?”

That night it was a full blown bar party. A celebration of the week and season end.  We were going to leave for the border at 9 a.m.  I had never been out this late in the States.  It was dancing and drinks.   

There he was.  Sitting at the bar in the form of a Delta Airline Pilot.  Colleen points him out.  Shouts something his way.

He was game show host handsome.  After a minute of introductions he takes us all in.  He sits across from me.  He wants to know my story.

Colleen’s face turns dark.

Handsome has it’s own form of intoxication.  It’s deceiving, enticing, luring.  I am finding my worth in this man’s attention.   Flattery has it’s own form of currency.  I have never met anyone in real life as handsome as this man.

My experience was limited to boys ranging from eighteen to twenty-two.  I am not really sure what to do.  I don’t know what to do when he is buying us all drinks.  Cool beers loosen inhibitions and tied up tongues.

The reality of a situation becomes real when you find yourself in a hotel room half naked.  He is crooning all sorts of things into my ear.  His words are sickly sweet.  I am feeling this is off—this is way too much sugar. 

True to form, I find myself asking questions: What am I really doing?  Why am I really here?  Isn’t this going on a little far?  I know this is really not what I want.”

I wasn’t afraid of him.  I wasn’t afraid for myself.
(my future self would learn to know this fear)

Funny how such an instantaneous desire lasts as long as a flaming match.  How his words were falling empty and flat.  My thoughts dampen my physical fire.  There are real feelings and repercussions. I was now thinking things through.  I am speaking out loud. 

Then that awkward conversation takes place.

There is that moment I feel guilty, foolish and small. 
There is a moment of his frustration.  There is his apparent resignation to my current stance on this situation. 

Now he tells me about a child and wife in California.
His reaction to my silly rejection. 

It was a sound sigh and click of a light switch. I am putting on my cowboy boots and slipping though that hotel door.

It’s cool outside and the sky is grey.  In a few hours it will be a ride across the border in a rented team van.  It will be lunch in Mexico.  We will be eating at an out door café. 

I am filling up on tortillas, rice and beans.  I am drinking beers with Kelly and Nikki. 
Colleen continues to shoot me her evil glares. 

For the most part the team is having a wonderful day.

I decide I am really O.K.

I am glad I didn’t play that final match.  I am glad I decided not to stay.