Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tennis High: Things Robbie Gave Me (Part 1)

Played tennis last night.

How can I describe how much I love playing tennis? I’ve loved playing tennis ever since I first picked up a racquet when I was 18.

I’ve had this experience with tennis that for me supports the existence of some kind of higher power. Or “other” power, as one of my atheist friends in recovery likes to call it.

Growing up, I was the kid who got picked last for every gym-class team. Physically I wasn’t a promising specimen of the female sex. In high-school I couldn’t run around the track even once, and I had exactly two dates, both pretty disappointing. Then, about two weeks into freshman year of college, I met Robbie.

Lean Midwestern boy, five-foot-ten. Scots on his father’s side, German on his mother’s: shiny dark hair, hazel eyes with black lashes, fair skin that flushed pleasantly in his cheeks. He was fucking gorgeous. And he liked me. (As did, somehow, a lot of the other guys.)

Somehow—somehow—in the three short months between stumbling out of the arid, dateless wasteland of my public-school education and into this new college life, my speedometer had gone from zero to, say, 85 or 90.

(I would like to say it had managed a steady thrumming 120 but the truth is that Robbie didn’t give a shit about some of the things I deeply cared about, and vice-versa. Plus he was just totally nice. As a descriptor, as a working piece of language, “nice” sucks, it’s general and vague, but it perfectly describes Robbie and the fact is, the only guys who ever put me over 120 for any period of time are the ones who show promise at handling language and who also have a slippery, tarnished groove of bad-boy dug into them. Along with some understanding of life’s true tragedies. Perhaps to my detriment. Nevertheless.)

Bad boy “Johnny Mac,” Robbie’s favorite in the mid-1980s. (Ladies: don’t you miss those short-shorts athletes used to wear?)

Robbie was maybe the only entirely nice guy I’ve ever been with. He was not at all personally acquainted with the dark side—except of course through Star Wars. And through John McEnroe, the player he followed at the time. And after a while I began to feel bored.

I did my best to convince myself it wasn’t happening. Classic behavior of a girl raised in an alcoholic family—either pick the nasty boy (the guy who superseded Robbie was ultra-nasty) to avoid “boredom”; or pick the safe boy and stick with him for way too fucking long.

(Have you ever felt that way with someone you love—that you stayed too long at the fair?)

In my first year at school, however, while everything was still new, Robbie taught me to play tennis. How the hell did he manage it?

It was the first time in my entire life that I’d ever exercised in a sustained way, and it was the first time I’d ever fallen in love and felt it returned to me. I’d never believed either one could happen, and together they turned out to be an ideal chemical combination for an addict like me.

He drew from an enormous fund of patience and generosity in his instruction. After I got the hang of it, we’d play for three hours at a time, then go share a pile of french fries and a tall orange slush. Then we’d climb up the wall of his dorm, through the window of his room, and crash in his bed. I’d never had so much fun in my entire life.

And I found out that I was pretty good at, among other things, tennis.

Robbie had been playing since he was 8 or 10, and by the end of the first year I could sometimes ace him with my serve.

Today, each time I play tennis I can hear Robbie’s voice. I heard it last night—

Loosen your grip

Watch the ball

Follow through


Don’t be afraid

(all statements I needed to hear, and still need to hear)

Most of the time it’s even spookier than that: I can feel the old movements and instincts he taught me still living inside my body.

Do you ever have experiences like that—where someone you used to love is still somewhere inside you?

Robert Plant sings about it below.

Stay tuned for where God shows up in muscle-memory in Part 2 later this week.



  1. I married my Robbie 😉 Went through quite a few bad boys until I found my right guy and when I did I was ready.

  2. Wow. This one cuts pretty deep. Although, I was on the male side and was taught by a female. I learned from her how literally to “take” pleasure in life. I was not a taker before her. I used to accept what I could get and not pursue any pleasure, really, because I didn’t really know what I wanted. Because I really didn’t know what I was feeling. I couldn’t know. I was too busy accomodating to my alcoholic mother. I thought pleasure had to come to me from “the other” in order for it really to be mine, to be legitimate. I don’t think I knew it was possible except via chance, a roll of the dice. It was little things really at first. Strong coffee with cream and a scone … late in the morning … after a long night of love making. My gawd. I was learning how to live … and this must have been 8 years into my recovery. But I think she got bored with me, lost respect for me, and began to pursue another, though there were never any promises really. Hell, I felt lucky enough just to have had the experience with her, and wasn’t really aware of how much I needed, or what I deserved, until after her. I knew her for over a year before we ever got close. We talked a lot on the phone. Then, she actually asked permission to hold my hand. That floored me. She eventually asked for permission before she touched me. It was only after her that I began to know my own emotional poverty.

  3. Love this entry. Love these memories. Love tennis. Thanks.

  4. guinevere

    October 4, 2011 at 11:22 am

    @Jess, glad to hear your voice…

    @John, wow: “I thought pleasure had to come to me from “the other” in order for it really to be mine, to be legitimate. I don’t think I knew it was possible except via chance, a roll of the dice.” Certainly the way I felt with Robbie. It was as if he “found” me. No choice involved—which is part of the reason I stayed so long.

    It’s also one reason I’ve refused to change my ways of doing things, repeatedly, even when they don’t work and don’t give me what I need or want. I’m “supposed” to do such-and-such. “I didn’t really know what I wanted. Because I really didn’t know what I was feeling. I couldn’t know. I was too busy accommodating to my alcoholic mother.” If it’s not an alcoholic mother or father, or dry-drunk mother or father, it’s a partner, a friend, a boss—a blog reader. If someone has expectations, I automatically think I’m supposed to fulfill them.

    Ring any bells?

  5. I really like that bit of coaching from Robbie. I re-blogged it for my own personal use. Thanks for writing so honestly about yourself. I struggle to do so.

  6. At that age perhaps we are too immature to understand what is going on. You need to love yourself before you can truly love another. Fortunately for me I have been married to my true love for a long time. She stuck with me through my stumbling and fumbling and fog. I feel like my program has been like one of those coal miner helmets with the light on top and I’m am seeing better now through the fog. This is allowing me to appreciate my relationship with my wife, allowing it to grow stronger after all of these years. Together we can meet challenges where we may have fallen into traps alone.
    I remember being young and letting relationships slip away because I never felt good enough. My higher power probably was looking out for me. I lucked into meeting the right person who has had the patience to build a life with me.
    Thank you for taking the time and effort to give me something to think about.

  7. guinevere

    October 5, 2011 at 7:36 am

    @Ruby, cool site!

    Robbie was an awesome coach… I had a chance earlier this year to thank him for his coaching. More about that later.

  8. Wow, LOVE this post. I can hear Bonnie Raitt singing “Stayed too long at the fair”. LOVE that song. love Bonnie Raitt.

    My experience with men was different. My first love was definitely NOT a good guy, more like “bad to the bone”. Found out he was messing around with me while his fiance was up at Wellesley. After a few more bad boys, I met the good one, the guy I’m still married to. Lucky, the luckiest thing in my life as far as I am concerned.

  9. I liked the bad girls, the ones who would challenge the system, the parents, and meet up after the folks had gone to bed. That was high school. In college, I had an affair with a married woman who taught me a lot. She was a couple of years older than me. But we had some great times. That slipped away when I realized the guilt was getting to be too much. And then I met the woman of my life, my wife. She was magnetic, sweet but bad. It was a heady combination that still gets me. Ah well….we are still together. Through thick and thin–some animals mate for life.

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