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.)
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 Classic behavior of a girl raised in an alcoholic family—either pick the nasty boy (the guy who superseded Robbie was ultra-nasty) to avoid “boredom”; or pick the safe boy and stick with him for way too fucking long.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
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.