There are moments that shape us – for better or worse – and, at the time, we don’t even realize that they’re happening. And there are authority figures who become monsters in our minds’ memories simply because of a few ill-thought words they say on a Monday. We are such fragile little people as children and haphazard words can break us much more easily than broken bones can.
One of those moments for me was when I was in 7th grade and that authority figure was Mrs.B – or Coach B, as her players called her. I knew she hadn’t ever liked me in the two years she’d had me for P.E. but I braved it out and asked Mrs. B when the tennis tryouts would be that spring of 1991. Her chuckle couldn’t hide her mockery, “Do you even know how to play? It’s very competitive and hard to make the team. And you’re anything but athletic.” Her smirking, disbelieving face read, “Are you stupid? I will never let you make that team” all over it. I believed her. And why wouldn’t I? After all, I had only attended one tennis camp when I was 9 years old and this was all it took to make me rethink my confidence as an athlete. So a tennis pro I was not to be. Shut down. At age 13.
But this wasn’t the first time this particular coach had shut me down. See, she was right. I wasn’t what you would call the most athletic of kids. I was raised in an intellectual household where the arts were encouraged and my mother took glee in throwing away the sports page. She still does. She literally grins.
But I really did try to give sports a go. Over the years, I would try field hockey my freshman year of high school (where I played Junior Varsity one season, received excellent & encouraging hard-core coaching by Coach Mrozek and got to wear cute skirts), volleyball (in 8th grade where that same earlier coach, Mrs. B, never even looked at my group during tryouts even though I’d been in volleyball camp all summer long) and cheerleading…which is, unsurprisingly, where I wound up (again, with the cute skirts – see a theme here?).
At 13, it seemed to me like Coach B seemed to delight in my misery. But “why?” I would ask myself. Was it because unlike my best friend (one of her favorites, who was blonde and petite like her and played tennis and volleyball) I was already 5’9″ with a woman’s body which at 13 seemed to translate to chubby? Was it because I dreaded gym class (or did I dread gym class because of her)? Or maybe it was because I was a bit of a singing-acting-sunshiney kid who was considered a bit of a Pollyanna-meets Patty Simcox kissup?
No, the reason she didn’t like me I imagine was a) that I didn’t try out for the volleyball team in that earlier fall of my 7th grade year when she had asked me to try out because they “needed tall people” (what a thrilling invitation) – and – b) because I was different from a lot of the girls in our Dallas, Texas, prep school and she didn’t understand me, and didn’t care to. Honestly, I have no idea why she didn’t like me and I’ll never know. Do we ever know why people don’t like us?
The truth is it doesn’t matter. I let these negative words and this negative energy from one coach keep me from years of playing a sport I actually really enjoyed. Worse yet, I learned that athleticism was a club in which I could never belong and to view working out as a chore rather than a game which I dreaded and feared over the years as my weight fluctuated up and down on the scale, along with my self-confidence. I never played tennis again…until now.
I am grinning as I write this. I have been saying that I wanted to take tennis lessons for years. It’s the one sport I can see sticking with as I grow older. And, it’s not just because of the cute skirts this time – although that certainly doesn’t hurt.
Well, Chris – one of my best friends – had been listening all this time. And this past Friday, when I was having kind of a hard day, he came over and said, “We’re gonna go buy you a tennis racquet.” And so we did. A beautiful white and robin’s egg blue Prince racquet…for my birthday…in November.
Two days later, I found myself on the courts at Beverly Hills Tennis Club volleying back and forth with Chris. It was like I’d never stopped. I’d say it was as easy as getting back on a bicycle but I’ve never ridden a bicycle. (Truth.) I could have played for hours. But while I played, I found all of those years of feeling like I wasn’t good enough come flooding over me. That one moment in my life kept me from playing a sport I loved for 27 years!! How could I have let that happen? I made the decision right then and there that I would never let another person’s words ever have that kind of power over me again. What time I’ve wasted and what fun there is to be had!
Now, on to important questions like “who am I going to play with?” and “which new tennis skirts should I buy?” No, seriously. I am so excited to have rediscovered this sport at this point in my life. I’m as giddy as the girl I used to be.
One minor victory when it came to Mrs. B? When I was in high school, Mrs. B called me and asked me to babysit one Saturday night as we lived in the same neighborhood. She was desperate and really in a pinch. I heard the pleading in her voice and thought about the good girl I usually was and how we should help those in need…and then proceeded to feel the deepest, most devilish little thrill as I told her, “I’m so sorry. I’m going out tonight,” and smiled to myself. That karma sure has a funny sense of humor.
BF Asks: What life lessons have you learned?