Tennis was an obsession with me. The year I graduated from high school, I spent the entire summer on the court. Tennis, at the courts where I played, was a commercial enterprise undertaken by two young men of our community, one of whom had graduated with me. He and his younger brother had constructed two tennis courts, and they spent their summer maintaining them. A membership in their "Club" entitled one to play whenever one wished providing, of course, a court was available, and one could find a partner.
Each day that summer I hied myself to the tennis courts as soon as I finished breakfast and chores, and stayed there until I had to hasten to get back before Mother would be returning from work. I have no recollection of what I did about lunch, but I do remember how patiently I waited for someone to play tennis with me. Many times other youngsters in the club came by and served as partners, but I was so insatiable in my enthusiasm that I never had enough partners to fill the long summer hours.
I thought, "If I were a better player, more people would play with me," so when partners were lacking, I walked over to the high school nearby, slipped into the cool, dimly lighted gym which seemed so vast when it was empty, and bounced balls against the wall. I marked the height of the tennis net on the wall, paced the half length of the tennis court which would be on my side of the net, and marked that on the floor. Then I stood outside the base line and zoomed ball after ball hard against the wall, just above the net line. The balls came back at me twice as fast as they could if a partner were stroking them, and I patiently fed them back, hard and straight and fast. I perfected my form so beautifully that my friends used to say on the court, "She plays just like a man!"
I never won, though. Well, I never won the tough matches. The fallacy in my practicing was that the balls came back to me as straight as I had sent them, and when I played with people, the balls came back all kinds of ways catching me off balance, out of position, and just plain flat-footed most of the time.
"What I need is more practice," I said to myself when I lost a match, and back to the gym I'd go.
That summer passed, and so did the next, and then I was at the big university where I signed up for tennis. It seemed like about a thousand girls down there in that gym who reported for the tennis test to get placement in the proper class. Guess what that test was. Yep. To see how many times a student could bat the ball against the wall with a tennis racket without missing!
I smiled slowly to myself when I realized this and, surely enough, when my turn came I wowed 'em! I hit the ball against the wall well over five hundred times without a miss, and then it was boredom and exhaustion that stopped me rather than lack of skill. By the time I had finished, a large group had gathered to watch me and, needless to say, I was placed in the advanced advanced tennis class.
I knew this was a mistake but I did not know how to try to rectify it. Should I go to my instructor and tell her I really was not much good at tennis? I was much to shy to try that so I just went to class and suffered. I was sadly outclassed with the best players in the whole university, but I lumbered through the season thinking to myself, "Well, the best way to improve a tennis game is to play with someone better than you."
I'm still bouncing balls from off the wall. There is, perhaps, an element of tragedy in my life I do not fully understand, but this I know. I need to yearn more than to pluck; I need to seek more than to find; I need to love more than to be loved; I need to sense the pulse of life more than to dance.