Wednesday, January 21, 2009


I have never really been able to categorize myself under the illustrious adjective awarded to all those with muscles and a competitive drive to WIN things. More simply put, the sentence: "Hey, she is quite the athlete", has never and will never be uttered about me. This information could quite easily be deduced by observing the amount of chocolate that is stashed away in my pantry or my increasing library of books on things like chess, theology, cats, and gardening.

This may be hard to believe, BUT there was, for a short time in my high school career, a window of hope for this now world-renowned-Olympian-NERD. Oh yes. For a brief yet balmy summer, I was absolutely convinced (as is evident in my diary entries) that I would be the next Lindsay Davenport.

"Dear Diary,
Today I hit a tennis ball with my racket against the garage door for like...2 hours. It was so intense. I really think I could have a future in this...gotta go!
Love, Jessi P.S. This autograph will be famous next year!"

Now of course even at my young age I knew that all this raw talent would somehow need to be bridled. SO, my parents, in all their "we will support you with anything you want to do as long as it is not dumb" glory, signed me up for...dun dun dun DAH: "TENNIS LESSONS".

Talk about adding the fuel to my fast growing fire of illusions. By the time my first lesson had arrived I had already written and memorized my acceptance speech for gold medal tennis victory.

What I had not prepared for however, that bright and sunny Wednesday afternoon, was that just when I thought life could not get any better, just when I was already intoxicated by the new rubber smell of my neon green racket and the promise of Tennis Hall History fame, the instructor stepped onto the court.

Time stood still. Birds sang. My heart stopped beating. I whispered to myself the new score of my life: LOVE:LOVE... The fact that my emotions were most likely not returned at that moment didn't bother me. He was so good looking and so obviously talented, and so knowledgeable about the sport (as was evident by his K-Swiss sneaks), that all the signs in the universe seemed to resonate the same pun-intended slogan: THIS IS A MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN!

In those brief moments of course introductions, my life goal took the edit of a lifetime the revised version being: "get Todd the tennis instructor to confess his undying love ...while simultaneously declaring me the best female tennis player the world has ever seen."

To say I had high ambitions for that summer would be an understatement..
But fortunately the "inspirational" catch phrase, "Shoot for the moon and you'll always land in the stars" had recently been born, so I remained completely unaware and undeterred.

Wednesday evenings could never come quickly enough. My parents would pull up to the courts in our grey mini-van and before you could say, “Pete Sampras really needs a good eyebrow wax", I had already bolted gazelle like, out the sliding door, racket in hand, ready to gaze longingly across the net at my future husband.

I enjoyed the underhand racket hitting segments, and reveled in the tapping volley segments, but by far, the serving segment was the most divine. I don't remember much talk on form and follow through...but what I do know is that that was the time each night when he would come stand by each student, without any tennis ball, and have them practice fake serving simultaneously with him.

Even better than being in such close proximity with the man of my dreams, was the whiff of deodorant that came after each fake serve. It was his wonderful, Old Spice smelling deodorant, that enabled daydreams like these:

"Oh honey, after your match today, could you stop by the grocery store and pick up some deodorant?" to which I'd laugh and respond "Of course Toddy, I'd love to, oh and don't forget, the Williams are coming buy for a match after dinner tonight.”

This was my utopia. For 4 weeks straight I practiced taps and fake serves for the game I loved all with the man I loved- unaware that very soon, true to Dante form, this Paradise would be lost indefinitely.

That fifth Wednesday, after a usual hurried drop off, I walked through the fence gates and knew immediately that something was wrong. The evening sunlight was not as golden. The cicadas were screaming, not singing, and Todd, tennis god Todd, was nowhere to be seen. One of the students whispered something about an accident and torn ligaments. All at once, things became a blur. My mind began to reel. What about our future? Our three, tennis-sweater donning children? Panic set it. The students began to complain, asking trivial questions like who was teaching in his place?.. That is when SHE showed up, towing our impending doom behind her.

I immediately called her Miss Hannigan. In my opinion she didn't have a real name, since she wasn't Todd. She stood on the other side of the court in a white, Nike, tennis skirt and arm muscles that rippled as she crossed them and barked:

"I play professionally. I cannot serve or volley wif you at dis time. So dar is dis machine. Everyvone, step back to ze line. NOW."

Oh Good Lord.
My heaven turned hell in a matter of minutes.
“Dis machine" was the tennis pro 3000 and it had no mercy for tennis amateurs and certainly not for broken hearts or dreams.

Never in my young adult career have I played a GAME with such fear for my life.
Just when you had managed to follow through on a corner hit, it's angry unrelenting serve was chucking yet another death ball of speed, and if you missed that one, there was no time to belittle yourself because 2 inches away from your face was another neon orb of torture.

every practice,
kept ,
and ,
coming ,
and coming.

And always with every practice
was Miss Hannigan,
and yelling,
and yelling.

So many welts.

It is no surprise to the reader then, how the last class of that summer, seemed to me to be the end of my sentence on death row, and was an evening met with much anticipation.

But then the strangest thing happened that took us all by surprise...
That night, Miss Hannigan didn't bring her machine.
That night she had us all line up on the side of the fence and called us to the court one by one.

And one by one, we each played a set with her. And one by one, as her intimidating professional serves would come thundering across the court...we would actually hit some back. And one by one we were actually able to keep up with her rocketing backhands.

By the time it was my turn and I stepped up to the box, I began to play and enjoy the game on a level that I had not ever arrived at in the underhanded ease of love-lorn days prior, (or in any of my "intense" garage door hitting sessions for that matter).

Un-beknownst to me at the time, the unforgiving, loathsome ways of Miss Hannigan and her teaching style, had prepared me for a much, much bigger game...

Now I still to this day, have yet to dominate a match. It is true. As was stated earlier I am extremely un-athletic and my tennis career is still struggling. But when it comes to bigger games…
When it comes to THE bigger game with it's stress and anxiety that always seems to come in waves of with no mercy,I have learned to take the welts, ride it out, and remember these three things:

1. Only when we remain steadfast with the hits that keep coming, will you find God gives you the strength to keep going.

2. If you always get things thrown to where your hitting, you'll never hit far.
It's in the reaching that you'll really travel.

And lastly,
And perhaps most importantly:

3. Todd is probably bald and fat somewhere on a tennis court, still teaching kids to fake serve.


Nate Heldman said...

let me guess your ages...40-15?

ms. hannigan sounds kind of cute, too. white tennis skirt...toned arms...colonel klink accent.

you got lessons and we get lessons from your lessons. good stuff.

obstrooz: unclear goo

Claire said...

jessi i needed this today.

i am hurting from a bad car accident. i feel bruised mentally and emotionally from other situations too. those tennise balls are propelling in my direction with unrelenting force...

but the bigger game is at stake and so i hope to see you at tennis practice this afternoon.

Claire said...

sorry tennis balls not tennise..