I am participating in the Scintilla Project, a fortnight of storytelling. There will be writing prompts every day for the next two weeks. You can follow along on Twitter @ScintillaHQ and by searching the #scintilla13 hashtag for other participants and their stories.
Prompt: We exert control over ourselves and others in many ways. Talk about a time when you lost that control. This can go beyond the obvious emotional control into things like willpower, tidiness, self-discipline, physical prowess – any time that you felt your autonomy slipping away.
I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with tennis. I’ve played since I was 6-7 years old. My Dad was a tennis trainer at our local tennis club (he still plays competitively). I spent many, many afternoons around the courts before I was physically able to pick up a racket and then many, many years on the court hitting on balls. I liked that it was an individual sport that could be played in a team. I loved doubles with my friend S. She and I, we played well together. She had a mean forehand, I had a perfectly killer two-handed backhand.
There were days where I loved tennis with a passion. I loved going to practice. I couldn’t wait for the weekend tournaments. I spent many days on the tennis courts in the summer. And then there were days, when I swore (more than once) that I would never touch a tennis racket ever again.
I was always a mediocre player. Never consistent enough to play at the top of my team, but also not quite bad enough to fall off the other end either. I won some matches and I lost some and even though I never carried out the threat of never touching a racket again after a particularly brutal loss, it did affect me every time.
I am not a bad loser at all. I recognize when someone is simply better and can – most times – take comfort in the fact that I did my best (and that was good enough), but one time, I almost had a physical reaction to losing a particularly close match.
Have you ever seen John McEnroe go bananas on the court? Yelling at his opponent, the referee, the audience? That’s what happened to me. Sort of.
Well, I didn’t technically yell at my opponent or the – non-existent – referee or audience, but I did make quite scene and my teammate, who was “coaching” me must have been quite embarrassed. As well as my Dad, who was watching, too.
I was quite upset, mostly with myself, because my opponent that day wasn’t really all that skillful, besides the fact that she could consistently hit the ball back into my half of the court and was simply waiting for me to make the mistake. I hated that I was, as so many other times, the more skillful player; however, she kept winning the points.
I often wondered if having the better technique would ever make up for not consistently being able to keep the ball in the game.
When I finally lost the match, I was furious. I was so upset that I threw my tennis racket into the back fence and cursed loudly. I didn’t even want to shake the other girl’s hand or congratulate her on her win. She probably thought I was the most pathetic and rude person she had ever met. The worst part: I started hyperventilating and there was nothing I could do about it.
“I am never going to play another tennis match ever again”, I sobbed.
I literally felt like I could not breathe, I was loudly gasping for air, while hot, salty tears rolled down my hot, red cheeks. I was dirty, exhausted, disappointed – and all I could think was: Sandra, what the hell is wrong with you? Pull yourself together. This was not an important match and it’s not the end of the world.
I rationally knew that, but I physically couldn’t control myself. I felt silly, immature, and I did not like it. Not one bit. My teammate and my Dad were trying to talk me down, but I wouldn’t have any of it. I stomped up and down the sideline, arms over my head, still trying to control my breathing.
Strangely, cleaning the court with the mat after every match had always brought me emotionally down in the past. It seemed like brushing away the marks that the balls left on the clay court was like wiping the slate clean again. It wasn’t any different on that particular day. I was back to my old “you gave your best, nothing to be upset about”-self in no time.
Later, I profusely apologized to the girl for my behavior, but I never shook her hand or complimented her on her undeserved victory.