It’s late 2020, and I’ve decided it’s safe outside. I stop anguishing over every drop of air I breathe, let the sun hit my face. Instead of yoga, I play tennis now. I’m not good at it. But then again, I was never very good at yoga.
Move. Swing. Miss.
Also, I play in Texas. I’m not sure why I’m here.
Last summer we bought a truck and a trailer. Packed up the Seattle house and left. We’d never been to Austin, but we heard it didn’t rain there all the time. That the food was good, the sun warm, the people friendly. So we did what we’d been dreaming about for years: we put our kids and dog into the car, and we drove.
We don’t have family here, or jobs. We work remotely. I knew one person. I’m not sure what, exactly, I’m supposed to do here.
So I play tennis.
I’ve never been into sports. I boycott the Superbowl every year. I’ve never been on a team, unless you count the one semester of JV tennis I took in high school, solely to get out of PE. I liked it then, I guess.
I like it more now. Nothing’s better for stress relief than hitting a ball with a racket and listening to it go thwack. Even if I miss a lot. The balls go wide, tall. They interrupt the semi-pros on the court next to me. I say “sorry.” Keep hitting. Because this is what I do now.
I don’t know why I’m doing it here. I’ve never wanted anything to do with Texas – the guns, the cowboys, the celebration of machismo. And the weather isn’t what I thought it would be. The world freezes. It starts to rain. It’s one of the wettest springs in years, after one of the coldest winters.
But in between, there is sunshine. Enough sunshine that people ask me where I’ve been to get so tan. The only place I’ve been is my own backyard. And the tennis courts.
Move. Swing. Hit.
Sometimes the balls stay within the lines.
I join a team. They try to pretend I’m not as bad as I am. I don’t care. I’ve been good at so many things in life, it’s okay to be bad at this. We play against other teams, and I lose. It’s okay. I’ve won a lot in life. It’s okay to lose and to keep swinging. It’s all most of us can do.
The days get warmer, longer. Fewer of my balls end up on the court next door. I say “sorry” less. I breathe the outside air deep, less afraid. I’m protected by a vaccine. This is almost over. I can go back to yoga soon. Breathe sweaty wet air from someone else’s lungs without feeling like I’m signing someone’s death warrant.
We play against so many ladies. That’s what we are, here in Texas, “ladies.” Locals with perfect hair and southern drawls. Californians who apologize for their geographical deficiencies. I love the Californians. Like me, they’re here because they want to be. They want to live larger, work to live instead of live to work. Listen to live music and eat tacos. Outside, because we feel safe outside.
In Seattle, we’re “women.” And we prefer to keep to ourselves. Outsiders call it the Seattle freeze. I didn’t realize how frozen I was until I left, started to thaw.
I still don’t know what I’m doing here, but I like me here. I’m warmer, open. Stronger.
Run. Swing. Hit.
But my real favorites are the little old ladies. They play together, shuffling onto the courts in cute tennis skirts, matching tops and hats, age spotted arms and varicose-veined legs. I can tell it hurts to move. That their bodies aren’t what they used to be, and they aren’t used to their bodies.
They can’t run. But they never miss a ball, and their aim is deadly. They beat me every time.
It’s fall. My kids are back at school, and struggling. Horribly. Eighteen months of Covid lockdown, which I swore they could handle – no. They couldn’t. They’re breaking. While I’m playing against the little old ladies, I keep checking my phone to make sure they’re okay.
It’s against the rules.
The little old ladies understand, because they’ve been me. Children addicted to drugs, with mental health disorders, criminal records - they grew into adults with families. Good jobs. Stable, happy lives. They get through it, they say. And they give me a hug.
They got through it, too. These women lived through every tragedy that keeps me awake at night. A lifetime of trauma is written upon their bodies, has stiffened their souls, their joints and legs. All of the things I’m afraid of – they’ve survived it all.
And they’re still playing tennis.
Run. Swing. Hit. Score.
I’m getting better. I win my first game. Even when I lose, the balls stay within the lines. I make more knockout shots. I catch snippets of tennis on TV in a restaurant and I stop to watch. My husband laughs at me.
Sometimes I beat him at tennis, too. But not very often.
I decide it’s safe to be inside. I’m vaccinated and boosted. The Covid numbers are low. I could go back to yoga if I wanted, but I don’t. Because nothing provides greater stress relief than hitting a ball with a racket and hearing it go thwack.
My children get through it. They’re better, stronger, happier. Covid slowly fades into the background, one more risk to evaluate.
I watch the little old ladies come and go from the courts, gossiping. They still tell their stories of things I don’t think I can survive – dead spouses, sick children. Loneliness I can’t fathom. They’ve survived it all, and come back swinging.
Their spin is legendary, their serves deadly. I watch them play. I watch them win.
And I see my future.