Racquet Ball for Dummies

Pat and I joined the gym that just opened up next door to our apartment. We have no excuse now. Pool, top notch equipment, machines, hot tub, racquet ball courts, personal trainers – all new and shiny, waiting for us to sweat all over them. We went for the first time last night and decided to play racquet ball. I had never played, but Pat had a few times a few years ago.
I have to say, we are both pretty competitive. In college, we would play pool against each other in the student union for hours on end – blood was spilled, cues were broken across our knees, people were stabbed.
I’m surprised we are still dating.
It’s possible I’m the competitive one and Pat feeds off of it. But I hate losing. Hate it. I hate being left behind. I hate being bad at things. I have to be good at something or I won’t do it. Take basic math for example – I just don’t partake.
I don’t know if this stemmed from being the youngest sibling, but a little competition has always pushed me to better myself. It keeps me motivated. It’s put me where I am in my job, I’m hoping it works that way for my writing future, though the verdict is still out on that…

I also think I’m naturally quite athletic. I can pick up sports pretty quickly, so needless to say, I was shit-talking a good part of the night before we hit the gym.
“I’m really curious to see your hand/eye coordination,” Pat would say.
“Are you kidding?! I’m a master of hand/eye coordination.” blah blah blah bullshit bullshit bullshit and so it goes…

When we got there, we picked that last court, farthest away from the populated parts of the gym. We were not going to be good at this. Despite our competitive nature with each other, let’s be honest, we were going to blow. We could both agree not to humiliate ourselves in front of the meat-heads. Plus, I know it’s for “keeping your eyeballs” reasons, but the chemistry lab safety goggles you have to wear are ridiculous. Not only do you look like a moron, they start fogging up with every rising degree of body temperature making you look like the nerd who just got a swirly and was locked outside in the cold. And I have short hair. When I sweat, and jesus, do I sweat, I look like Macaulay Culkin strung out on sleeping pills, dipped in greywater and going through menopause. It’s not pretty. I’m not pretty. The Gollums needed their own wing.

Pat served first, explaining to me the basic rule, rules he just refreshed from watching a youtube video 20 minutes prior. This was high class here. There’s the serving square, the second dotted line, two boxes I’m still not sure about and walls – 4 of them – and 1 ceiling, 1 floor – all of which are fair game for ricocheting a tiny blue ball at mach speeds.
To serve, you must bounce the ball once and then hit the front wall. The ball must then pass the second dotted line for it to be a fair serve. You get two serves if your first fails to do so. If you suck so hard you can’t do it in two serves, the other player gets a point and the ball is turned over. (This happened to me multiple times). Once the ball is successfully served, it can only bounce once in between your return. If it bounces twice, the person who served gets a point. You can only gain points if you are serving. Amateurs play to 15. Pros play to 11. Sounds easy, right? Like tennis for the institutionalized.

Pat hit it really really hard his first serve and it shot back at me so close to the side wall that when I swung I couldn’t get a full extension and completely missed. Strike one.
“Keep your racket straight!” he said, extending his out parallel to the front wall and hammering it in short burst through the air in exaggeration. LOOK SEE?!

Like you know what you’re doing I glared.

Second serve: Pat hit it really really hard and I watched the ball sail over my head, take a strange bounce close to the back wall giving me no angle what so ever to get it back the other direction. The ball bounced once twice thrice then died. Point Pat.
“You can hit it off the back wall,” he coached. “Every wall is fair. It can even bounce eight times off the walls as long as it only bounces on the floor once and makes it to the front wall.”

Jesus Christ.

Third serve: Pat hit it really really hard in the same location as the first serve, but this time I was close enough with my racket STRAIGHT and whacked it from whence it came and look at that ladies and gents, we had ourselves a rally. I was terrified. That stupid ball was zipping around like a bullet in front and behind me in 5 million directions off 6 surfaces and all I wanted was to curl into the corner with my hands over my head praying to the war gods to spare my life. It was a nightmare, a war zone, missiles sailed. But our rally didn’t last long. I biffed again.

We had to stop and start so many times. He would miss. I would miss. I’d serve two horrible serves that arched all the way to the back wall. “Pay attention,” he would yell. And he’d let me serve a third. Rinse, repeat. At one point, we said fuck the rules and we just hit the ball free style until we both went for it at one time and smashed rackets. We decided to play by the rules again until he returned it so wildly, the thick rubber ball shot right off his backhand and into my face. My lip swelled. My eyes watered. I was almost in tears from frustration. Why couldn’t I get this? This was so simple. Bounce, hit, bounce, hit. Why was I so fucking awful at everything?! And then it hit me – yes, the ball again – right off the top of the head.

The whole day leading up to this athletic event was rife with self-loathing. Earlier in the afternoon, I had done the awful thing of rereading a few poems I assumed were done! Wonderful! Breathtaking! and realized they were no where near where I thought they were. The whole manuscript is no where near where I thought it was. Quite frankly – it’s horrible. There I said it.
Why does this happen, this awful honeymoon period in writing? I know, I know it’s for the editing. When we leave the work for a month and come back, we see it differently without the rosy glasses and instead with a sharp scalpel. But jesus. I’m so close. Even in my rejection letters, I’m so close. “This was really great and smart, but…” “We struggled to let this go, but…” and on and on. I feel like I’ve been so close for so long and can’t quit hit the ball. And so in reality, I feel so far away from my goal. I’m frustrated. So frustrated that internally I’m beating myself up. I’ve become my worst nightmare for a least a year if not longer. My confidence is shot. Every new line I try to write is then followed by a reason why it sucks. I think it’s what they call “creative impotence.”

So when I went in to the racquet ball court, having never played, naturally I relied on natural talent – something I’ve been riding for quite some time. And naturally, it was much harder than I had assumed. I sucked. Hard. And the more I kept missing the ball, the more frustrated I got and the more frustrated I got the more I wanted to give up, throw my racket down, hear the giant echo of my failure through the room and walk out. Eventually that’s what we did. Walk out. After we got our heart rates up enough for it to count as exercise.
“I’m done,” Pat said, “are you done?”
“Yes, thank god. I’m done.”

I’m beat up a lot. I’m struggling a lot. I’m terrified maybe I was never as good as I thought I was. I know my natural talent is running past its “cute” phase and into a do or die situation. I’m addressing that. I’m getting help. But I still feel so frustrated. Call it suicidal, hope, idiocy, determination, but this morning I woke up early, read poems aloud, harder poems that I don’t normally gravitate toward and I tried to put something down on paper, anything, in the hope that even one line would be a hit.

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