Tina Rowley

writer + (performer) + [space left open for surprises]

there but for the grace of god goes jimmy connors

I loved him for an academic year.

November 1982 - July 1983

An academic year if you scoot it over a couple of months. An academic year if there were a long teacher's strike.

xoxox He was Bjorn Borg. xoxox

I didn't even like tennis, beforehand. FOREHAND! (I haven't played tennis in twenty-two years. Is it a forehand? The one that's not a backhand? Yeah. I was really good.) But then in November of my freshman year of high school, I went with a few friends to see an exhibition match between Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg.

We were sitting behind one of the ball boys on Bjorn Borg's side. (Do they switch sides?) (Twenty-two years.) I was eating Skittles. Bjorn Borg lost an important point to Jimmy Connors. He turned to get the ball from the ball boy.

I caught his eye.

I shrugged and made a "Meh, what are you gonna do?" face to him.

He shrugged back with the same face!

I suddenly loved Bjorn Borg and tennis itself. The bag of Skittles I was eating became the Shroud of Turin. I carried it like a holy relic in the plastic pencil bag that hooked onto the inside of my three-ring binder. Although I had never played a sport in my life for more than the ten minutes it took for any P.E. teacher to give up and let me sideline myself with a fake injury, I decided I would join the school tennis team. I even joined a community tennis team for a minute, concurrently. Also, I subscribed to Tennis magazine.

This bag of Skittles is a re-creation. A dramatization, if you will. The actual bag was not a bag of "fundraiser" Skittles. They were just regular non-fundraising Skittles. Although I suppose all Skittles are a fundraiser for the people who make Skittles.

I was the bottom seed of both teams. Except for once! Once, I beat the second-to-worst person on the high school team! And then I was the second-t0-worst person on the team! But then very very very soon I was the worst person on the team again. I think the teams should have been seeded according to who the happiest person on the team was. I would have been the top seed with a bullet. I was never discouraged by my poor play. If my racket made contact with the ball and made that fooomp sound, I was aces in my book regardless of whatever trajectory the ball had afterwards. If I didn't fault while I was serving, I felt like Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert Lloyd and Carling Bassett* all wrapped up. Pop! Foomp! Shuffle shuffle! Foomp! Net! Whoo!

*Carling Bassett! The Anna Kournikova of 1982. Surely you saw the tennis movie "Spring Fever", in which she co-stars with Susan Anton. Because I did.

Our tennis coach, Mr. Case, kept yelling at me, "Footwork!" And in my mind I was like, oh, footwork....footwork's irrelevant. You don't play tennis with your feet. You play it with your hand! Check me out....fooomp!

I thought of Bjorn Borg all year, and wondered if he thought of me. Who was that adorable woman who shrugged at me from behind the ball boy? She's so understanding. She relaxes me. She'd make a wonderful wife. I don't care what anyone says, I love braces on women. She's not THAT small. And what a cute blouse she wore. I am batshit for large leg o'mutton sleeves. If I was given a homework assignment, I wrangled Bjorn Borg into it however I could. I remember giving a presentation about Bjorn Borg in front of my Language Arts class. Later, many people found polite, indirect ways to tell me to please stop talking about Bjorn Borg when they signed my yearbook, as you may have seen in a previous entry.

I had to miss watching parts of Wimbledon on tv that year. Family vacation to Orcas Island. No television. HISSY FIT. NERVOUS BREAKDOWN. THE SOB THAT WAS HEARD 'ROUND THE WORLD. This resulted in a Walkman. I accepted bribes then, and I accept them now.

Boris Becker won that year, I think. And I was like, Boris Becker? Who's THIS Johnny-come-lately? I've loved tennis since LATE LAST YEAR. Feh. Tennis isn't what it used to be. Kids today. I think I'm going to hang it up.

And I hung it up. By August it was as though Bjorn Borg and tennis never existed. I dropped them like a couple of used kleenexes and started dating The Police's album Synchronicity. Bjorn Borg was the Iceman? I was the Iceman.