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“I’m not playing today,” I said.
My muscles ached, my wrist hurt, and my eyes felt heavy. We were driving past a quiet neighborhood to our favorite tennis court, and I had to study. Exams were a pain, and they had absorbed any energy I had to play tennis. My father and brother were better than me anyway, so I never really liked playing with them.
When we got to the court, I sat in the front of the car, flipped through my study book, and didn’t read a single word on the page. I watched the ball fly skim over the net, back and forth, with such accuracy and skill that I wondered if I would ever come close to that. My fingers itched, but I had already declared I wouldn’t play, and my pride stopped me from changing my mind. I had to study, anyway.
At one point, my dad complained about his wrist hurting, and he handed me the racket and said that I had to play with my brother.
“Just for a little while,” he said. “Maybe ten, fifteen minutes.”
“And I came here to study,” I said in a whine, even as I took the racket from him with light in my eyes.
I started off playing horribly. The ball bounced awkwardly off my racket, and hit the net every single time. My brother complained. I shot him a look, and kept telling myself after this next shot I would play great and never miss again. It never really worked, but halfway through, I suddenly started playing better. The balls went over, fast, slick.
My ankle spun off the corners of the court as I ran back and forth. Energy flooded through my body. There was unexplainable thrill, the thrill of exerting yourself, burning, playing, releasing. For the last half an hour, even with aching legs and a wrist that stung, everything felt free. The fall leaves shadowed overhead and scattered to the ground.
I was soaring today.
My breath roared in my ears, and the white lines of the court were stark and clear to my eyes. I reached forward, jogged back, lurched and hit the ball. Each one went over the net, and my brother’s went over too, and it all felt so great and exhilarating that I never wanted to stop. Right in the middle, when I could have not been enjoying myself more, my dad said he could play again, and that his wrist was rested.
I said, “You can’t do that. You can’t get me so excited and then make me stop.”
He let me keep playing. We weren’t really playing a game. Nobody kept track of points. It was just the net between us and the ball that was pushed back and forth. When exhaustion finally overtook me, my serves hit the net. Once. Twice. Three times. Even then, I didn’t want to stop, but at one point, my brother said he was done for the day.
I was disappointed that he wasn’t having as much fun as I was, but I agreed with a nod. While I packed up my stuff, I told myself that tennis was fun, and that I loved it, and to remember this feeling the next time I didn’t want to come. The exhaustion, the sweat, the burn in my heart – it all felt so good as I took the backseat in the car.
“You played good, today,” My dad said.
“You play good sometimes, and bad other times,” my brother said.
I didn’t say anything, but basked the compliments. I rolled the window open, and as we drove back home, the wind hit my face. It was cool, and comforting, and I felt full and whole and happy.

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