It was about noon on the playground of the shaky public school building. Everybody was huddled inside the cage of the poorly painted blue tennis court behind the school.
It was recess and Esteban, my worst enemy, and I were scheduled to play a match of tennis to decide who really was the best tennis player in the school. I showed up, in my raggedy cargo pants with many holes in them, and my dirty t-shirt that my mom found at the second hand store. The cargo pants were new when I got them for my birthday, or that’s what my mom said. She forgot to take the tag off of them which said in big red coloring, “The Salvation Army”. I had my old tattered tennis racket in hand, that has definitely seen better days. The grip was getting so worn because I always squeeze it when I’m anxious to make me feel comforted and at home. I got the racket on my seventh birthday in my old apartment, before we had to move because the rent was too high.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ghetto tennis court, Esteban was there, in his expensive brand named clothes, which were never bought at half price at the second hand store. His greased black hair glistened in the sunlight. He was sitting down with all his friends talking to him, hyping him and giving him water. It was about a month after our big move and I didn’t have any friends to fan me or give me water. But there we were, the two best tennis players in the school, one rich, one poor.
One with the school on their side, and one with only luck and a battered tennis racket on their side. It’s like the whole world wanted me to fail and humiliate myself in front of the entire school. Right before the match started, Esteban walked over to my side and said to me dead in the face, “I hope you don’t lose to me too badly, I don’t want to clip the wings of a little birdy who can’t fly.”
Well, the match went on, no matter how unwilling I was. Every time he served the ball, it felt like my heart was beating so hard, it could bounce out of my chest at any second. I lost to Esteban 3-0. He won three rounds and I won none. He completely demoralized me, making me feel helpless and useless. However, I did get three points against him in the second round, other than that I lost terribly.
Ten years later, I and Esteban were both competing in the Australian Tennis Tournament and I had the opportunity to play him again. Again, I was faced with the same decision, play Esteban and have the chance of humiliating myself not once, but twice, or quitting before I play him and lose my chance at the $35,000 reward, my only chance of going to college.
That night, as I laid down in my cold rickety bed, I thought about it, I thought about how losing to Esteban made me feel and what it did to me as a tennis player. I also thought about how beating him and having a better chance of winning the grand prize and finally being able to live in a nice house and get to go to college would make me feel. Beating Esteban was one of the only things I have ever wanted to do.
Then and there I decided that my costly college education and money towards helping my mom rent a functioning apartment was much more important than dealing with the humiliation again. A couple days passed and it was finally the day to play Esteban once again. I felt nervous beyond compare. The match was about to start, it was a full stadium. Every seat I could see had a person in it.
I was getting ready to go out onto the court, but I couldn’t do it. There was just a gut feeling of humiliation and lose that made me feel like I couldn’t play. It felt as if there were one hundred elephants sitting on me, making me unable to breath. I just sat there, feeling nauseous, until I saw my mom walking towards me.
She said, “Why are you crying”, in her slightly scratchy voice, “Even if you lose, you lose, but at least you can have the proficiency of trying. I know you, Will. If you walked away from this match right now, you wouldn’t be able to look at yourself in the morning.”
I looked at her, my eyes full of tears. She was in her favorite blue sweater that she got from her mother before she passed. Her short curly hair that came down to right above her shoulders was sitting calmer than I was. I thought to myself, she does have a point, if I left I couldn’t handle myself. I walked onto the freshly painted expensive court. I played my heart out, making it hard for Esteban to win. I didn’t give up, I played and played, until it came down to the last point of the last round.
We both won one round each before and this one play would be the game He hit the ball and I ran to receive it and then I slipped. The whole moment went to slow motion. My old shoes’ soles had worn out. I lost the match that day. I was heartbroken. I and my mom were walking out of the stadium until a man stopped us, telling me that he was a college recruiter and he was offering me a full ride to one of the best tennis colleges. He said to me something I will never forget, “To watch one learn tennis is one thing, but to watch one play tennis, is prodigious.” That day I learned that sometimes, you have to take the loss to be able to get the win.